Why this story matters:
Women everywhere often must grapple with interactions on the Internet that expose them to violent fantasies, humiliation, sexual harassment and misogyny.
Recently in Austria, a former Greens deputy, Sigi Maurer, posted sexually explicit messages on her Twitter that were sent to her private account and included the name of the sender. Because the messages were sent privately, the harassment did not fall under existing criminal statutes. Now she is being sued for libel by the man whose account the messages came from.
She is not the only woman to receive such messages through social media or messaging apps. Nor is she the only woman to be forsaken by the Austrian legal system in this kind of situation.
"Verbal violence against women often does not fit in with existing legislation," says Ingrid Brodnig, author of the book, "Hatred on the Net".
Many messages are too vague to be labelled dangerous. Brodnig sees a "derogatory obscene fantasy" in the message to Maurer, and as such it is currently not a criminal offense.
However, Sigi Maurer should be a role model for other women (or even men) in similar situations on how to fight back against insults, harassment and humiliation.
Reacting to online harassment: best practice guide
- Ingrid Brodnig, expert on hate in the internet and author advises:
- Take a screenshot. Especially if you are not used to receiving such extreme messages. It happens again and again that women -- in shock -- shut down the PC or even delete the message and do not take a screenshot in time. So, secure evidence, even if it does not look like it is actionable. Because it can become enforceable. For example, if a user sends such messages over several weeks or months then the law against cypermobbing would take effect.
- Do not stay alone. Talk to people you trust. They can advise you and be supportive. In such a situation you can be very upset and it is better to first speak with friends or family before you react.
- If the message is drastic enough, show it. Criminal law can provide deterrents, so it can also warn away offenders.
- Publish anonymously. Pointing out sexism can also be a method of self-defense. For non-public communications such as private messages or e-mails you can make it public but you should be careful about naming the sender as each country has diffrent privacy laws. But by posting even an anonymous message, you can share what you are experiencing and gain solidarity.