Sexism

Technology and new forms of media are huge enablers for women across the world. Digital and social media are vital tools for campaigning, challenging and raising awareness about gender inequality. However, they can also be used by those who wish to insult, harass and threaten women.

 

Both men and women experience abuse online but one of the significant factors of online abuse for women is the frequent use of threats of sexual violence and derogatory comments about women’s appearance and bodies. This experience aims to silence women and can feel isolating. The message of this website is that you are not alone. There is information about practical help on what to do and where you can get support if you need it.

What sort of abuse do women experience online?

Abusive and discriminatory online content is widespread and covers a whole range of issues affecting individuals, groups and all women and girls. From trolling, stalking and revenge porn, to gratuitous and offensive references to women’s bodies and appearance, from rape threats to discrimination simply because someone is female – sexist abuse can be anywhere online.

 

The Everyday Sexism Project was set up to enable women to speak up about their day-to-day experience of sexism. As the Project says about these examples “they might be serious or minor, outrageously offensive or so niggling and normalised that you don’t even feel able to protest… By sharing your story you’re showing the world that sexism does exist, it is faced by women everyday and it is a valid problem to discuss.”

 

Many women’s and feminist organisations make the connection between ‘everyday’ sexism online and physical, psychological and emotional violence against women and girls. The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993) says the term ‘violence against women’ means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life. (End Violence Against Women). 

Sexual harassment and violence

One aspect of online harassment and abuse is that it can quickly become sexually harassing and threatening. Sometimes, simply by commenting on an issue, women bloggers and commentators have become subject to threats of rape and sexual violence.

 

This also happens to individual women from ‘friends’, work colleagues, contacts made via dating websites and also from complete strangers. Online threats of sexual violence can also be part of the pattern of behaviour in situations of stalking and also in domestic abuse.

 

Receiving sexual harassment and threats online can be frightening but there are things you can do. First, tell someone. If the online abuse is connected to violence you have experienced physically, contact Rape Crisis to find a local support organisation. Your local Victim Support organisation can also offer advice and support. Secondly, keep the evidence and follow the suggestions about reporting and taking action on our Taking Action page.

 

For more info, visit:

Taking Action

Resources

Womens Aid

Stalking Helpline

 

Intersecting factors

Women experience discrimination and inequality not just because of their gender but also from a range of intersecting issues and identities such as ethnicity, culture, religion, disability, age, class, sexual orientation and gender history/identity. All of these things can interact with someone’s experience of harassment and abuse online. Stereotypes and sexualised images of women online can also interact with these issues.

 

Men and women can be supportive of women’s equality online by challenging online content that is racist, or derogatory of women based on their religion, age, sexual orientation, gender history/identity, or disability.

 

Muslim Women's Network 

Tell Mama 

Imkaan 

Rights of Women 

Disability Rights UK 

True Vision 

Revenge Porn Helpline

 

Taking Action

Homophobia and Biphobia 

Transphobia

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Complaining

Regulatory bodies are organisations set up by Government with responsibility to monitor, guide and control various industry sectors in the interests of protecting consumers. Anyone can contact a regulatory body if they are concerned about abuse or derogatory content in the media.

 

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Campaigning

There can be derogatory content in the media that is not illegal and not covered by the regulatory bodies.  There is still something that can be done and very often the most effective solution is active citizenship (for an example, see UK Feminista). Whether we read general comments that are derogatory about a group of people or see postings that threaten or abuse our friends, family members or colleagues, we can all take action to challenge abuse or derogatory content.

 

Some of the things you can do are:

  • Report abuse to the police

  • Report abuse to the website concerned and demand they take action

  • Make a formal complaint to the website or other relevant organisation

  • If the person being abused is someone you know, offer them friendly support in a way that they feel is appropriate (they might prefer this to be private and/or face-to-face)

  • Make known online (in a polite but assertive way) that you disagree with abuse but don’t fuel the abuse by giving attention to the abuser or their comments and definitely don’t be abusive in return

  • Use networks to lobby and create ‘counter narratives’ – comments and discussions that support equality, fairness, dignity and everyone’s right to live free from abuse and discrimination

  • Join positive campaigns that aim to harness the good will of the majority. 

Why equality matters

Women and LGBT communities can be targeted and discriminated against just for who they are. This background of discrimination and inequality influences online abuse. Sexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia exist online, as do racism and prejudice based on age, disability and religion, all of which are also experienced by women and LGBT people.

 

Abusers often use this prejudice to fuel their actions and what starts off as abuse against an individual can quickly become abuse against everyone with those characteristics. The impact of online abuse against individuals often stretches far beyond the individuals involved. Individuals need good information and appropriate support to stop abuse, including reporting it to the police and taking legal action against abusive people.

 

Many people want to take action to stop and prevent sexist, homophobic, biphobic and transphobic stereotypes and abuse online. We all have the chance to be part of a movement for change, standing up for ourselves and others against harassment and abuse. This website is about empowering people with information and assistance to identify, challenge and change online abuse, for the benefit of all women and LGBT people.

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Making a complaint to:

Press

The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) is the new independent regulator for the newspaper and magazine industry in the UK. This includes online news content.

 

IPSO handles complaints about breaches of the Editors' Code of Practice. They are able to impose sanctions, including the ability to determine the nature, extent and placement of corrections, when they are necessary in order to remedy a breach of the Editors' Code. 

 

For example, breaches of the code may include:

  • Prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

  • Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability unless genuinely relevant to the story.

 

You can make a complaint to IPSO.

  

TV or radio

Ofcom is the regulator for communications. This includes TV, radio, fixed line telecoms, mobiles, postal services, plus the airwaves over which wireless devices operate. 

 

Ofcom is required under the Communications Act 2003 and the Broadcasting Act 1996 to draw up a code for television and radio, covering standards in programmes, sponsorship, and product placement in television programmes, fairness and privacy. They take action against agencies if they breach their Broadcasting Code.

 

For example, breaches of the code may include:

  • unjustified depictions of sex or nudity, or offensive language, before the 9pm watershed

  • representation after the watershed that “contains images and/or language of a strong sexual nature which is broadcast for the primary purpose of sexual arousal or stimulation”

  • material which may cause offence and is not justified in context.

Adverts

The Advertising Standards Authority will take action against an advertiser if it breaches their Broadcast Advertising Code. For example, breaches of the code may include:

 

  • Images which condone or encourage harmful discriminatory behaviour or treatment, or prejudice respect for human dignity.

  • Adverts which cause widespread or serious offence

  • Adverts which show 18-rated material

 

ASA can impose a fines and prevent the advert being shown again.

Music videos

You may also be worried about derogatory content of adverts or music videos online. You can contact the Advertising Standards Authority and Ofcom to complain about this.  

 

OFCOM covers TV broadcasting of music videos, including music channels. ASA covers the broadcasting of music videos as adverts, such as adverts for a music single or album.

 

Visit Rewind & Reframe and EVAW for further information about how to complain and campaign against sexist and racist music videos. 

Website

You can complain directly to the websites concerned (for example Twitter and Facebook). Ask the website about their equalities policy and if they have specific aims to protect women or LGBT people.  You can also check the policies of Google and Yahoo.

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Many women and men are concerned at the stereotypes and sexualised representations of women and girls in all forms of media. Such content can cause and reinforces harmful, 

abusive and discriminatory behaviour towards women and undermines progress towards equal rights, opportunities and fair treatment. This website is about empowering people with information and assistance to identify, challenge and change online abuse, for the benefit of all women.

 

This page also provides guidance on how to take action against harmful, abusive and discriminatory stereotypes and sexualised representations of women online and in other forms of media including newspapers, TV, radio, adverts and music videos.

 

Women and men can be part of a movement for change. By challenging sexism and misogyny we can help tackle the root causes that underpin gender inequality both online and offline. 

Case Study

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.