Saturday, March 21, 2015

Online Harassment: It's not only for girls, but it's much more threatening

This past week, actress Ashley Judd published a scathing response to a series of sexually violent online posts she received after making a comment about a college championship game. The game was being played by her alma mater team, University of Kentucky. After some blood was shed, the star tweeted a comment accusing the opposing team of playing "dirty", which caught the attention of several outraged fans.

In her letter, Ashley Judd is apparently livid. Reading through the series of events, she has every right to be. There were comments about rape, vaginal and anal, her intelligence was questioned, and her life threatened. It's enough to make anyone upset enough to not only respond, but to press charges against the attackers as the actress has stated she would.

What was most upsetting as I read through her letter was a comment by a woman accusing Ashley Judd of incapable of tolerating "the heat" that is part of the online world. As a public figure, Ms. Judd should expect harsh replies but such verbal attacks, whether empty or not, are painful.

It led me to initially believe that maybe as women we tend to take such attacks more seriously. I have read posts aimed at male public figures that are just as threatening and scary. A survey released last year found that men were more than likely to be harassed online than women. But a closer look at that survey shows a big difference between what each gender is exposed to.

While men were verbally abused, embarrassed and threatened more, women experienced higher rates of stalking and sexual harassment. It's one thing to endure verbal attacks, but quite another to be threatened with bodily and sexual harm. Especially if you have been a victim of rape such as Ashley Judd. These types of attacks show how women are still objectified and sexualized even after all the efforts to make us equals to our male peers. Add to that the fear of potentially being sexually violated for making a simple comment online about a sports game, or like the attacks last year, about a video game. Traditionally, these two games have been more male dominated. Holding threats of sexual harassment against a woman who comments against male-dominant games is an attempt to keep women out of the man's world. As Ashley Judd made clear in her letter, no one had attacked her uncle when he made similar comments online.

What to do if you're harassed online?

  • Report the individuals to the site's reporting body. Include a screen shot of the offensive attack if possible.
  • Make a note of the poster's screen name or hashtag for future reference.
  • Don't respond to any violating posts. It can place you in greater danger.
  • If you feel seriously threatened, contact your local police department and make a written report. Include the information you gathered from the first two steps.
  • Continue posting as usual. If instilling fear was the poster's objective, any change in your online activity will encourage the behavior.
  • Block the harasser from each online account you have open. If the harasser stalks your posts under different screen names, contact the police who will give you further action steps.

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