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From Bev’s Desk

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Online Harassment and Threats of Violence Against Women

By Andrea Schilling

As a typical twenty-something, it is safe to assume I participate in the many avenues of social media. As informational and entertaining as the internet world can often be, the opportunity for anonymity has also made the internet a breeding ground for inciting violence against women.

Jessica Valenti, a journalist for the Guardian, reveals just how daunting social media can be. The self-proclaimed feminist has been well-accustomed to negative feedback to her opinion pieces for quite some time, and as a journalist this comes with the territory, but it wasn’t until this summer she decided to take a break from social media when the feedback became threatening.

“This morning I woke up to a rape and death threat directed at my 5 year old daughter. That this is part of my work life is unacceptable,” read Valenti’s tweet on July 27, 2016.

It’s not just social media moguls experiencing online bullying. A friend of mine was recently tweeting her frustration with the court’s leniency of rapist Brock Turner. A Twitter user responded to her tweet saying, “You’re next.”

According to the Pew Research Center’s 2014 study, young women (ages 18-24) in particular are experiencing severe forms online harassment –  the study defines “severe” as sexual harassment, physical threats, and stalking.  This harassment only increases among individuals in minority groups.

As a woman who uses the internet regularly, I am not only unsurprised by these findings, it’s something I’ve come to expect.

After a quick Google search, I easily found countless sexist memes rooted in violence. One example read, “What do you do when your dishwasher stops working? You beat her.”

Isn’t it disturbing internet bullies use the threat of harm in order to silence women’s voices? With any research done into the signs of intimate partner violence, one will find this kind of behavior to sound a bit familiar.

We must begin by holding everyone accountable, even when the threats aren’t personally directed at us. We can screenshot these threats, and share them with our network of peers. We must report those inciting violence to website administrators, and blocking these accounts if necessary.  This could also mean calling out a friend who is engaging in online bullying.

When we think about October as Domestic Violence Awareness month, let’s also consider these less-obvious abusive behaviors in our society that perpetuate gender-based violence. Words do matter. Anonymous threats are still violent. Joking about violence only trivializes the larger issue, and when a problem is normalized, we are less likely to illicit a response. Silence can only empower the aggressor, and the silence can only end with us.

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