New Action Plan: Online Sexual Harassment

New Action Plan: Online Sexual Harassment

A "What Now"? Guide for Journalists

By Kristi Eaton. Kristi is a journalist, communications consultant and Tulsa Artist Fellow based in the United States. Visit her website at KristiEaton.com.

Women and gender-nonconforming individuals are no strangers to harassment. What happens when that harassment moves online? What happens when those same patterns of misogyny and sexism happen to you in the online realm?

Online sexual harassment, also known as gender-based online violence or gendered threats of violence are comments, threats, messages and other communication made towards you because of your gender.

Threats can come in a variety of forms: an inundation of messages, extortion, explicit or implicit sexual harassment, comments on your appearance and other forms of gender-based violence. It’s completely normal for this type of abuse to cause anxiety, stress or traumatization.

A report from Association of Progressive Communication, a Global Fund grantee partner, examined over 1,000 cases of technology based violence from seven countries, and found that women aged 18 to 30 are most likely to experience online violence. Female journalists are more likely to experience online harassment, both in intensity and frequency, and the harassment is particularly acute for journalists of color.

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Why Are People Doing This?

Researcher Jennifer Rubin has studied online harassment targeted at women by male perpetrators. “Although men and women both experience harassment online, women experience a wider variety of online abuse and are disproportionately affected by more serious violations, including being stalked, sexually harassed, or physically threatened,” she said in an email interview.

“If we look at current social issues (like women's equality), we find that some escalations in gendered online harassment coincide with the rise of ‘popular feminism.’ Popular feminism is seen in hashtags like #Mencallmethings and #Yesallwomen; in websites such as Jezebel that link pop culture with empowerment; and in Twitter hashtag campaigns that amplify feminist activism. As women’s empowerment becomes increasingly public and connected online, some men may perceive these highly-visible feminist messages as an attack on their authority. The proliferation of hostility toward women in online environments may therefore reflect what we refer to as masculinity anxieties—that is, men’s anxieties over maintaining normative masculine gender roles.”

— Jennifer Rubin, researcher at the University of Washington

Rubin and her colleagues’ research found that, in the cases of some men, masculinity anxieties play an important role in the endorsement of gendered harassment online. “We found that young men who perceived themselves as less masculine than the average man, and who experienced distress about this violation, reported lower competence ratings and greater endorsement of harassment directed at a feminist Twitter user,” Rubin wrote. “These findings are consistent with research in psychology, which has found that some men who experience masculinity anxieties may be more likely to engage in aggressive behaviors in offline environments (e.g., harassment, denigration of women) to avoid the potential social consequences of being perceived as insufficiently masculine by others.”

What Can I Do?

OnlineSOS developed this guide to help someone who feels their safety and security is being put at risk because of gendered threats or online sexual harassment. This step-by-step can help you decide what to do and where to turn to for help during or after an incident. You might also use this guide to help educate your colleagues about the threats that many women journalists face on a day-to-day basis. Additional resources are linked at the bottom of the Action Plan.

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Special thanks to Kristi Eaton, who researched and wrote this Action Plan, as well as to Jennifer Rubin and Runa Sandvik, who both contributed their expertise and feedback on this topic.