Case Studies

​Who:  Sunny Singh is a successful novelist and campaigner.


The case: As an active social media user and blogger, writing on political issues including the Arab Spring, and EU economic policy, as well as feminism and racism, Sunny found that writing on what are often seen as ‘male’ issues meant she received a particular form of violent abuse from men online, including rape threats, insults about her appearance. In her experience, online abusers seem more able and secure in directing their vilest, most violent, abuse at women they see as their 'own' or ethnically, nationally, religiously, of their own grouping’, and so the worst forms of abuse she experienced was from Indian Hindu men.


Outcome: Sunny decided to use her experiences to raise awareness of the sexist and racist abuse women receive online. She published a blog drawing the connections between this kind of harassment and the harassment women experience in physical public spaces such as the street. She also used the same medium, Twitter, where she had experienced a lot of harassment to conduct an online interview with Digital Women, including her tips on how to respond when receiving abuse. She conducted an experiment in changing her profile picture and wrote about the results here. Sunny’s actions show that there are a wide range of ways to respond to online abuse and that sometimes raising awareness by sharing your experiences can help in regaining a sense of control and freedom. She believes in speaking up, as loudly and as often as possible.

Image by Michael Dresser

​Who:  Steven is a bisexual man in his 40s. He is an avid snow sports fan. He had accounts on different dating sites which he set up several years ago. He recently married Jane. Before doing so, he had deactivated his accounts on the dating websites specifically for the LGBT community, but had not removed his profiles. He had planned to do this, but in the hectic planning of the wedding, he had forgotten about them. Steven has not told Jane about his sexuality.


The case: Steven began talking to people who were interested in the same snow sports as him on Twitter’s direct messaging service. The group invited him into a group chat on a video-chat website.

Someone from the group chat had found Steven’s online dating profile. They threatened to disclose Steven’s sexuality to his wife. On the video chat, they began pressurising him into undressing on the chat, which he eventually did. One member took images of Steven, and began blackmailing him with the images. He demanded that Steven send more images of a sexual nature or he would post the images on Facebook and Twitter.

Steven at first ignored the threats. After a week, the group chat member began posting the screenshots on an anonymous website with unpleasant and threatening captions. They kept taking the images down and reposting them again on different websites, making it very difficult for Steven to know where the images were.


Outcome: Steven, with help from his friends and family, contacted the police and the video-chat website. They helped him find out the IP address of the group chat member who took the screenshots. The IP address helped the police locate the perpetrator. They were convicted of blackmail and the offence of disclosing private sexual images with intent to cause distress. The perpetrator was sentenced to 1 year in prison.

 The posting of sexual photos or videos of adults online without the person’s consent is a crime.

If you have experienced this issue and there are still images online, you can contact the Revenge Porn Helpline on 0845 6000 459.


If you have experienced this issue and need free legal advice contact the Queen Mary Legal Advice Centre.

​Who: Sarah is in her 30s and recently moved in with her partner, Ali. After receiving some strange voicemails from a blocked number, Sarah found out that Ali was still in contact with his ex-wife, Catherine. Ali assured Sarah that Catherine meant her no harm, and that the voicemails were probably spam calls.


The case: A few weeks after the voicemails, Sarah began receiving threatening emails from Catherine’s account threatening to ‘ruin her life.’ Catherine then hacked into Sarah’s social media accounts. Catherine took some of the images Sarah had sent to Ali when they were first dating, which were a mixture of nude images she had privately sent and other images from Sarah’s wall that were of Sarah and her work colleagues. Catherine began to post the images via social media and sent some of the images to Ali’s friends and family members. She also later sent the images to Sarah’s local church by posting flyers. Sarah found out about the images when Catherine sent them to Sarah herself, by email. Sarah became very distressed as some of the images were of a sexual nature, and others showed her workplace.


Outcome: Sarah first contacted Facebook and Twitter, and successfully asked them to take down the images. She asked Ali’s family to delete the photos, and her local church to remove and destroy the flyers.

Sarah contacted the police about the threats and the disclosure of the images, and Catherine was arrested and charged with committing the offence under section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015; disclosing private sexual photographs with the intention to cause distress.  Catherine pleaded guilty at court and was sentenced to three months in prison, and was fined £600. Furthermore, Sarah was granted a three-year restraining order, barring Catherine from making any further contact.


The posting of sexual photos or videos of adults online without the person’s consent is a crime.

If you have experienced this issue and there are still images online, you can contact the Revenge Porn Helpline on 0845 6000 459.


If you have experienced this issue and need free legal advice contact the Queen Mary Legal Advice Centre.


​Who: Loretta was in her 50s and had three grown-up children. She had recently started the process of transitioning and was slowly exploring her identity as the woman she knew herself to be. Her confidence and well-being was improving after years of silence and struggle about her gender identity.


The case: Loretta set up profiles on a number of trans-specific sites, including dating sites, defining her sexual orientation as bisexual. She became friendly with a heterosexual man on a dating site and, over a period of time, disclosed where she lived and other personal information. They began to chat over FaceTime and Skype and as time went on Loretta felt more confident to be sexual in front of the camera for him. Over time, the man became more demanding, threatening to publicise her trans identity and the photos and videos she had sent. Loretta attempted to end the contact and, at this point, a sexual video of her was posted on Facebook. Loretta was devastated by the rapid spread of the video. She stopped going out, and considered reversing her transitioning process.


Outcome: Loretta’s online friends contacted Facebook, which took down the video. The matter was passed to the police, who traced and charged the man. Trans and non-trans allies online began tweeting in Loretta’s defense and Loretta felt hugely supported by this solidarity. The online community put her in touch with a local trans community organisation and she began going to support group meetings, where she was able to develop friendships.


The posting of sexual photos or videos of adults online without the person’s consent is a crime. Contact the Revenge Porn Helpline.

Who: Nine people were prosecuted after admitting they named online the woman who was raped by footballer Ched Evans. 


The Case: The former Sheffield United and Wales striker was jailed for five years for raping a 19-year-old women.  Following the trial, the victim was named and described in derogatory ways by nine people on Twitter and Facebook. The law grants victims and alleged victims of rape lifelong anonymity.  The nine who pleaded guilty claimed they were not aware naming her was a criminal offence.


Outcome:  The nine individuals were all charged with publishing material likely to lead members of the public to identify the complainant in a rape case, contrary to the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992  They had to pay compensation to the victim and were themselves named and shamed in court.


Who: Peter Nunn who was jailed in Sept 2014 for sending abusive messages on Twitter to Labour MP Stella Creasy.


The Case: Peter Nunn, 33, from Bristol, tweeted menacing posts threatening to rape Stella Creasy.  He launched what the prosecution called his “campaign of hatred” after the MP backed a high-profile drive by the feminist activist Caroline Criado-Perez to put the image of Jane Austen on the £10 note.


How the victim felt: Impact statements were read out to the court on behalf of both women, who spoke of the “terrifying” threats made against them.

The prosecutor said the messages had a “substantial” effect on Creasy, who felt increasing concern that individuals were seeking not only to cause her distress but also to cause her real harm which led her to fear for her own safety.


Outcome: Nunn was jailed for 18 weeks. The district judge Elizabeth Roscoe found him guilty of sending indecent, obscene or menacing messages.  She also imposed a restraining order banning him from any contact with the MP.


Who: Trevor was a gay man whose Facebook page was hacked by someone who used it to send offensive messages to other people.


The case: The messages sent from Trevor’s Facebook account included information about him being gay, used sexual language and made explicit sexual references. He changed his password which stopped the messages but another profile was set up in his name to spread false rumours. He contacted Facebook, which deleted the profile, but then another one was set up. This went on for months and included messages being sent to work colleagues and family members, effectively ‘outing’ Trevor and causing the breakdown of a number of family and working relationships. Trevor had no idea who was targeting him.


Trevor found he was constantly checking for messages and became extremely anxious about who was doing this and what they would do next. He was very distressed that people got to know about his sexuality in a way he hadn’t intended and worried if they would believe the things in the messages. Trevor’s ability to work was greatly impaired, he was prescribed anti-depressants, and took sick leave from work.


Outcome: Eventually a colleague at work disclosed that they’d heard another colleague bragging that they were sending the messages. Trevor went to his manager for support who confronted the colleague. Following an investigation by the employer, evidence was found to prove it was the work colleague, who was dismissed. Trevor felt supported by his employer.

Who: Dan was a trans man in his 40s who lived with his partner Sarah. Dan used a wheelchair and their flat was adapted to Dan’s needs.


The Case: Dan had reported persistent transphobic abuse by his neighbours. The harassment escalated from graffiti and verbal abuse to smashing windows, poisoning their cat and eventually a violent burglary, during which Dan was brutally beaten.


The attackers were caught and sentenced to terms in prison. Dan and Sarah thought this was the end of their ordeal but the day after the trial ended the free newspaper was delivered, with a big front-page headline saying ‘Transvestite attacked. Did his attackers know he was really a woman?’. Dan and Sarah were devastated by this reporting, which was both insulting and factually incorrect. Dan and his wife were named and their address published. This was quickly picked up online and tweeted. A family member was tricked into disclosing Dan’s previous name, which was shared on twitter. Dan was outed at work, local young people began hanging around the estate and shouting comments, and Sarah’s family found out that they weren’t legally married and her husband had a trans history.


The Outcome: In desperation, Sarah contacted the local LGBT organisation, which immediately put them in touch with Trans Media Watch who challenged the newspaper on its transphobic reporting, leading to an apology and amendment of the article online. A formal complaint was made to the Press Complaints Commission. Sarah and Dan used Twitter’s reporting mechanism to get the tweets stopped and reported to the police. Pressure was put on the local council to move Dan and Sarah to a new property.

Who: Anita Sarkeesian, founder of Feminist Frequency a not-for-profit, educational organisation. 


The Case: Anita Sarkeesian, 30, concerned at the stereotyping of girls and women by the makers of Video games decided to challenge the status quo. In 2009, she launched Feminist Frequency, a video blog that deconstructs how girls and women are discriminated against in video games and other pop-culture. 


In 2012, she launched a project that specifically targets sexism in video games. Among other topics, her videos, which attract hundreds of thousands of YouTube views, have taken on Ms. Pac Man, the 2011 movie Damsels in Distress, and the gendered way in which Lego may be marketed to girls.


Sarkeesian's ongoing "Tropes vs. Women" series sparked a ruthless backlash online.  Her Wikipedia page was hacked with degrading slurs, she was sent illustrations of her being sexually assaulted, and an online game was even created titled "Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian." 


The Outcome: Sarkeesian has received vast support from the online community. Her $6,000 Kickstarter goal for the video series was met in less than 24 hours, and went on to raise more than 25 times that much to expand the series. 

Who: Sapna was a young lesbian who had recently split from her girlfriend. Sapna lived with her parents and had not told her family about her sexuality.


The case: Sapna’s ex-partner began to follow Sapna and harass her. She would turn up at Sapna’s home and outside the office where Sapna worked. The harassment also involved constant texting and telephone calls, many dozens per day, abusive in nature and threatening to ‘out’ her to her family. The ex-girlfriend posted derogatory comments about Sapna on her Facebook page, which her sister read.


The impact on Sapna was huge. The erratic but constant nature of the harassment by text was unsettling and upsetting. Sapna felt unable to change her number because she didn’t want to have to explain the reason to her family. She also worried that if she blocked her ex-partner, then she would be more likely to harass Sapna in person and/or contact her family directly. Sapna was reluctant to contact the police, as she felt the harassment, including by text, wouldn’t be taken seriously – particularly as she’d responded to her ex-partner’s messages on several occasions. She thought people would not think another young woman could be so threatening and she was worried that her family would find out.


The outcome: A friend of Sapna, who knew about her sexuality, decided to help and researched if there were independent agencies which could help. The friend found out about one agency and rang them confidentially for advice. The friend supported Sapna to a meeting, where she learnt that the harassment was domestic abuse and she had the right to take action. The agency supported Sapna to report it to the police and visit a solicitor, who supported her to take out an injunction to stop the harassment. Sapna was helped to build a network of friends around her, to speak to her sister and to seek support from the HR department where she worked. Sapna contacted Facebook and made sure her ex-girlfriend was blocked.