This Is What the Harassment and Abuse of Women on the Internet Looks Like, Part II

All week we're running personal stories from Pacific Standard readers in response to Amanda Hess' cover story, "Why Women Aren't Welcome on the Internet."
By Pacific Standard Staff,
(Photo: kentoh/Shutterstock)

TEXAS

I read the article about virtual abuse with great interest today, and I wanted to share a slightly different story with you. I've read quite a bit about how women, particularly feminists, are harassed for speaking out online, but I've read very little about how women are harassed online by other women. I decided to write about it myself this year, and I wanted to pass the article along here.

While having someone trash you in an Internet forum isn't anywhere near as terrifying as the sorts of threats outlined in your article, I think that considering the way women are treated on the Internet by both sexes, and examining the whole "just ignore it" and "it's a compliment" attitude as a symptom of rape culture being perpetrated by women, is something that is currently missing from the current dialogue on online harassment, and something I'd love to see more thoughtful, feminist discussion on.

NEW YORK

I have recently had an issue with a long-ago ex and his friend making a number of salacious comments on photos of me online. Though I blocked them from Facebook, they would get them from other sources. The comments were inappropriate and some intimated physical violence, such as referring to me as "rapeable" or talking about "taking my husband out of the picture." Though on one hand both my husband and I view this as psych-talk, on the other at least one of them still lives in the same place as us and I wish to be kept anonymous if this account is used.

NEW YORK

I received a death and rape threat after I gave Fox.com a quote about sexism in video games. My husband also received sexist comments about me on his personal site.

NEW YORK

My experiences are nowhere near as bad as yours, but that may only be due to the medium they are in. I'm a gamer, and, being female, that can be a challenge in itself. Everyone assumes you're a guy regardless of what gender your character may be. It peeves me when people call me "Dude" or "Bro," but it's gotten to the point where I don't correct anyone anymore, because the alternative is worse: "Fuck you, E-skank! C*nt! You're a fat whore!" (never mind that they've never laid eyes on me.), "Shut up or I'll rape your ass! Cancel your account, slut!" It goes on and on. There are days I've been called every name in the book, simply because I've made my gender known.

It needs to end.

CALIFORNIA

I have a friend who started up a website dedicated to geek and geek culture alike. He asked as a favor I submit blog posts about my experiences as a female video game player. My third post in I received a comment from an anonymous person basically telling me I'm a joke for playing male-dominated video games, that I must be a hideous fat girl that has no life, and that I am an overall a pathetic person.

The ironic part is the article he commented on was how in general when I play video games I am constantly harassed or stalked by the male gamers in the room. Between getting asked for my phone number, nudes, and my bra size, I'm being told how I'm obviously 300 pounds or butt ugly or worse when I refuse to respond or kindly ask to be left alone. The only safe guard is be that girl that has to laugh at the jokes about everything you say being sexual or being called "babe," "doll," and "mommie."

CANADA

After reading this extraordinarily deep, well-researched, and personal article, I realized how subverted my online presence is by my gender. Initially I thought "I've never really had a personal attack" ... and then realized why. I never used my real name, gender, birth date, or location until the advent of Gmail, which filters out all manner of offensive material without ever being presented to me. It's time to take my head out of the sand.

I realize now I have been living in a self-imposed cocoon, relatively safe from virtual harm, yet aloof from all but the most superficial connections (excluding email from friends who I know in real life first). I have honed my responses to sanitize any hint of who I really am—on the rare occasion I meet someone (via freecycle, e.g.), they are invariably surprised I am a woman. I do not trust the Web as a medium for meeting people.

So by not having the courage you show to present oneself as a woman on the Web, I have effectively sidestepped the issue while doing nothing to help prevent cyber-bullying and harassment others have apparently been enduring.

I am now at a crossroads when sites such as YouTube are absorbed by companies like Google that then expect users to merge their casual persona with their professional profile and real name. That makes me uncomfortable ... because the m.o. for my casual persona is to hide.

I realize I have also done a disservice to my female friends in advising them to use pseudonyms. While I participate in Take Back the Night events and encourage and advise women, friends, and students to be fearless in public and in the workplace, it's time I show some courage in the virtual world.

I'd like to be a part of the solution instead of a mute spectator. Kudos to Amanda Hess for standing up. What can I do to help?

EUROPE

I will not share a story of harassment, but a story of fear: the very fear of harassment already keeps me from being less active online than I would like to be. It is a conscious decision not to act on my potential.

Let me add why this fear is so powerful: I have children. And whereas I can imagine dealing with rape/death threats to myself, I couldn't bear my children being targeted by even one single threat.

CALIFORNIA

I questioned a tweet from a comedian who likes to use the word "cunt," asking him if he had to use such harmful gender-specific words. He unleashed his followers on me. I was called a cunt, a bitch, a whore. With all the retweets, more people kept piling on. I was referred to as an example of how "feminists ruin everything."

After two days I abandoned my Twitter account. I didn't delete my profile, so I'm sure there's more that I haven't even seen, but just the thought of going back to my Twitter account makes me feel sick inside.

And compared to what has happened to a lot of other women, this was nothing.

VIRGINIA

I use a social media app called Thumb. One day I answered someone's question regarding the 2012 presidential election. The man who asked the question must not have liked my opinion, because he began insulting me immediately. When he began to threaten me, I blocked and reported him. He was still able to communicate to me through that post. When his threats became graphic and violent, I contacted Thumb directly. They told me I should just block him and ignore him. He threatened to rape me and "tear my ass up." I insisted that something was done. They asked that I send them screenshots of the conversation. I was shaking as I re-read the threats.

Nothing was ever done about it; they didn't even ban him from the app. I'm sure the threats were empty, but that behavior should not have come without repercussions. I know contacting the authorities would have been to know avail.

Walking home one Halloween a car swerved in attempt to hit me and my little brother I had taken trick-or-treating. I called the police. They interviewed us and the neighbor whose driveway the car pulled out of, they never followed up.... If that was their reaction to an attempted hit-and-run, I doubt they would have cared about threats of assault.

MICHIGAN

It happened a long time ago. Probably when I was around sixth grade. A friend and I were making a Minecraft server. It was going well. After we finished building spawn, he pretended to know famous YouTubers. He disguised himself as a few of them and even Notch, the creator of Minecraft. Being the stupid kid I was, I thought it was real.

Later on, he wanted to have a building contest. So he posted the server on different sites supposedly. After waiting, someone signed on. Someone I think was his friend. The whole situation seemed set up.

After a while of building, he made the server seem like it was hacked. He and his friend disguised as Herobrine and a Herobrine Minion. They continuously threatened me that I would be hacked and my Minecraft account would be deleted if I logged off, so I stayed on out of fear.

I know no one can do anything about this since it was indirect but they basically raped me in Minecraft and said that they were livestreaming it on Twitch.tv. If I tried to log off, they would threaten me.

In the Skype call, the last thing they wanted me to do before I had my parents shut off the Internet was that they wanted me to moan for them. Of course, I was only 11. I didn’t know what rape was. I didn’t exactly know what sex was. I was foolish enough to believe that they were really hacked and such.

UNITED KINGDOM

I have had my fair share of experiences online through my teens where people have laughed about my sexuality. But I was deeply affected more so in secondary school. For years I was unable to find my voice to speak to my peers. I take bullying seriously after what has happened to me. Although it was verbal bullying and not exactly physical pain, I was made to feel worthless, and as if death was the only option to escape the taunting.

With my own experience I feel for those who are targeted by Internet trolls, who, let’s face it, are bullies. I also feel for stars who happen to be attacked mercilessly day in, day out—you start to wonder if they’re Teflon. I want to share with you my observations as an individual who has seen abuse directed to a particular star.

I am a fan of Kristen Stewart who has been called polarizing. But I think she is similar to many young women who are indeed more introverted. A couple of years ago she made a very huge mistake which I believe she has paid for and apologized for. I would rather not rehash it because I would hate to be reminded of my past errors so would not wish the same for anyone else. Before that mistake though, I happened to see through my fandom Twitter account, tweets and links to Tumblr posts which would leave nasty remarks about her teeth, her ears. People would find humor in calling her a man as well. People have had an obsession with her sexuality, leaving homophobic comments here, there, and everywhere calling it “disgusting.” I could go on and on all day about this because it really has hit a nerve.

More recently the actress signed up to Instagram. The reason for the media not having knowledge on this is because her account is actually private. No one should know but most of us in the fandom know she has one. As well as fans suspecting the username of her private account, haters have found it, which gives them easy access to send abuse directly to her. Before it was known she had created an Instagram account in order to interact with her friends who happen to be regular folk, haters would leave comments reminding her friends of a particular mistake this actress had made. This hater basically calls her a whore. Now, the hater tags this actress' Instagram account in her comments, still leaving comments on strangers’ images.

If that is not considered abuse and bullying, then I’m pretty much lost. I wish more could be done. We are all human and do not deserve to be reminded of past mistakes, nor trashed back and forth with friends being used as the go-between.

NEW JERSEY

Congress should make violent/threatening harassment across the Internet a crime —and should fund a dedicated FBI office that would receive reports and conduct investigations and launch prosecutions. Pressing charges against a few dozen of these creeps would probably change the game a great deal.

MICHIGAN

Two years ago I began posting a serialized novel to a fan fiction website. An individual somehow determined my userID and password, logged onto the site as me, and added a bogus chapter to my novel.

The bogus chapter was less than a page long. But is said something completely revolting. Supposedly, the female characters in my story found it sexually pleasing to have each others' feces rubbed in their faces and over their tongues.

I deleted the objectionable material and complained about it to the webmaster. I changed my password. The objectionable writing was re-posted, with additions. The offender was communicating in his own name. And then again, in mine.

At the invitation of two users on a different fan fiction site, I moved my project over to it. A few days later, the objectionable posts re-appeared on the new site, embellished with more details about a giant orgy that takes place in a bomb shelter.

The webmistress of the new site appreciated my concerns. She was new to cybersecurity, and had some frank discussions with me about the nuts and bolts of her site, and how this individual was hacking into it. We collaborated for a couple of weeks, and discovered that my stalker was spoofing his IP address, among other things.

We locked the cyberstalker out by revoking his latest bogus account, and implementing a process that assigned a password to every new user's account that was created and emailed it back to the address they gave. If my cyberstalker wanted back into her site, he'd have to provide his real email address in order to locate his password and log in.

I don't know if this individual still spies on me. I just haven't read any of his writing for a year. This was an annoying experience, because I had no idea who it was. It was also scary. My cyberstalker was pretending to be me.

I became concerned that he would commit a crime and use his ability to impersonate me as a means of escape. (Bluntly, I worried that he would commit a sex crime and I would become a suspect in it, because so much of his writing was floating around the Internet, pretending to be written by me.) I began carefully recording my own movements, so as to be able to find witnesses who could prove where I was ... just in case this individual did commit a crime while impersonating me.

Dealing with cyberstalkers is hugely time-consuming and maddeningly frustrating. As well as emotionally draining.

NEW YORK

Last year, I wrote a story for xoJane that was syndicated to Jezebel about my going from an average weight to thin and how it made men on dates inexplicably pile on fat jokes about other women since I was "clearly" someone who would not be offended. The point was missed by a number of men's right groups and pick-up artists who descended on the comments section at Jezebel, sent me Facebook messages (even though I was listed only with a last initial at the time), and generally sneered about how I'd be fat again some day, I was an idiot, etc.

CANADA

I am a breastfeeding advocate who is active in social media, particularly on Twitter. I talk about breastfeeding advice and the politics of breastfeeding, and challenge people who discriminate against nursing in public to reconsider their stance. I never use foul language, refrain from personal attacks, and try to stick to factual information.

I receive sexually harassing messages on an almost daily basis. I endure verbal abuse and have received numerous threats of violence, including death against myself and my family, including my young children.

It's almost unimaginable that because I support women who want to breastfeed I am subjected to sexual harassment, verbal abuse, and threats of physical violence and death.

FLORIDA

I run a fanlisting for a couple of characters on a show I'm a fan of, and the site for the fanlisting includes fan fiction I wrote and a few pieces of fan art. The show only lasted a season, and isn't that well known, but a few years ago someone used the fanlisting application to send a couple of emails telling me to stop ruining the show they loved (I'm not sure how my fanworks would effect even a show that was still on the air, much less one that had been cancelled, or what exactly it was I'd done that offended them), using very foul language, attempting to cast aspersions on me, and threatening to kill me.

I contacted the provider of the email contact form service I was using for the application and reported it, sending copies of the emails, but while they were nice about it and not dismissive of my concern, in the end I was told that they were unable to track the person down and do anything about it. Besides that, I also discovered through my hit counter report that there was a Web service that allows one to view a Web page with animation over it showing it being nuked, and that someone had viewed the site in question through it—I would assume the same person.

OREGON

Very happy to see you covering this. There should be a civil rights class action or lawsuit in the near future.