"Together we can build a better world for the future, if we only want to do it. Don't judge so quick about others, tomorrow you can be in their situation and shoes."
“In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure no one listens.”
― Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery
“A small change can make a big difference. You are the only one who can make our world a better place to inhabit. So, don’t be afraid to take a stand .”
― Ankita Singhal
There are many crimes against women, girls and female childs: Domestic and sexual violence, street harassment, workplace harassment, catcalling, Eve teasing, tarrarush gamea, rape culture, mass and gang rapes, war rapes, child rapes, marital rapes, dowry murder, forced and child marriages, religous crimes, honour killings, FGM, sex slavery, women, girls and child trafficking, forced prostitution, rape pornography, online harassment, sadistic stalking, domestic and sexual murder, acid attacks, femicide, female infanticide, heinous cyber crimes agaisnt females, daily hate speech and sexism, sadistic and forced sexual practices, lack of freedom, education and human rights, forced dress codes like chador and burqa, victim blaming of assault, stalking, bullying and rape victims,witch hunts, widow murders, executions like stoning for rape and assault victims, imprisonment and punishment of female victims..
Violence against women, girls and female childs - particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence - are major public health problems and violations of women's human rights and childrens rights..
Recent global prevalence figures indicate that about 1 in 3 (35%) of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
Most of this violence is intimate partner violence. Worldwide, almost one third (30%) of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner.
Globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner.
Violence can negatively affect women’s physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health, and may increase vulnerability to HIV.
Factors associated with increased risk of perpetration of violence include low education, child maltreatment or exposure to violence in the family, harmful use of alcohol, attitudes accepting of violence and gender inequality.
Factors associated with increased risk of experiencing intimate partner and sexual violence include low education, exposure to violence between parents, abuse during childhood, attitudes accepting violence and gender inequality.
There is evidence from high-income settings that school-based programmes may be effective in preventing relationship violence (or dating violence) among young people.
In low-income settings, primary prevention strategies, such as microfinance combined with gender equality training and community-based initiatives that address gender inequality and relationship skills, hold promise.
Situations of conflict, post conflict and displacement may exacerbate existing violence, such as by intimate partners, and present additional forms of violence against women.
Global violence uniquely affects the girl child. Although international legal instruments have been in place for decades to protect the girl child, thousands of brutal acts of violence and neglect specifically targeting the girl child can be observed around the world on a daily basis. For centuries, girls who have barely attained adolescence have been forced into marriage, often with men many years their senior. As a minor, a girl child cannot legally give her consent to enter into such a partnership. They have suffered in female genital mutilation rituals. They are traded, bought, and sold across national borders as commodities to be put to use as prostitutes or slaves, or merely to be sold again at a profit. Many girls are even victimized before birth, as technology and greater access to medicine have given rise to prenatal sex selection and selection abortion based on sex. Girls continue to face the threat of sexual harassment and abuse in workplaces and schools. Their lives may be taken for the “honor” of their families for speaking to strangers or committing other minor transgressions. Violence against the girl child has become a powerful and all-too-common tactic in times of war and humanitarian disaster.
Violence against the girl child is perpetrated on every continent, wielded by every social and economic class, and sanctioned to varying degrees by every form of government, every major religion, and every kind of communal or familial structure. There is no place of complete refuge for the girl child, only promises of stronger legal regimes and more robust non-governmental assistance.
Forced and child marriages entrap women and young girls in relationships that deprive them of their basic human rights. Forced marriage constitutes a human rights violation in and of itself. Many young girls are forced to leave the homes of their parents and take on the adult role of wife when they are still children themselves. The Convention on Consent to Marriage recalls that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “[m]arriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.” In applying this principle, the parties to the Convention on Consent to Marriage agree in Article 1 that “[n]o marriage shall be legally entered into without the full and free consent of both parties, such consent to be expressed by them in person after due publicity in the presence of authority competent to solemnize the marriage and of witnesses, as prescribed by law.” The Convention goes on to state that “State Parties to the present Convention shall take legislative action to specify a minimum age for marriage. No marriage shall be legally entered into by any person under this age, except where a competent authority has granted a dispensation as to age, for serious reasons, in the interest of the intending spouses.”
Female Genital Mutilation
Female genital mutilation is a widespread practice in parts of the world. It is estimated that between 100 and 140 million girls and women worldwide have been victims of female genital mutilation. Each year, 3 million girls are subjected to the practice in Africa. From: Female Genital Mutilation Fact Sheet, World Health Organization (Fact sheet N°241) (February 2010). Female genital mutilation is commonly referred to as “FGM,” and is also sometimes referred to as female genital cutting, or “FGC.” From: Changing a Harmful Social Convention: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, Innocenti Research Center, United Nations Children's Fund (2 May 2008). Female genital mutilation includes all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. From: Female Genital Mutilation Fact Sheet, World Health Organization (Fact sheet N°241) (February 2010).
It is a practice that “violates a series of well-established human rights principles, norms and standards, including the principles of equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sex, the right to life when the procedure results in death, and the right to freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” From: Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation, An Interagency Statement, World Health Organization, 9 (2008) (PDF, 48 pages).
The practice has no health benefits for girls and women, but it has severe health consequences and is internationally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. There are severe physical and emotional complications associated with female genital mutilation
Sexual Exploitation, Prostitution, and Trafficking
Sexual exploitation, trafficking, and prostitution present significant risks to the girl child’s mental and physical health. Numerous counties and organizations, including the United States and the United Nations, have monitored and begun initiatives to end the practices.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) defines a child as: a “human being below the age of 18 years, unless under the law applicable to that child, majority is attained earlier.” Further, the Convention defines trafficking as: “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, or fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs…” While UNICEF’s initiative to stop child trafficking includes boys in addition to girls, the commission notes that girls are at far greater risk for certain types of trafficking, including domestic labor and the sex trade.
Prenatal Sex Selection
The discriminatory practice of prenatal sex selection, or sex-selective abortion, occurs when the sex of a fetus is the determining factor in whether that fetus will be aborted or carried to term. Prenatal sex selection is a two-step process. Step one involves identifying the sex of the fetus through amniocentesis, chorionic villus sampling, or ultrasound. Step two consists of aborting the fetus based solely on the identification of the fetus as female. While prenatal sex selection may be done for medical reasons (for example, to prevent sex-specific genetic disorders such as hemophilia), it is also based on cultural and discriminatory considerations.
The rise in prenatal sex selection in certain parts of the world, specifically India and East Asia, can be observed via the Sex Ratio at Birth (SRB). The SRB measures male births per 100 female births, and a rate of 102-106 is considered normal by most standards according to the United Nations Population Fund. However, prenatal sex selection in some parts of the world is leading to an alarming increase in SRB. Not only do increased rates create problems for these populations in the future, including large populations of unmarried men, increases in female trafficking, and increases in mail-order brides, but they are also emblematic of girl children who, as a result of discrimination, were terminated before birth.
Sexual Harassment in Schools and the Workplace
Sexual Harassment is a violation of women's human rights and a prohibited form of violence against women. Sexual harassment causes incalculable economic, psychological and physical harm to its victims and serves to reinforce the subordination of women to men in the workplace. Sexual harassment against the girl child is prevalent both in the workplace and at school. Girl children who are employed as domestic workers or as industrial laborers are vulnerable to sexual harassment and exploitation by their employers. Girl children who attend school are often victimized by teachers or their peers.
Crimes Committed in the Name of "Honor"
Thousands of girl children around the world are killed each year for committing or being capable of committing transgressions deemed to be dishonorable. "Honor" killings are defined by the Human Rights Watch as “acts of violence, usually murder, committed by male family members against female family members who are perceived to have brought dishonor upon the family.”
Motives for "honor" killings have included: suspicion of adultery, premarital sex, or some other relationship between a woman and a man; being a victim of rape or sexual assault; refusing to enter an arranged marriage; seeking divorce or trying to escape marital violence; and falling in love with someone who is unacceptable to the victim’s family according to The Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women.
Sexual Assault in Conflict and Humanitarian Situations
War's most vulnerable victim is the girl child. Girl children in war zones and conflict areas too often become dehumanized pawns, to be systematically raped and tortured as a tactical “message” of war; forced into sexual slavery by soldiers or opportunists; forced into pregnancy, abortion, or sterilization as a means of ethnic cleansing; wounded; maimed; mutilated; murdered; infected with HIV or STIs; orphaned; displaced. Governmental and international organizations, as well as NGOs, have identified the problems and are attempting to correct and monitor the situations. Many humanitarian camps have been set up for the dislocated, but getting to the camps and surviving inside them are fraught with additional peril.
The mirror of our world and our countries is the worldwide misogyny!
I am a victim of heinous misogyny too:
My muslim bosnian Stalker and ex-tenant with australian nationality and his friends send me rape porns, child porns, bestiality porns, rape and death threats and called me a slut, which deserves rape. There were also threats against my girlfriends, family and pets. The stalker tolds me in anonymous mails, that I am looking like a rat and must die like a rat. He tolds me that I must have an insurance for my husband, because my husband can die very quick. Dead rats, mouses and birds, cruely killed were around my house and in my trashcan. I am also a victim of telephone terror, internet slandering, cyber bullying, cyber flashing with BDSM porns and unwanted dick pics, identy thefts, heinous anonymous letters, mails and SMS, attempted burglaries at home and in the holidays, damages of poperty, gang stalking. The same happens to some girlfriends (burglaries. telephone terror, cyber stalking and damages of property were very often, in one case the daughter of one girlfriend was gangraped by unknown culprits, in another case the dog of the old ill mother of my girlfriend was stolen and they were mocked at the telephone about it), family members and other people I know. At the internet are always posts in my name like I am wanting sex contacts with other men or mocking of other people in my name. In a social network for stalking victims - although I was anonymous- I was bullied out after a few days and called a liar and a troll. The male administrator believes the stalker and his friends and called me a bad woman like his ex-wife. The culprits was given the chance to describe, where I am living and how I am looking like. People which believes me were banned in these social network too. Later I heard the adminstrator was an woman hater and many female stalking victims have the same experiences. The stalker shows himself against others as the the nice guy (girlfriends and friends, which are in social networks tells me, that he calls himself in the internet a clever person, who is working for human rights) and is unpunished until now, because no one has worldwide an interest on female victims. This happens to me although I am a very careful person and in no social networks. My husband gives this person a room and the stalking begins without reasons. Crimes are not the victims fault, crimes are the only fault of the culprits.
Another shocking case about woman hating on the internet:
Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet by Amanda Hess,2014:
I was 12 hours into a summer vacation in Palm Springs when my phone hummed to life, buzzing twice next to me in the dark of my hotel room. I squinted at the screen. It was 5:30 a.m., and a friend was texting me from the opposite coast. “Amanda, this twitter account. Freaking out over here,” she wrote. “There is a twitter account that seems to have been set up for the purpose of making death threats to you.”
I dragged myself out of bed and opened my laptop. A few hours earlier, someone going by the username “headlessfemalepig” had sent me seven tweets. “I see you are physically not very attractive. Figured,” the first said. Then: “You suck a lot of drunk and drug fucked guys cocks.” As a female journalist who writes about sex (among other things), none of this feedback was particularly out of the ordinary. But this guy took it to another level: “I am 36 years old, I did 12 years for ‘manslaughter’, I killed a woman, like you, who decided to make fun of guys cocks.” And then: “Happy to say we live in the same state. Im looking you up, and when I find you, im going to rape you and remove your head.” There was more, but the final tweet summed it up: “You are going to die and I am the one who is going to kill you. I promise you this.”
My fingers paused over the keyboard. I felt disoriented and terrified. Then embarrassed for being scared, and, finally, pissed. On the one hand, it seemed unlikely that I’d soon be defiled and decapitated at the hands of a serial rapist-murderer. On the other hand, headlessfemalepig was clearly a deranged individual with a bizarre fixation on me. I picked up my phone and dialed 911.
Two hours later, a Palm Springs police officer lumbered up the steps to my hotel room, paused on the outdoor threshold, and began questioning me in a steady clip. I wheeled through the relevant background information: I am a journalist; I live in Los Angeles; sometimes, people don’t like what I write about women, relationships, or sexuality; this was not the first time that someone had responded to my work by threatening to rape and kill me. The cop anchored his hands on his belt, looked me in the eye, and said, “What is Twitter?”
Staring up at him in the blazing sun, the best answer I could come up with was, “It’s like an e-mail, but it’s public.” What I didn’t articulate is that Twitter is the place where I laugh, whine, work, schmooze, procrastinate, and flirt. It sits in my back pocket wherever I go and lies next to me when I fall asleep. And since I first started writing in 2007, it’s become just one of the many online spaces where men come to tell me to get out.
The examples are too numerous to recount, but like any good journalist, I keep a running file documenting the most deranged cases. There was the local cable viewer who hunted down my email address after a television appearance to tell me I was “the ugliest woman he had ever seen.” And the group of visitors to a “men’s rights” site who pored over photographs of me and a prominent feminist activist, then discussed how they’d “spend the night with” us. (“Put em both in a gimp mask and tied to each other 69 so the bitches can’t talk or move and go round the world, any old port in a storm, any old hole,” one decided.) And the anonymous commenter who weighed in on one of my articles: “Amanda, I’ll fucking rape you. How does that feel?”
None of this makes me exceptional. It just makes me a woman with an Internet connection. Here’s just a sampling of the noxious online commentary directed at other women in recent years. To Alyssa Royse, a sex and relationships blogger, for saying that she hated The Dark Knight: “you are clearly retarded, i hope someone shoots then rapes you.” To Kathy Sierra, a technology writer, for blogging about software, coding, and design: “i hope someone slits your throat and cums down your gob.” To Lindy West, a writer at the women’s website Jezebel, for critiquing a comedian’s rape joke: “I just want to rape her with a traffic cone.” To Rebecca Watson, an atheist commentator, for blogging about sexism in the skeptic community: “If I lived in Boston I’d put a bullet in your brain.” To Catherine Mayer, a journalist at Time magazine, for no particular reason: “A BOMB HAS BEEN PLACED OUTSIDE YOUR HOME. IT WILL GO OFF AT EXACTLY 10:47 PM ON A TIMER AND TRIGGER DESTROYING EVERYTHING.”
A woman doesn’t even need to occupy a professional writing perch at a prominent platform to become a target. According to a 2005 report by the Pew Research Center, which has been tracking the online lives of Americans for more than a decade, women and men have been logging on in equal numbers since 2000, but the vilest communications are still disproportionately lobbed at women. We are more likely to report being stalked and harassed on the Internet — of the 3,787 people who reported harassing incidents from 2000 to 2012 to the volunteer organization Working to Halt Online Abuse, 72.5 percent were female. Sometimes, the abuse can get physical: A Pew survey reported that five percent of women who used the Internet said “something happened online” that led them into “physical danger.” And it starts young: Teenage girls are significantly more likely to be cyberbullied than boys. Just appearing as a woman online, it seems, can be enough to inspire abuse. In 2006, researchers from the University of Maryland set up a bunch of fake online accounts and then dispatched them into chat rooms. Accounts with feminine usernames incurred an average of 100 sexually explicit or threatening messages a day. Masculine names received 3.7.
There are three federal laws that apply to cyberstalking cases; the first was passed in 1934 to address harassment through the mail, via telegram, and over the telephone, six decades after Alexander Graham Bell’s invention. Since the initial passage of the Violence Against Women Act, in 1994, amendments to the law have gradually updated it to apply to new technologies and to stiffen penalties against those who use them to abuse. Thirty-four states have cyberstalking laws on the books; most have expanded long-standing laws against stalking and criminal threats to prosecute crimes carried out online.
But making quick and sick threats has become so easy that many say the abuse has proliferated to the point of meaninglessness, and that expressing alarm is foolish. Reporters who take death threats seriously “often give the impression that this is some kind of shocking event for which we should pity the ‘victims,’” my colleague Jim Pagels wrote in Slate this fall, “but anyone who’s spent 10 minutes online knows that these assertions are entirely toothless.” On Twitter, he added, “When there’s no precedent for physical harm, it’s only baseless fear mongering.” My friend Jen Doll wrote, at The Atlantic Wire, “It seems like that old ‘ignoring’ tactic your mom taught you could work out to everyone’s benefit…. These people are bullying, or hope to bully. Which means we shouldn’t take the bait.” In the epilogue to her book The End of Men, Hanna Rosin — an editor at Slate — argued that harassment of women online could be seen as a cause for celebration. It shows just how far we’ve come. Many women on the Internet “are in positions of influence, widely published and widely read; if they sniff out misogyny, I have no doubt they will gleefully skewer the responsible sexist in one of many available online outlets, and get results.”
“Twitter is the place where I laugh, whine, work, schmooze, procrastinate, and flirt. It sits in my back pocket wherever I go and lies next to me when I fall asleep. And since I first started writing in 2007, it’s become just one of the many online spaces where men come to tell me to get out.”
So women who are harassed online are expected to either get over ourselves or feel flattered in response to the threats made against us. We have the choice to keep quiet or respond “gleefully.”
But no matter how hard we attempt to ignore it, this type of gendered harassment — and the sheer volume of it — has severe implications for women’s status on the Internet. Threats of rape, death, and stalking can overpower our emotional bandwidth, take up our time, and cost us money through legal fees, online protection services, and missed wages. I’ve spent countless hours over the past four years logging the online activity of one particularly committed cyberstalker, just in case. And as the Internet becomes increasingly central to the human experience, the ability of women to live and work freely online will be shaped, and too often limited, by the technology companies that host these threats, the constellation of local and federal law enforcement officers who investigate them, and the popular commentators who dismiss them — all arenas that remain dominated by men, many of whom have little personal understanding of what women face online every day.
This Summer, Caroline Criado-Perez became the English-speaking Internet’s most famous recipient of online threats after she petitioned the British government to put more female faces on its bank notes. (When the Bank of England announced its intentions to replace social reformer Elizabeth Fry with Winston Churchill on the £5 note, Criado-Perez made the modest suggestion that the bank make an effort to feature at least one woman who is not the Queen on any of its currency.) Rape and death threats amassed on her Twitter feed too quickly to count, bearing messages like “I will rape you tomorrow at 9 p.m … Shall we meet near your house?”
Then, something interesting happened. Instead of logging off, Criado-Perez retweeted the threats, blasting them out to her Twitter followers. She called up police and hounded Twitter for a response. Journalists around the world started writing about the threats. As more and more people heard the story, Criado-Perez’s follower count skyrocketed to near 25,000. Her supporters joined in urging British police and Twitter executives to respond.
Under the glare of international criticism, the police and the company spent the next few weeks passing the buck back and forth. Andy Trotter, a communications adviser for the British police, announced that it was Twitter’s responsibility to crack down on the messages. Though Britain criminalizes a broader category of offensive speech than the U.S. does, the sheer volume of threats would be too difficult for “a hard-pressed police service” to investigate, Trotter said. Police “don’t want to be in this arena.” It diverts their attention from “dealing with something else.”
Feminine usernames incurred an average of 100 sexually explicit or threatening messages a day. Masculine names received 3.7.
Meanwhile, Twitter issued a blanket statement saying that victims like Criado-Perez could fill out an online form for each abusive tweet; when Criado-Perez supporters hounded Mark Luckie, the company’s manager of journalism and news, for a response, he briefly shielded his account, saying that the attention had become “abusive.” Twitter’s official recommendation to victims of abuse puts the ball squarely in law enforcement’s court: “If an interaction has gone beyond the point of name calling and you feel as though you may be in danger,” it says, “contact your local authorities so they can accurately assess the validity of the threat and help you resolve the issue offline.”
In the weeks after the flare-up, Scotland Yard confirmed the arrest of three men. Twitter — in response to several online petitions calling for action — hastened the rollout of a “report abuse” button that allows users to flag offensive material. And Criado-Perez went on receiving threats. Some real person out there — or rather, hundreds of them — still liked the idea of seeing her raped and killed.
The Internet is a global network, but when you pick up the phone to report an online threat, whether you are in London or Palm Springs, you end up face-to-face with a cop who patrols a comparatively puny jurisdiction. And your cop will probably be a man: According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2008, only 6.5 percent of state police officers and 19 percent of FBI agents were women. The numbers get smaller in smaller agencies. And in many locales, police work is still a largely analog affair: 911 calls are immediately routed to the local police force; the closest officer is dispatched to respond; he takes notes with pen and paper.
After Criado-Perez received her hundreds of threats, she says she got conflicting instructions from police on how to report the crimes, and was forced to repeatedly “trawl” through the vile messages to preserve the evidence. “I can just about cope with threats,” she wrote on Twitter. “What I can’t cope with after that is the victim-blaming, the patronising, and the police record-keeping.” Last year, the American atheist blogger Rebecca Watson wrote about her experience calling a series of local and national law enforcement agencies after a man launched a website threatening to kill her. “Because I knew what town [he] lived in, I called his local police department. They told me there was nothing they could do and that I’d have to make a report with my local police department,” Watson wrote later. “[I] finally got through to someone who told me that there was nothing they could do but take a report in case one day [he] followed through on his threats, at which point they’d have a pretty good lead.”
The first time I reported an online rape threat to police, in 2009, the officer dispatched to my home asked, “Why would anyone bother to do something like that?” and declined to file a report. In Palm Springs, the officer who came to my room said, “This guy could be sitting in a basement in Nebraska for all we know.” That my stalker had said that he lived in my state, and had plans to seek me out at home, was dismissed as just another online ruse.
Of course, some people are investigated and prosecuted for cyberstalking. In 2009, a Florida college student named Patrick Macchione met a girl at school, then threatened to kill her on Twitter, terrorized her with lewd videos posted to YouTube, and made hundreds of calls to her phone. Though his victim filed a restraining order, cops only sprung into action after a county sheriff stopped him for loitering, then reportedly found a video camera in his backpack containing disturbing recordings about his victim. The sheriff’s department later worked with the state attorney’s office to convict Macchione on 19 counts, one of which was cyberstalking (he successfully appealed that count on grounds that the law hadn’t been enacted when he was arrested); Macchione was sentenced to four years in prison. Consider also a recent high-profile case of cyberstalking investigated by the FBI. In the midst of her affair with General David Petraeus, biographer Paula Broadwell allegedly created an anonymous email account for the purpose of sending harassing notes to Florida socialite Jill Kelley. Kelley reported them to the FBI, which sniffed out Broadwell’s identity via the account’s location-based metadata and obtained a warrant to monitor her email activity.
In theory, appealing to a higher jurisdiction can yield better results. “Local law enforcement will often look the other way,” says Dr. Sameer Hinduja, a criminology professor at Florida Atlantic University and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center. “They don’t have the resources or the personnel to investigate those crimes.” County, state, or federal agencies at least have the support to be more responsive: “Usually they have a computer crimes unit, savvy personnel who are familiar with these cases, and established relationships with social media companies so they can quickly send a subpoena to help with the investigation,” Hinduja says.
But in my experience and those of my colleagues, these larger law enforcement agencies have little capacity or drive to investigate threats as well. Despite his pattern of abusive online behavior, Macchione was ultimately arrested for an unrelated physical crime. When I called the FBI over headlessfemalepig’s threats, a representative told me an agent would get in touch if the bureau was interested in pursuing the case; nobody did. And when Rebecca Watson reported the threats targeted at her to the FBI, she initially connected with a sympathetic agent — but the agent later expressed trouble opening Watson’s file of screenshots of the threats, and soon stopped replying to her emails. The Broadwell investigation was an uncommon, and possibly unprecedented, exercise for the agency. As University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire criminal justice professor Justin Patchin told Wired at the time: “I’m not aware of any case when the FBI has gotten involved in a case of online harassment.”
After I received my most recent round of threats, I asked Jessica Valenti, a prominent feminist writer (and the founder of the blog Feministing), who’s been repeatedly targeted with online threats, for her advice, and then I asked her to share her story. “It’s not really one story. This has happened a number of times over the past seven years,” she told me. When rape and death threats first started pouring into her inbox, she vacated her apartment for a week, changed her bank accounts, and got a new cell number. When the next wave of threats came, she got in touch with law enforcement officials, who warned her that though the men emailing her were unlikely to follow through on their threats, the level of vitriol indicated that she should be vigilant for a far less identifiable threat: silent “hunters” who lurk behind the tweeting “hollerers.” The FBI advised Valenti to leave her home until the threats blew over, to never walk outside of her apartment alone, and to keep aware of any cars or men who might show up repeatedly outside her door. “It was totally impossible advice,” she says. “You have to be paranoid about everything. You can’t just not be in a public place.”
And we can’t simply be offline either. When Time journalist Catherine Mayer reported the bomb threat lodged against her, the officers she spoke to — who thought usernames were secret codes and didn’t seem to know what an IP address was — advised her to unplug. “Not one of the officers I’ve encountered uses Twitter or understands why anyone would wish to do so,” she later wrote. “The officers were unanimous in advising me to take a break from Twitter, assuming, as many people do, that Twitter is at best a time-wasting narcotic.”
All of these online offenses are enough to make a woman want to click away from Twitter, shut her laptop, and power down her phone. Sometimes, we do withdraw: Pew found that from 2000 to 2005, the percentage of Internet users who participate in online chats and discussion groups dropped from 28 percent to 17 percent, “entirely because of women’s fall off in participation.” But for many women, steering clear of the Internet isn’t an option. We use our devices to find supportive communities, make a living, and construct safety nets. For a woman like me, who lives alone, the Internet isn’t a fun diversion — it is a necessary resource for work and interfacing with friends, family, and, sometimes, law enforcement officers in an effort to feel safer from both online and offline violence.
The Internet is a global network, but when you pick up the phone to report an online threat, you end up face-to-face with a cop who patrols a comparatively puny jurisdiction.
The Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman draws a distinction between “tourists” and “vagabonds” in the modern economy. Privileged tourists move about the world “on purpose,” to seek “new experience” as “the joys of the familiar wear off.” Disempowered vagabonds relocate because they have to, pushed and pulled through mean streets where they could never hope to settle down. On the Internet, men are tourists and women are vagabonds. “Telling a woman to shut her laptop is like saying, ‘Eh! Just stop seeing your family,’” says Nathan Jurgenson, a social media sociologist (and a friend) at the University of Maryland.
What does a tourist look like? In 2012, Gawker unmasked “Violentacrez,” an anonymous member of the online community Reddit who was infamous for posting creepy photographs of underage women and creating or moderating subcommunities on the site with names like “chokeabitch” and “rapebait.” Violentacrez turned out to be a Texas computer programmer named Michael Brusch, who displayed an exceedingly casual attitude toward his online hobbies. “I do my job, go home, watch TV, and go on the Internet. I just like riling people up in my spare time,” he told Adrian Chen, the Gawker reporter who outed him. “People take things way too seriously around here.”
Abusers tend to operate anonymously, or under pseudonyms. But the women they target often write on professional platforms, under their given names, and in the context of their real lives. Victims don’t have the luxury of separating themselves from the crime. When it comes to online threats, “one person is feeling the reality of the Internet very viscerally: the person who is being threatened,” says Jurgenson. “It’s a lot easier for the person who made the threat — and the person who is investigating the threat — to believe that what’s happening on the Internet isn’t real.”
When authorities treat the Internet as a fantasyland, it has profound effects on the investigation and prosecution of online threats. Criminal threat laws largely require that victims feel tangible, immediate, and sustained fear. In my home state of California, a threat must be “unequivocal, unconditional, immediate, and specific” and convey a “gravity of purpose and an immediate prospect of execution of the threat” to be considered a crime. If police don’t know whether the harasser lives next door or out in Nebraska, it’s easier for them to categorize the threat as non-immediate. When they treat a threat as a boyish hoax, the implication is that the threat ceases to be a criminal offense.
So the victim faces a psychological dilemma: How should she understand her own fear? Should she, as many advise, dismiss an online threat as a silly game, and not bother to inform the cops that someone may want to — ha, ha — rape and kill her? Or should she dutifully report every threat to police, who may well dismiss her concerns? When I received my most recent rape and death threats, one friend told me that I should rest assured that the anonymous tweeter was unlikely to take any physical action against me in real life; another noted that my stalker seemed like the type of person who would fashion a coat from my skin, and urged me to take any action necessary to land the stalker in jail.
Danielle Citron, a University of Maryland law professor who focuses on Internet threats, charted the popular response to Internet death and rape threats in a 2009 paper published in the Michigan Law Review. She found that Internet harassment is routinely dismissed as “harmless locker-room talk,” perpetrators as “juvenile pranksters,” and victims as “overly sensitive complainers.” Weighing in on one online harassment case, in an interview on National Public Radio, journalist David Margolick called the threats “juvenile, immature, and obnoxious, but that is all they are … frivolous frat-boy rants.”
When police treat a threat as a boyish hoax, the implication is that the threat ceases to be a criminal offense.
Of course, the frat house has never been a particularly safe space for women. I’ve been threatened online, but I have also been harassed on the street, groped on the subway, followed home from the 7-Eleven, pinned down on a bed by a drunk boyfriend, and raped on a date. Even if I sign off Twitter, a threat could still be waiting on my stoop.
Today, a legion of anonymous harassers are free to play their “games” and “pranks” under pseudonymous screen names, but for the women they target, the attacks only compound the real fear, discomfort, and stress we experience in our daily lives.
If American police forces are overwhelmingly male, the technology companies that have created the architecture of the online world are, famously, even more so. In 2010, according to the information services firm CB Insights, 92 percent of the founders of fledgling Internet companies were male; 86 percent of their founding teams were exclusively male. While the number of women working across the sciences is generally increasing, the percentage of women working in computer sciences peaked in 2000 and is now on the decline. In 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found, women made up just 22.5 percent of American computer programmers and 19.7 percent of software developers. In a 2012 study of 400 California companies, researchers at the University of California-Davis, found that just seven percent of the highest-paid executives at Silicon Valley companies were women.
When Twitter announced its initial public offering in October, its filings listed an all-male board. Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s general counsel, was the only woman among its executive officers. When Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at Stanford’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance, suggested that the gender imbalance on Twitter’s board was an issue of “elite arrogance” and “male chauvinistic thinking,” Twitter CEO Dick Costolo responded with a joking tweet, calling Wadhwa “the Carrot Top of academic sources.”
Most executives aren’t intentionally boxing women out. But the decisions these men make have serious implications for billions of people. The gender imbalance in their companies compromises their ability to understand the lives of half their users.
Twitter “has a history of saying ‘too bad, so sad’” when confronted with concerns about harassment on its platform, says Citron, the University of Maryland law professor who studies the emerging legal implications of online abuse against women. The culture of the platform has typically prioritized freewheeling discussion over zealous speech policing. Unlike Facebook, Twitter doesn’t require people to register accounts under their real names. Users are free to enjoy the frivolity — and the protection — that anonymous speech provides. If a user runs afoul of Twitter’s terms of service, he’s free to create a new account under a fresh handle. And the Communications Decency Act of 1996 protects platforms like Twitter from being held legally responsible for what individuals say on the site.