Gender-based online abuse: 6 things you can do to prevent it this 16 Days

It’s 2022, yet we are still fighting an age-old affliction deeply rooted in many cultures: violence against women and girls. 

Since the pandemic began, 45 per cent of women have reported they, or a woman they know, have experienced some form of violence.  

Unsurprisingly, this trend is mirrored in the online world, where the pandemic has supercharged demand for child sexual exploitation material (which overwhelmingly features girls), and where a burgeoning incel culture rife with discussions of paedophilia, violence and extreme hatred poses real dangers to women and children.  

This gendered abuse is insidious, and also manifests in everyday online attacks and cyber harassment of women, which some may try to dismiss or ignore. A social media post with misogynistic overtones might seem like 30 words of text that any resilient adult should be able to brush off. 

But 30 words experienced every 30 minutes every day can have serious psychological and emotional consequences.  

I know first-hand how it feels to be targeted by aggressive, faceless accounts when you present as a woman in a position of responsibility or leadership. They hone in on your appearance, your clothing or your parenting skills, and make offensive and sexualised comments that have nothing to do with your job but everything to do with trying to degrade and humiliate. 

I’m hardly unique in my experience. One in three women participating in an eSafety survey told us they had experienced online abuse in a professional context. The rate was even higher for women who were younger, had a disability, or identified as LGBTQI+. 

Understandably, some women respond by going to ground: not posting or sharing and keeping their ideas to themselves, avoiding positions demanding an online profile, and even closing their social media accounts.  

Let’s take one example, Ana*. 

Ana is a human rights journalist dedicated to championing the needs of society’s most marginalised. After a recent article of hers went viral, she became the target of a vicious online pile-on where she was harassed and abused. The comments were sexist, nasty and degrading. They questioned her professional ability, her aptitude and disparaged her appearance, race and religion.  

Ana, scared and anxious about the abuse on Twitter and Facebook, thought about deleting her accounts. She even considered leaving her career.  

Fortunately, she decided not to shut up shop. But others have had to make different choices for their safety and wellbeing. And this attrition of ideas, of voices and expertise, is our collective loss.  

It’s 2022. It’s the year to stand against all forms of abuse in all corners of the internet.  

Join an online movement of upstanders 

To support 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence, we’re calling on Australians of all ages, backgrounds and sexualities to help us stamp out gender-based abuse online. 

While perpetrators must be held to account, and we urge tech companies to adopt Safety By Design principles across products and services, there are things we can all do now to help make the online world a more inclusive space. 

  1. Share eSafety’s online safety resources for women: we have developed information, advice and safety tips on a range of topics from online dating to tech-facilitated abuse to help women have safer and more positive experiences online. We also have essential online safety advice in 15 different languages and Easy Read format
  2. Get social media savvy: Take one of our social media self-defence webinars and learn how to recognise online abuse and its impacts on women, and how to set up your social media accounts and profiles with safety in mind. The webinars cover how to deal with online abuse through muting, blocking and reporting.  
  3. Report abuse to the platform: Be an upstander and report abuse targeting a person’s gender, sexuality, race, religion or appearance to the platform it appeared on (our eSafety Guide shows you how). And if you feel comfortable and safe doing so, call it out. 
  4. Report serious cases to eSafety: If you report serious adult cyber abuse or cyberbullying of a child to a platform and they don’t respond within 48 hours, report it to eSafety and we can investigate. If it meets the threshold, we can get it removed. If your intimate images have been shared online without your consent, you can report that to us immediately. Find out more about reporting to eSafety at esafety.gov.au/report.  
  5. Respect and elevate women’s voices: As in Ana’s case, the aim of gender-based online abuse is to suppress women’s voices. We need legions of upstanders to call out targeted abuse against women. Think about what you can do in your workplace, education institution, sports and social clubs, and community to elevate women’s voices and create an environment where women feel comfortable and safe expressing themselves. 
  6. Model positive online behaviour: 16 Days of Activism is a great time to reflect on the way we treat others online. Along with being an upstander and reporting harmful behaviour when you see it, you can also model positive online behaviour. After all, behind most social media accounts are real people.  Learn more about how to join the conversation and be part of the #16Days of Activism through websites like 16 Days Campaign, Safe and Equal and 1800RESPECT

 

*Ana’s experience combines de-identified elements of reports shared through eSafety’s Women in the Spotlight research and Australian media, and is not a real individual.