House debates

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Constituency Statements

Online Harassment

9:48 am

Photo of Tim WattsTim Watts (Gellibrand, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Last week I spoke in this chamber about the new ways that many are using technology to perpetuate violence against women—how men who want to control the women in their lives were now using smartphones and computers to monitor, threaten and intimidate the women in their lives. But technology does not just make it easier for abusive men to target the women they know; we are also seeing a clear trend in which the internet and social media are being used to perpetuate the community attitudes of gender inequality that enable violence against women to persist in our society. In the past few months we have had an ever greater visibility of misogynistic and abusive communities targeting women through online campaigns and social media.

The 'Gamergate' controversy has shone a spotlight on the abusive behaviour that women are routinely subjected to online. It is now routine for women who are outspoken on issues of gender to be subjected to abuse and threats of violence and rape, accompanied by the new and noxious practice of 'doxing', in which the home address and other intimate details of women are published online in a way that is designed to threaten and intimidate these individuals. The women who are subjected to this kind of behaviour are often left with little practical recourse. Social media sites are often slow to acknowledge that this material is problematic and even slower to take it down. In one situation a site argued that a victim reposting the abusive pictures and texts to draw attention to her situation had done so without the written permission of the author and so suspended the victim's account for intellectual property infringement. It is appalling that, at present, intellectual property infringement claims seem to attract more prompt and serious attention from online businesses and communities than threats, harassment and misogynistic abuse.

Victims also face further barriers when taking complaints to more formal levels of our justice system. Caitlin Roper has recently written about the problems that many women face when taking evidence of their abuse to the authorities. She wrote that, despite her being subjected to violent abuse, threats and identity fraud from members of online communities, police trivialised her concerns and suggested that she change her approach by shutting down her online accounts, as though it were her behaviour, and not that of the cowardly perpetrators, that needed to change.

We should be clear that this kind of response is no better than 21st century victim blaming and no better than blaming women who are physically assaulted for provoking the attack through their dress or actions. We urgently need police and policymakers to accept that women are no more responsible for the threats and attacks that they are subjected to online than they are in real life.

To stop violence against women, we need to confront the community attitudes of gender inequality that enable it, wherever we see them. The first place we can do this is by calling out abusive behaviour, both at home and online, for what it really is. We need a justice system that is experienced and equipped to deal with the most extreme cases, and business and community members committing to tackling misogynistic attitudes and behaviours online more generally.

This week we saw the member for Bradfield provide new detail of the operation of the Children's e-Safety Commissioner, a worthwhile initiative. But one needs to ask why our commitment to dealing with abusive behaviour towards Australian women stops when they turn 18. To tackle violence against women, we need to do it on all fronts of our society.