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Women In The Spotlight: How online abuse impacts women in their working lives

Many women face online abuse simply because they have an active online presence as part of their working life.

This research focused on women working in different sectors including law, banking, marketing, journalism and community services.

In-depth interviews were done with 20 women who had experienced online abuse. Plus, an online survey was conducted involving 1491 women who were working, or had recently worked.

The women reported different types of behaviour including harassment, doxing and trolling. Most of the abuse happened on social media and many talked about the negative impact it had on their mental wellbeing and personal confidence.

The research was done between May and July 2021 and the key findings are included in the Infographic. A full report will be released in October 2021.

 

Infographic

Women In The Spotlight

35% of  women surveyed experienced online abuse in their working lives.

These statistics highlight their individual experiences.1


Who was targeted?

Certain groups experienced higher rates of online abuse.

62% of those with an online or media public profile  
57% of women living with disability
51% of those identifying as LGBTIQ+
43% of those aged 18 to 34 years old


What types of abuse did the women experience?

  • 62% Received unwanted private messages  
  • 49% Recorded negative comments about their content  
  • 29% Were bullied or trolled
  • 23% Experienced defamatory comments  
  • 22% Had offensive comments made about their race, ethnicity or gender  
  • 21% Recorded slurs against their professional name  
  • 21% Had lies or rumours spread about them  
  • 19% Received offensive remarks about physical appearance
  • 14% were stalked online
  • 13% were impersonated or had a fake account set up in their name  
  • 9% were doxed
  • 9% received threats of real-life harm or abuse
  • 6% were targeted by an ‘anti’ or ‘hate’ group 

Quotes

"My personal information was posted online."

"If you have got Twitter and a profile, people come at you. When you pop your head up and comment, that's often when you can be vulnerable."

"The abuse is gendered. As I am a woman, my suitability is often called into question, both for my role and why I work in the industry at all."

Who were the main perpetrators?

  • 50% Strangers
  • 40% Professional contacts  
  • 20% Personal contacts

Where the abuse occurred   

Social media

  • 62% Facebook
  • 26% Instagram
  • 18% Twitter  
  • 14% LinkedIn  

Email

  • 21% Personal
  • 15% Work

Messages

  • 16% SMS or MMS  
  • 13% Chat apps     

How did they respond to the abuse?

Walked away  

  • 56% Ignored the abuse or did not respond

Distanced themselves

  • 54% Blocked the person
  • 37% Deleted the post or comments

 Sought support

  • 37% Talked to family or friends
  • 14% Told a manager
  • 12% Confided in a colleague
  • 11% Spoke to a counsellor

Stepped back

  • 36% Changed username or privacy settings
  • 31% Closed account or reduced online activity

Reported abuse

  • 30% Reported to the website, platform or editors
  • 8% Reported to an authority
  • 6% Spoke to Human Resources

Saved evidence

  • 17% Documented evidence of the abuse

Called it out

  • 16% Took an activist stance

Quotes

"I ignore it to stop ‘feeding the beast’."

"Don’t engage - just block and delete and try to forget."

"An online course on types of abuse (emotional, online etc) was very helpful in making me understand what constituted abuse. It empowered me to call it out, find my voice and make a stand."

What was the impact?

Personal
41% Decline in mental health and wellbeing
35% Reduced confidence
17% Increased fears about physical safety


Professional
23% Reduced professional confidence
21% Lower rates of work satisfaction
11% Reputational damage
                     
 Impact on career behaviours

  • 22% Temporarily stopped online activity
  • 5% Permanently stopped online activity
  • 9% Avoided certain discussions in public forums   
  • 8% Pulled back from or avoid leadership positions  
  • 5% Left their job or industry

Quotes

"The only thing that has limited the online stalking has been to reduce my interactions with the public and stop advertising my business."

"I limit my online presence. Self-censoring is what I do."

24% of women surveyed were  hesitant to move into a  role that required  an online public or media presence.

Reporting online abuse

76% believe authorities won’t listen until they are in physical danger
72% think the abuse will continue even if they make a report

What women want
Women are asking for more resources, stronger protections and cultural change.

Quotes

"Employers need to be more aware of what is happening with their employees and not accuse them prior to investigating fully. All new employees should be given policies and procedures with all these details in them. Perhaps government can provide this to the employers.​"

"There needs to be more laws to curb offences."

"What would I like to see change? Gender equality and respect for women. I believe that online abuse stems from a place of disrespect towards women, and a belief that women have lesser value compared with men and therefore people believe they have the right to abuse women, particularly online."

"Education on the effects of online abuse and more information for women about how to respond."

 

1Based on a mixed method study and survey of women who were working or have worked in the past three years, and who were online or in the media for work purposes. 1491 women were surveyed and 20 individual interviews were conducted from May to July 2021.


2Statistics about types of abuse, responses and impacts are based on those who experienced work-related online abuse, comprising 526 women.