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

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."
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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."
(Photo: kentoh/Shutterstock)

(Photo: kentoh/Shutterstock)

UNITED STATES

As a woman who was being stalked online by an ex-boyfriend, I know first hand what this woman is going through.

It started when I was overseas and continued when I returned to North America. I called the police when I returned home, and they told me to ignore it. They also told me that there was nothing legally they could do because even though the correspondence was sent through his Facebook account, he could claim someone else logged into his account and sent me the threatening emails and comments. I was crushed. I was scared, particularly because I personally knew who was sending me these threats, and he lived just a few blocks away from me. I didn't go out much after that for fear of running into him. I did run into him once, and had it not been for the time of day (middle) and the number of people around us (public strangers), I don't know what he would have actually done.

The situation finally came to a head when he threatened not only me but others (friends), and I went to the police station in tears, noticeably shaken and scared. The police read the emails (as the correspondence had moved from Facebook since I had blocked every avenue available to him, mostly from severely reducing my online presence, but I hadn't figured out how to block him via email). They talked to him and told him neither to contact me in person nor online, and that he was not to have any of his friends do the same.

I moved away a week later, but, sadly, it did not end there. He occasionally makes comments in reference to ones I've made, despite him being still blocked. I know because I can my comment, read my friend's response (with my name in it), and their response in a different comment to someone who is blocked. I don't have that many people blocked on here, so it isn't hard to narrow down who is saying what. And because he's blocked, I can't seek further assistance from the police because I have no proof that it is him, not to mention that I start back at the beginning with, "Well, how are you certain it is him?"

CALIFORNIA

This is a relatively minor issue compared with what Amanda wrote in her excellent article, but over the last year I've received sporadic emails from women who have been contacted by a kid from Utah.

According to the women who have emailed me, he solicits them on Facebook and tells them that he works for me (he does not—I've never met him) and that I'm a journalist who is looking to book a hot woman for the cover of a magazine I write for. (I am a journalist, and the magazine he cites is a fashion book I've done a few pieces for. He must have seen this on my website. Why he chose me, I have no idea.) He tells them that they'll be more favorably considered for the shoot if they send him half-nude photographs of themselves.

The women, flattered, send him bikini photos, or shots of them in their underwear. Obviously, the cover shoot never happens, and the women eventually catch on. So far four have contacted me and have told me about this kid's scheme. They feel embarrassed and violated.

I've contacted the police in, but they can't do anything. I paid $1,000 to a cyberlaw specialist who sent a kind of cease-and-desist letter, which caused him to stop for a few months, but as of last month it seems he's been contacting more women, as I've received emails from two of his targets in the past three weeks.

It's extremely frustrating to have my name be used like this. I feel for these women. And I worry that he'll eventually get bored of his email scheme and try something more tangible. What if he manages to entreat a woman to his apartment for a "shoot"? What then?

CALIFORNIA

I heard Amanda speak on Take Two this morning, and couldn't wait to rush to a computer to read her full article. Cyber harassment of women is a serious issue. I am an actor in Los Angeles, working primarily in commercials and television. Whenever a new commercial is released on YouTube by the ad agency, the comments are most often disgusting and appalling. Myself and my female colleagues are threatened, our looks disparaged, and most often told we deserve to be punched, mutilated, murdered, and raped. I realize that in commercial work that I'm a no name person helping some big agency sell a product. To the people commenting, I am not a human being with a mother and father, a community that I'm a part of, and need food, water, and air to survive just like them. Fine. I can deal with that. So I refuse to read any of the comments online. But then there I am, not able to participate in a portion of life online, because of being subjected to threats and aggression by people without a face.

But there are two other incidents that to this day horrify me. After a long run on an admittedly annoying commercial, I found myself on YouTube with videos about my appearance (again, fine; I'm not everyone's cup of tea physically) that were edited into various violent images of brutalized women. The comments on that video, although barely watched, were about wanting to see me murdered and raped. Finally, I found myself on a Reddit-type list. There were two categories:

1. Women and children I want to rape out of lust.

2. Women and children I want to rape out of contempt.

I came in at position two after Flo, The Progressive Girl on the list of women and children they would like to rape out of contempt. From where I'm at, it seems there's nothing I can do. I wanted to report the list, especially since it included children, but I was told that there was no way to track back to who posted through the site and no one would probably investigate it anyway.

The video and the lists are probably still out there somewhere, but for the sake of self-preservation, I haven't bothered to look. I'm easily blamed for my choice of being on camera or told that it's my fault because I put myself out there in this fashion, but I refuse to accept that.

Thank you Amanda Hess and Pacific Standard for helping bring this issue to light.

UNKNOWN

It gets worse at the intersection of old and new media. When something you are doing locally with your children gets covered in the local paper, you no longer face polite disagreement through letters to the editor. Now there are groups of people in the comments section, whom you assume live near you, who are advocating violence toward you and your friends and family who know where to find you.

I would have liked to have taken legal action against the paper, but that would only have brought on more publicity and more threats, and I was scared.

TEXAS

After participating in a discussion on Reddit, someone who disagreed with me (over a television show) called me a "cunt." When I called them out on it, this same person proceeded to hunt down photos of me and Photoshop them into pornography.

TEXAS

I have a tiny blog that no one even knows about, but a few years ago, when I posted about my then-toddler daughter and how she influenced my feminism, a commenter appeared out of the blue and said that he would like to rape us both to death.

UTAH

Thank you for this important article.

I started a blog in 2009 and have written over 600 entries and also have written for multiple other publications, including The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, LinkedIn, and more. My entries often focus on advancing women and girls.

I have had many blog stalkers over the years and one in particular that would leave pages and pages about how horrible a person I must be (I guess because I once worked at Goldman). He would write about how my daughter should be ashamed to be born from me and more. It got scary but I never reported it. That was many years ago.

Because The Huffington Post would allow ridiculous comments to remain I stopped writing for them. It is happening again on LinkedIn with one guy in particular who finds something negative and targeted to write on anything I post. It is not as threatening but consistent and extremely disrespectful. At least in this case I can see who the guy is.

Comments cannot really be anonymous. I care about making a positive difference in the world, which is why I put myself out there. But it is scary. I do worry. We need better protections for all of us. Thanks to the amazing women who continue to write despite the threats. We are in it together.

CALIFORNIA

I've been bullied on The Huffington Post forum, which has led me to be silent. That sucks. This is not acceptable!

UNKNOWN

I once wrote an online story and got harassed. One creep set up fake social media sites in my name. Later, I had a blog with my own commentaries about news stories of the day, as well as stories about my life. Two readers who had their own blogs were hateful and made nasty sexual innuendos and tried to spread rumors. One had done a great job of running at least two other women bloggers off of the Internet. By 2010, I had given up on social media and writing.

To this day my Facebook has only 18 friends, and they are all family; they know not to tag me in any family pictures. If I ever regain the confidence to write again, which is doubtful, it will be under the name of a male author. It's sad and sometimes I hate myself for not being stronger, but I can't seem to get past the abuse and don't ever want to go through that again.

FRANCE

I'm not a writer but as an employer I have suffered immensely in the hands of employees' cyber attacks, Web abuse, and tearing my life apart very unfairly. I have children and these individuals knew where I lived, where my kids went to school, etc., so I never dared defend myself. When my friends and colleagues stood up for me they too became targets of such abuse.

I tried everything with the forum which hosted such hateful messages but they never replied or did anything about it. Such abusive and destructive language is still on the Web, and ever since they were published my personal life and the company they were attacking have been crippled to say the least. The hardest part was not being able to do anything about it for the fear that they would do something to my children. I'm traumatized because of this and this is the first time I break my silence about it. Thank you for speaking up. It gave me a lot of courage.

FLORIDA

Thank you for opening the door to harassment online. I have an ongoing story that I'm trying very hard to understand. Google's initiation of Google+ has caused me some grief. I disabled it and I come back to find it enabled, opening up other accounts. I write a tech blog. My stalker/s DoS my posts. That's just the beginning. I can't get into my Gmail accounts without an intruder joining me. I have no idea if I'm getting all my email.

I think I have a name. He's an IT consultant who from his website is homophobic and outwardly religious to an extreme. He's posted an apocalyptic video with war and other tropes. His website topic don't sound healthy. I also found a page of links between my email accounts and his at LastPass password security. I think he might have a group of women who he disrupts online. I can't be sure it's only women but it's a good guess.

Think about it. If you control email you control employment applications, banking to some degree, family and friend relationships, the ability to freely write for the public. Now, what I write about is somewhat political and maybe controversial, but it's intelligently done. I've begun keeping notebooks on my experience. I will try to add to your knowledge about Internet stalking.

IRELAND

Someone created a Twitter account posing as me. He used this account to make rude remarks about other people's work and pretend to be me touting work as a consultant, which was damaging to me professionally. There were also insulting comments about my appearance and evidence that the person had access to my Facebook account, and knew my geographical location all the time. It was obviously someone who knew me in person. (I have a pretty good idea who it was; when I told him via email, the account was deleted.)

I approached Twitter and was told my local police here in Ireland would have to request the IP address on foot or a court order via FAX to Twitter's head office in California. That seemed excessively obstructive to me. The police obviously couldn't do anything without some information about who the person was; I appreciate that my own suspicions couldn't be taken as evidence.

This was pretty low-level harassment compared to rape and death threats. But the fact remained that a disturbed individual had been focused on me in a hostile way enough to have been tweeting about me or pretending to be me six times a day for 10 days. I was certain that it was someone who knew me and had access to my home address, where I live alone. I had nowhere to turn for protection and I found it profoundly disturbing.

OHIO

My harassment began in 2010. I was engaged, with an anonymous username, in vigorous debate with other readers on political issues on an online magazine. I had been a longtime poster at that point, since about 2003. Since I sometimes took unpopular stances, I got a lot of flack but I felt safe, since my username and account seemed untraceable and I was careful not to use too much personal information. Sure, I was called names and there were threats, but I felt secure in my anonymity, which let me speak honestly on issues.

All that changed in the summer of 2010. At one point, a very angry poster said that he would pay $1,000 to one of the magazine's unpaid interns if they would reveal to him my identity and location. I laughed at this, believing it was impossible. A few days later, I got an email (at my real, personal email address). In the magazine's forums were dozens of posts listing my real name, real address, email, phone number, and, worst of all, links to GoogleEarth photos of my home, along with detailed instructions on how to get there. Some were solicitations to beat me up or shoot me. One suggested killing my pets; another said "and if anyone in her family gets shot by accident—too bad!"

I begged the magazine for help, and initially they banned the worst posters and removed the hundreds of offending (and completely off-topic) posts—but it would immediately start up again, as they created new accounts. Then the magazine decided to ban me, claiming it was my fault for posting unpopular opinions (in a very vigorous open forum).

I tried to stand up to this bullying (and how much worse—just as in school bullying—is the acquiescence of the power structure, blaming the victim) only to find, almost daily, the abuse just ratcheted up. The bullies were making constant attempts to find photos of me to ridicule; as I am not famous in any way and kept photos off the Internet, this was impossible. In lieu of that, they would find the ugliest possible photos of other women, claim they were me, and then post them.

Final straw: they managed to find out my husband's name (different than my own) and started harassing him—asking to be added to his LinkedIn account, then trying to set up phony interviews or slandering him professionally online. That was too much—having my innocent spouse victimized—and I ended my association with the magazine. It took about a year, however, after the severing of my account for the harassment to stop—several harassers followed me to other sites, and, of course, I had to change my email and service provider to stop the flow of nasty mail, and close my Twitter account.

I won't easily forget how awful it was, and the cold chill that goes up your spine when someone who knows who you are and where you live threatens to murder you or your family. And yes, my attackers were all men. I wonder if this happens, to this degree, to men online.

WASHINGTON, D.C.

I'm curious how Stand Your Ground laws may affect these stalkers, particularly in cases where you know who the person sending you threats is. At what point are you in reasonable fear of your life? And at what point are you allowed to defend yourself?

I've never been stalked, but a recent discussion at my office brought out that of the five women (25-35) present, I was the only one who hadn't been. Probably because I've lived so many years outside of the U.S. What is it about our culture that we joke about this being "typical frat behavior?" Why aren't other men policing these violators? Why don't they say that this is unacceptable? Every man who isn't speaking out against these comments when they're made aware of them is condoning the behavior, which really has to be labelled terrorism, as it is using fear to shape people's actions.

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