Online abuse can come in different forms. It is never acceptable.
People have the right to expect the same standards of behaviour online as those expected in face-to-face interactions. If something is illegal, unfair or unacceptable face-to-face, then it is illegal, unfair or unacceptable online.
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 sexual orientation.
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 sexual orientation, 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.