New Zealand women are being harassed on the Internet

A parenting columnist says she’s been told she “should be raped” and sent photos of dead babies – and other women with an online presence say harassment has become a scary norm.

A new study led by security company Norton, in which 500 women took part, has found 72 percent of New Zealand women under 30 experience online harassment.

One in four women said they had received threats relating to death, rape and sexual assaults.

Around one in nine women said they had reported harassment to the police.

Emily Writes has a blog on which she mostly pens entries about motherhood. She writes about breast feeding, her child sleeping through the night and other normal “mum stuff”.

“Yet it doesn’t really matter what you write about,” she said. “You’re at risk of men becoming sort of fixated with you. Or just taking time out of their day to tell you, you know – you’re a fat slut, or something like that.”

“I have had a period where I had photos sent to me of dead babies… and Facebook wouldn’t ban the person who sent them to me.”

She said the study’s findings were incredibly sad and sobering, but unsurprising.

“My entire time that I’ve been online, I’ve had variations of abuse and harassment… and that’s only escalated since having a higher profile.

“I think that a lot of women, even when they don’t have a profile, get abused and harassed particularly on platforms on Twitter, where the security in place isn’t good and Twitter doesn’t care about protecting women from harassers.”

Ms Writes said she always received some level of abuse and it was tiring being told to ignore the comments.

“I often see with women on Twitter or Facebook… when they’re attacked, there isn’t a lot of sympathy for them.

“And I think that’s why this isn’t changing, and that’s why it’s reaching these epidemic levels because women are being blamed for the harassment they’re getting.”

She said she had lost faith in alerting police after nothing was done when she reported very specific threats in 2011.

“Now it doesn’t necessarily have the same impact for me as it used to, but it never stops being terrible.”

Whaleoil, and Cameron Slater specifically, has experience with this problem.  Death threats, hacking threats and threats to family members, including murder and rape, have all been received.  All of them are reported, and Police will take appropriate action.  One person went through court and was denied his freedom.  Others get a visit and are warned a repeat occurrence will result in a visit to court.

The pack is relentless. Having gotten rid of most normal people through intimidation, they’ve turned on each other now.  New Zealand social media seems to return to regular battles where women are accusing each other of not being the ‘right kind’ of feminist, while men join in to prove how supportive of feminism they are.  It does your head in.

Many women have figured out how to manage around this: don’t have a public profile, choose non-gender specific identities and only frequent websites that have reasonable protections against such mindless attacks.  Should they have to?  Absolutely not.  And that’s definitely something we want to improve over time.  But you should also not expect to stand in the middle of a large random public crowd and expect to be respected and left alone by everyone, especially if you are going to challenge their belief systems.

All that a new mum on the Internet has to do is bottle feed, or use a pacifier and she will paint a target on herself immediately.  And that’s even before the usual creeps and reprobates that harass women come along.

The answer is to go onto the Internet in places where your message is wanted, your presence respected and any agitators are dealt with.    To just hop onto Facebook, Twitter or to start a blog leaves you totally unprotected.   And if you don’t have the right mental resources to cope, it is a terrible place to set up shop.




– Carla Penman, RNZ

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