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Have you ever been harassed in the street? Received a crass message on a dating app? Had a coworker make a comment about your appearance that just didn’t sit right?
You’re not alone.
With the #MeToo movement, it’s easy to log onto Twitter or Facebook and see just how many women are victims of sexual harassment. Whether in person or online, women everywhere have experienced it in one way or another. And with all the new ways the internet has opened avenues of communication, online harassment is more prevalent than ever.
According to a study by the Pew Research Center, most online abuse takes place on social media. Although men are also subject to online harassment – which includes name calling, derision, and physical threats – the study found that online, women are more than twice as likely as men to experience sexual harassment.
In addition, more than half of women ages 18-29 report having been sent sexually explicit images without their consent.
This number is only growing, and while 70% of women believe online harassment to be a major problem, not many know how to prevent it.
Women are often targeted simply because they are women. Attacks are often sexualized or misogynistic, and rhetoric tends to focus on their bodies and sexual violence. This is both physically and emotionally damaging, and women are often intimidated into silence, preferring to disengage rather than put themselves at risk.
However, there are ways we can protect ourselves.
This guide was written with the intention of empowering women to navigate the internet without fear. We discuss common occurrences in which women are subject to harassment in their daily lives – on social media, at work, while dating, and more – and give tips and advice on how women can take control.
It is important for us to note that some of the advice given here encourages anonymity, rather than risking being targeted. While this may seem to run counter to the idea of encouraging self-expression, we believe that every woman should be empowered to make that choice for herself.
Our job is to give you the tools you need to do that.
We hope this guide encourages women everywhere to defend and protect themselves, and to stand up to sexual harassment, both on and off the web.
Harassment on Social Media
The majority of online harassment takes place on social media, which makes sense given how much time most of us spend on these platforms. Broad social networks, often combined with anonymity, leads to a reality in which anything you post, tweet, or share opens you up to potential abuse.
Below, we delve into the most popular social media platforms, and show you how to protect yourself from creeps, trolls, and stalkers.
Due to its public nature, Twitter is one of the most notorious social media platforms when it comes to online harassment. And it’s not just celebrities and public figures who get abuse heaped on them. There are endless stories of regular people who have been attacked, often for simply speaking out about political or feminist issues.
In fact, Amnesty International released a report chastising Twitter for not appropriately addressing harassment of women. In the study, dozens of women are quoted about the abuse they experienced on Twitter, many citing unsatisfactory responses from the social media site after having reported the incidents.
Often, the result is a silencing effect, in which women simply choose not to engage for fear of being harassed; many women end up censoring themselves or leaving the platform altogether. And for some – particularly journalists and activists – this can be detrimental to their careers.
Things came to a head in October 2017 when a series of high profile sexual assault allegations spawned the viral hashtag #MeToo. The hashtag – used by women to identify themselves as having experienced sexual harassment or assault – took over Twitter in a matter of hours, and made crystal clear just how prevalent these incidents are.
Soon thereafter, actress Rose McGowen’s Twitter account was temporarily suspended after she tweeted a series of allegations against sexual predator Harvey Weinstein and several Hollywood bigwigs she claimed enabled him. The violation cited was that one of her tweets included a private phone number.
But with so many abusive tweets against women not resulting in suspended accounts, many women had had enough. The resulting anger spawned the hashtag #WomenBoycottTwitter, which called on women to boycott the platform for a day in solidarity.
Twitter claims to have improved their system of addressing reports of harassment, but it’s still an issue, and there are still steps individual women can take to mitigate the chance of being targeted.