Addressing Cyber Violence and Harassment

Orange Day – a day to take action to raise awareness and prevent violence against women and girls”, is celebrated on 25th of the month, according to UN Women. July 2017’s Orange Day Action Theme was cyber violence against women.

To mark the day, UN Women hosted a panel moderated by Emily Mahaney, Senior Editor at Glamour Magazine. Panelists were Feminista Jones, a writer, activist, survivor of cyber violence, and creator of the hashtag #YouOKSis; Emily May, Co-founder and Executive Director of Hollaback!; and Jamia Wilson, Press Executive Director and Publisher at CUNY Feminist.

Research published this year showed that in the US:

  • 70% of US adults surveyed who identify as women say that “online harassment is a ‘major problem’”, compared to 54% of those surveyed who identify as men.
  • 41% of American adults said that they have experienced some form of online harassment, which the survey defined as “offensive name-calling, purposeful embarrassment, physical threats, stalking, sexual harassment, or harassment over a sustained period of time”.
  • Even though both sexes reported experiencing cyber violence, women reported a worse experience: 34% of them experienced their latest incident as “extremely” or “very” upsetting, versus 16% of men reporting the same.

At its core, the internet is another public space where women can experience forms of violence or harassment, similar to catcalling on the street or inappropriate touching on a subway. To improve the online experience for all, Jamia Wilson suggested that online etiquette should be taught early on, both at schools and at home, and that adults should instruct children how to behave respectfully online, just as they teach children how to behave in public spaces

Emily Mahaney asked the panelists perhaps the most burning question we all have about cyberviolence and harassment: who perpetrates these acts of cyber violence, and what is their motivation? 

Feminsta Jones answered that the perpetrators are usually men who feel injured by women in some way, such as rejection from a woman in their lives or having been cheated on by their partners, and harassing women online is a way for them to channel their resentment. In terms of motivation, all panelists mentioned two things: power and dominance. May mentioned that it’s hard to pinpoint a perpetrator’s identity exactly, but that their real identity is not as important as the identity they assume online, which is usually that of a white, cisgender, and heterosexual man.

It might be logical to think that most perpetrators of cyber violence and harassment will do so anonymously or using a fake identity, but Jones mentioned that she has been attacked by people using their real pictures and names.

Although the violence and harassment are ‘virtual’, the consequences are very real. Being a victim of harassment and cyber violence can cause serious psychological issues such as anxiety, depression, and even PTSD and suicidal thoughts. Jones, for example, shared that she suffers from agoraphobia after experiencing cyber violence and harassment.

Cyber violence and harassment can indeed affect the victim’s life offline, especially when threats include rape or physical violence. Victims may feel the need to change their phone numbers and address, as well as becoming wary of being online again. Because consequences can impact a person’s offline life, Wilson talked about the importance of therapy for victims in their recovery process.

On how to help victims, May suggested that if we see someone suffering cyber violence or harassment, we should acknowledge the victim, whether through a comment or private message, even if that person is a stranger to us. To end the panel, Mahaney asked the panelists to identify one positive thing we can all do change this environment of cyber violence and harassment and to support each other. Wilson encourages us to speak up and share our stories if we have been a victim ourselves. May encourages us to remember that there are people out there that have your back and don’t forget to have the backs of others. Jones’ advice was simple but powerful: ask people if they’re ok.

If you have experienced some form of cyber violence and/or harassment – or know someone who has – visit for help and support.

Why you should care about GamerGate

And what it means for global violence against girls and women.

Shortly after publishing, someone under the name "Gaimerg8," posted what they claimed was her home address, also known as “doxxing”.
Shortly after publishing, someone under the name “Gaimerg8,” posted what they claimed was her home address, also known as “doxxing”.

Last week, actress and gamer Felicia Day posted an entry on her blog – “Crossing the Street” –to share her concerns that an online gaming campaign has made her fearful to engage with a culture she truly enjoys. Knowing full well that her words could (and now have) result in an outpour of angry, abusive, and downright vicious attacks, Day’s post has caught attention from the media struggling to understand the ugly phenomenon known as GamerGate – an online movement of gamers openly harassing female bloggers, developers, and critics with violent threats of rape and death. Yes, as women speak out against the violence, victimization, and inequality in video games, the response has been actual violence, harassment, and real threats to their safety.

Grand Theft Auto 5: @GTAForums
Grand Theft Auto 5, Credit: GTAForums

The objectification of women in entertainment is nothing new. One needn’t look very far to see over-sexualized, scantily clad women being dominated by men. Flip through the closest magazine or look at the nearest billboard. Within the gaming culture, women have expressed increasing concern from the way female gamers are treated, to the actual representation of women in games and the amount of gratuitous violence and commodification of female characters. In the popular action-adventure game series, Grand Theft Auto, male characters are free to not only engage in sexual encounters with prostitutes, but also kill them and take their money back. In September, Japanese developers announced a new head-mounted display game that includes a pair of realistic fake breasts that players can grip as they look at a virtual image of a girl whom they can sexually assault. Yet, those who feel uncomfortable with the alarming direction games are headed are not only being shut out of the conversation, they are now being physically threatened. Ironic, isn’t it?

As we grapple with the reality that violence against women, sexual assault, and the objectification of women’s bodies continues to be deemed as an appropriate and acceptable form of “entertainment” in Western countries, the latest conversation around GamerGate highlights a global reality: physical, sexual, and emotional violence threatens every single girl and woman, every single day of her life. According the latest report from UNICEF, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence every 10 minutes somewhere in the world. Yet, these deaths represent only the most extreme assaults in a long continuum of violence faced by girls on a daily basis, usually at the hands of those closest to them.

Credit: Dolce&Gabana
Credit: Dolce&Gabana

Is this the world we want our girls to grow up in? A world where 1 in 4 women is physically or sexually abused during her pregnancy? A world where more than 39,000 girls under the age of 18 experience early or forced marriage? A world where 98 percent of the 4.5 million forced into sexual exploitation are girls and women? A world where two young girls in search of a toilet can result in brutal gang rape and death? A world where violence is the second leading cause of death among adolescent girls globally?

Our girls deserve a world where they can transition into womanhood without sexuality and gender roles dominating and defining the trajectory of their lives.

For many girls, their first experience of sexual intercourse is unwanted or coerced. Those married as young brides face especially high risks of physical, emotional, and sexual violence along with limited to no personal freedom or decision-making power. The continued lowered status of girls in our global society, coupled with the tendency of men and boys to exert power, are key factors in the high rates of violence experienced by adolescent girls. And when these realities carry into adulthood, those patterns of violence and limitations become a burden for every generation.

Next month the world will commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – a reminder that violence against women is a human rights violation that impedes global progress in many areas, including poverty combating HIV/AIDS, and peace and security, as well as a call for action. So what can we do? Here are some ideas:

  • Raise awareness: Participate in Orange Day – November 25th – by wearing something orange to highlight the calls for the eradication of violence against women. You can submit a photo online with the message, “I wear orange because…”
  • Continue the movement: Join ongoing campaigns like VDAY and ManUp working to engage youth, advance gender equality, and transform communities, nations, and the world.
  • Raise your voice: Look for public rallies and events, such as “Take Back the Night”, raise money for community-based rape crisis centers or women’s shelters, or organize a fundraiser to benefit those working to end all forms of gender violence.
  • Educate yourself: Attend programs, take classes, watch films, and read articles and books about multicultural masculinities, gender inequality, and the root causes of gender violence. Educate yourself and others!
  • Engage more than just girls and women: Check out organizations like MenEngage who work with men and boys to promote gender equality.

We have the ability to end violence against girls and women, not overnight, but in a generation. To do it, we need a global shift in the attitudes towards women, and that means teaching boys and men to challenge and change attitudes around violence and sexism. We must continue to educate and work with young boys and girls to promote respectful relationships and gender equality. And we must not wait for an annual observance to begin. The time to end violence against girls and women is NOW.

FGM Fight turns legal in Egypt

In 2012, Unite to End Violence against Women campaign declared the 25th of every month Orange Day. For two years, individuals, organizations, activists, men, women and girls have been raising their voices to say no to violence.

Women and girls experience violence in war and conflict settings, in their homes and at the hands of strangers. Sexual assault, female genital mutilation, early marriage and forced prostitution are some of the atrocities that girls and women face on a daily basis.

Will the violence stop?

Is there justice for women and girls?

Justice may become a reality for some girls in Egypt. In a tragic, landmark case, Raslan Fadl, a medical practioner, is scheduled to be tried for the death of thirteen year old Sohair al-Bata’a. The death was reportedly the result of an allergic reaction to penicillin. However, the primary procedure she had undergone was female genital mutilation.The existence of the trial is as encouraging as Sohair’s case is heartbreaking.

This is the first time a doctor will be prosecuted for carrying out female genital mutilation in Egypt.

Female genital mutilation, or FGM, is still widely practiced, despite international condemnation. Typically carried out before puberty, sometimes on infant girls, it involves cutting women’s sexual organs (usually with a razor or knife). Female genital excision refers specifically to the removal of the clitoris and labia minora. The practice is not done out of cruelty or as punishment, but is linked to deeply entrenched cultural beliefs which hold that removing the sexual organs purifies an individual and discourages adultery by preventing pleasure from sexual activity. The practice has both psychological and long-term effects on women’s health.

Despite the practice being banned by the government and publicized as harmful, culture has yet to catch up with the law. As in many places, in rural Egypt, the traditions are stronger in the more neglected, less educated areas (such as in villages like Sohair’s) where female genital excision is still commonly accepted and practiced. A family member of Soheir’s was quoted in the LA Times as saying, “She didn’t want it. But she understood she did not have anything to say about it.”

Bata’a’s father has not spoken to press, but it has been reported that her older sister also underwent the procedure and that societal pressure to continue the practice is not expected to abate. Fadl himself has said to press that he is confident he will be cleared, as he was carrying out the procedure at the girl’s parents request.

Though the trial is encouraging, and legislation has stated it is attemping to use Fadl as an example of a lack of tolerance for the practice, activists believe there is much work to be done within the communities themselves. Speaking to The Guardian, a representative for the activist group Equality Now emphasized that the real problem is not with the individual doctors or family members, but with the beliefs of gender inequality that still hold sway in many rural communities.

What can you do on #OrangeDay?


Cover Photo Credit: Nasser Nouri, Flickr Creative Commons


Say No: Unite to End Violence Against Women

Photo Courtesy: DFID
Photo Courtesy: DFID, Creative Commons

Today is the International Day of the Elimination of Violence Against Women. All over the world, women, men and children are taking a stand to declare that women deserve to live free from all forms of violence. As the world comes together to show support for women, the harsh reality is that one in three will experience physical or sexual violence in her lifetime. This happens in all communities, both rural and urban. Violence against women occurs in schools, in homes, churches, and on street corners across the globe. No woman is immune to the threat of violence.

This must STOP.

In 2009, UN Women launched the Say NO-Unite campaign. The campaign engages people from all walks of life to focus on raising awareness and making public declarations to end violence against women. The growing global coalition unites individuals, governments, organizations and the private sector with the common goal to fight violence against women and girls. Say NO-Unite utilizes both on the ground engagement as well as new media to rally communities and nations. To date, over 5 million people have signed a petition to make ending violence against women a global priority.

Beginning today until December 10th, in coordination with 16 days of Activism, people in villages, towns and cities across the world will be displaying the color orange as a symbol  to end violence against women and girls.

In Egypt, campaigns calling for an end to violence have begun to engage students at universities. Recently, girls took part in a bike ride to raise awareness about sexual violence. Other students have created human chains and bumper sticker campaigns to raise awareness about sexual harassment. In Rwanda, a group of men started an organization called the Rwandan Men’s Resource Center (RWAMREC). RWAMREC initiated a campaign to train men to change negative and violent behavior. The campaign participants meet people at the local level to discuss gender-based violence. To date, over 3,000 local leaders have been trained.

As a young woman with a passion for fighting injustice and empowering women, these stories inspire me. Over the past several years, I have had incredible opportunities to sit, listen and learn from many courageous women. As I have had the opportunity to work with women and girls in the United States, Africa and India, I think about stories like Xian who was trafficked from China to New York City or Rasha in India who suffered extreme abuse at the hands of family and strangers. Marble floors, rural villages, mud huts, comfortable couches, airplanes, offices—it is within these varied scenes that stories of rape, exploitation, and extreme abuse take place.

It is their stories that propel me to action.

Today I stand up and say NO for Xian and Rasha. I say NO for mothers, friends, daughters and women all over the world who suffer and have suffered from violence. I say NO because I am a woman who believes that all women should be free to live without fear.

Today I wear orange because…

“Women and girls deserve to live free from violence.”

Why will you wear orange?

Tweet Us @GirlsGlobe

Follow the campaign on Twitter @SayNO_UNiTE and 16 Days of Activism.

Cover Photo Credit: Gigi Ibrahim, Creative Commons