When Movements Backfire: Violence Against Women and Online Harassment
Lauren Chief Elk-Young Bear & Shanley Kane, Model View Culture, May 27th, 2016
The anti-online harassment movement is already replicating many of the shortcomings, failures, erroneous assumptions and faulty strategies of the larger violence against women movement.
The internet has become a powerful tool in igniting new movements from generations-long conversations and political activity. Online hashtags and teach-ins, tweets, blog posts and inventive use of new media have forced attention on interpersonal violence issues including campus sexual assault, untested rape-kits, street harassment, and domestic violence. But these discussions, educational efforts, and organizing sites have themselves witnessed a new phenomenon of violence in the rise of online harassment.
Disproportionately impacting marginalized women, online harassment encompasses and intersects with many other other forms of violence against women: Perpetrators of domestic violence increasingly leverage social media and other tech to surveil, stalk and harass their victims. Images of girls, teens and women are non-consensually captured, stolen, and/or hacked and distributed online. Personal information, including home addresses, phone numbers, credit card information and workplaces of women are distributed in doxxing attacks, profoundly compromising their safety and subjecting them to identity theft, physical assault, SWATing and other threats. Women experience a multitude of threats: graphic rape and death threats, threats to their children and families, and threats to their careers and communities. In incidents of mass online terrorism, women may receive thousands or even tens of thousands of abusive and harassing messages. Over the past decade, online harassment has grown into a significant threat to women’s’ physical safety, career and economic stability, and mental health, as well as their ability to access support, build community and participate in public life.
In response to this growing threat, the movement against online harassment has begun to gain traction in recent years, moving from largely individual activists and grassroots movements into a more mainstream articulation of threat and response. Though still nascent, it has over recent years grown to encompass significant mainstream media coverage, coordinated awareness campaigns, corporate intervention, new legislation, police and governmental involvement, and the establishment of new non-profit entities.
While the increased recognition of online harassment has been encouraging, the anti-online harassment movement is already replicating many of the shortcomings, failures, erroneous assumptions and faulty strategies of the larger violence against women movement. In this article, we describe how the anti-violence against women movement — and its structural failings — have provided a context, precedent and ultimately model for the anti-online harassment movement. We explore in detail how the failures of the anti-violence movement are being replicated in the response to online harassment; specifically, we explore how the shared focus on the carceral state, policing, legislation, reporting, awareness-based campaigning, mainstream media, corporate intervention, and the growth of the non-profit industrial complex has complicated, far-reaching and sometimes devastating consequences for women.
The failure to recognize and correct these structural failures, has and will continue to result in anti-online harassment strategies that not only fail to reduce the incidence or impact of online harassment, but that actually re-inscribe harm and uphold many of the dangerous ideologies and structures that underpin systemic violence against women.