Activist speaks out about mock twitter account, rape, death threats and police inaction
By Caitlin Roper
Earlier this year, Germaine Greer argued that women now are worse off than ever, citing the proliferation of pornography and the level of harassment and abuse directed toward women on social media as evidence. I tend to agree.
For a feminist campaigner like myself, threats of violence and rape have become part of the territory. I am used to being called a bitch or a slut (or worse) by unidentified men online for expressing an opinion. I’ve been singled out by Men’s Rights Activist group A Voice For Men after writing a piece on the media’s bias against women. I am no longer surprised when I receive unwelcome sexual comments from men online about my body or to let me to know they are masturbating to my image. I am no longer shocked when I receive rape threats while campaigning against sexual violence. And no, the irony is not lost on me.
So it came as no huge surprise when I received rape threats this week for publically sharing a petition against rapist Ched Evans. I received tweets calling me “rape bait”, “f*ck meat”, a “bitter whore”, “cum slut” who “likes it rough” and “spreads without thinking” and warning me to “start prepping my anus”. While these comments would never be accepted in the offline world, women are expected to just ‘deal with it’ online.
However, this time I decided to go to the police when I found a copy of my twitter profile offering sex to men on the Internet. It was so close to identical it even fooled me, and I initially thought my account had been hacked. My profile picture had been sent to an online community sharing images of women for masturbation purposes. My twitter bio had been updated to include graphic descriptions of sex acts I would perform for men, inviting men to follow me, “the biggest slut in Australia”. My website was changed from collectiveshout.org to a pornographic website. Various tweets were sent out in my name, asking men to “f*ck me” and claiming that I enjoyed being raped.
I was gripped with panic. There were so many thoughts running through my mind as I watched tweets going out in my name soliciting some men I knew, and others I didn’t.
I reluctantly went to the police station. As many women know, abuse and threats against women online are not regarded as a priority. My colleague Talitha Stone received international media attention when she was targeted with thousands of rape and death threats after criticizing Tyler the Creator’s songs. (See here, here and here). His lyrics include ‘rape a pregnant bitch and call it a three-way’. Tyler’s 1.7 million twitter followers went after her. One tweet to Talitha threatened to ‘cut her tits off’. A student from a Melbourne Catholic boys school shared her home address with the angry mob. He was out by one street.
Local police sent Talitha home with a stack of cyber-safety pamphlets.
Another colleague went to the police after one man described how he intended to mutilate her body and dissolve it in acid. The police officer suggested that the internet was “not a very nice place” and maybe she should stay off it.
Yet another colleague had to explain to police, who thought she should just go offline forever (despite the fact that the vast majority of her work was done there) that it was actually an offence in the Commonwealth Criminal Code to use a carriage service (e.g. the internet) to make a threat. The police seemed unaware of this fact.
These threats are criminal. They are designed to erode any sense of safety and security and to keep women in our preferred place. As Anita Sarkeesian from Feminist Frequency observed, Elliot Rodger used the Internet to make threats preceding his violent killing spree. How many other men, including unstable ones, feel supported if not justified in their hateful attitudes by an online culture of misogyny?
When I reported the man who was pimping me out online, the officer at my local police station suggested, “Maybe you should use a more plain picture.” As if my standard portrait shot was somehow ‘asking for it’? From my experience, how I look is irrelevant. I’ve been called both “fat, ugly and bitter” and “f**ckable”. Regardless of the headshots women use, men will target us if they feel so inclined.
Women and feminist campaigners in particular, are increasingly being targeted, abused and intimidated online. Caroline Criado Perez was pursued relentlessly for her campaign for more equal representation of women on bank notes. Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency continues to be attacked for her educational videos highlighting the sexist and one-dimensional depiction of women in video games.
There is a pattern- women call for better treatment of women, they are vilified by men on social media who perceive this as a threat and feel the need to silence their voices. They believe if they can make us fearful enough, we will stop doing our work and stop challenging systems that privilege their rights and interests over ours. They are wrong. We just get back to work.
The man who targeted me has been identified. His name is Nader, he is 25 and lives in California. He has been linked to at least eight different twitter accounts he uses to abuse women, including survivors of sex trafficking. In fact, the first rape threats he sent me came from the fake account he had created of yet another feminist campaigner he had been targeting.
He is so brazen about his incitement to rape me, so sure he is untouchable, he barely even tried to conceal his real identity. Unfortunately for him in the course of harassing countless women on twitter, he left a trail leading to his name, image, phone number, email address, Facebook page and pictures of him exposing his erect penis which he had previously circulated on one of his trolling accounts.
Copies of Nader’s threats and his personal information have been supplied to the LAPD, to Penn State (listed as his school on social media) and to Australian police, to be referred to a California branch of the FBI. I am also aware of complaints against him from women in Sweden and the UK. This has not stopped Nader.
To their credit, Twitter acted quickly to suspend the fake account once I had verified my identity with photo ID. However, the victory is only short lived. Once an abusive account is suspended, there is nothing to stop the user simply signing up for a new account- immediately. Why has Twitter failed to shut these abusive accounts down permanently? What is stopping them from flagging the email addresses of users who continue to use their service as a means to threaten women?
What is Twitter’s response to victims? Contact the police. What do the police say? Contact Twitter.
There is a common assumption among police, and perhaps the wider community, that if men are threatening women online the solution is for women to go offline.
“Why don’t you just close down your account?” asked the officer taking my statement. I explained how I used twitter in the course of my work for a non-profit organisation to share our campaigns with a broader audience. She pressed further, “But why do you need to use it?” as if it was somehow unreasonable for me to believe I had as much right as anyone to access social media without threats.
My experience with the police illustrates widespread cultural attitudes that place the responsibility to prevent crimes of violence with victims instead of perpetrators. Just as campaigns to reduce sexual violence have traditionally focused on women, advising them how to ‘not get raped’ rather than calling on men to treat women with respect, in an online scenario, the onus is again on women to bear the burden of responsibility for men’s abuse. What did we expect, thinking we could use social media and have an opinion? We kind of brought it on ourselves, didn’t we?
Whether it is rape, domestic violence, abuse or online threats, telling victims to modify their behaviour is a fruitless endeavor- the power to prevent men’s violence against women lies completely with (surprise!) men.
I have encountered too many men on twitter who dish out vile abuse and threaten rape, confident they are doing so with impunity, with a firm belief that they will never be held accountable for their crimes. That’s been true, so far.
The silver lining is that I have had the privilege of connecting with strong, incredible women online. These women are dedicated to challenging attitudes and institutions that promote and profit from sexism, exploitation and men’s violence against women, despite the emotional toll. (Believe me, there is a real emotional toll to doing this work.) These are the women who stand with me and other women time and again in the face of ugly threats and misogyny, bonded by our shared experiences of victimisation and our refusal to be silenced. Together we are unstoppable.
This is an extended version of an article which appeared inThe Guardian last week.
It started, ostensibly at least, with an online debate about Ched Evans – a British soccer player who escaped fame but found notoriety after his conviction for rape in 2012. Last month he was freed from jail. Evans, just 25, wants to play soccer again. To that end, he released a video professing his innocence and describing the incident as regrettable but “consensual” infidelity. An online petition opposing his reinstatement to the professional leagues attracted more than 150,000 signatures.
One of those signatures belonged to Caitlin Roper, a feminist activist based in Perth. Quickly, the debate inflamed the world wide web and became a conflagration of sexualised threats. Roper was targeted. “In a way, given the nature of my work, I’m somewhat used to abuse and threats from men online,” she tells me. “You have to try and disconnect from all of it emotionally, you put on a brave face and get back to work. As the threats kept coming, though, I felt my anxiety levels rising. There’s a sense of panic, and I think that’s the point. These men think if they threaten us with violence then we will be forced to stop campaigning against the objectification of women. They want us to be scared.”
Roper’s aggressor established a fake Twitter account under her name. He adopted Roper’s profile picture, and in the hour before it was suspended, published personalised obscenity. The following examples are graphic, but representative: “Hi I’m Caitlin Roper, as a professional prostitute…” and “I sell my wet panties #anal #porn” and “Hey!! It’s me Caitlin, just wanted to let you know I’m a rape loving little whore”. There are many more. From other accounts, the man harassed different women: “You’re a fucking whore and a slut” and “Perhaps when one day a random man rapes you, you will rescind your ignorance.” There are hundreds of messages like these. Read more
A Voice for Men: harassing and abusing those who defend women
Last week I published a piece on Online Opinion about the epidemic of men’s violence against women. I argued that news outlets tend to obscure the gendered nature of domestic violence and urged media to clearly state the sex of perpetrators of violence against women. We cannot fight what we cannot name.
This week, Online Opinion published a response by Adam Blanch, who describes himself as “a passionate advocate for men’s rights and men’s empowerment” (he’s also, apparently, a “spiritual counsellor”), His arguments, which were consistent with the Men’s Rights Movement (MRM) anti-woman agenda, can be summed up below:
• It is prejudiced to state it is primarily men who are perpetrators of violence against women.
• Violence against women is not particularly prevalent.
• Gender is not a relevant contributing factor to violence, and women are more violent than men anyway.
• Feminists profit from domestic violence programs [“feminism’s river of gold”] that “fund feminism”.
These standard arguments from the MRM are in direct opposition to statistics from the World Health Organisation, that cite violence against women as a “major public health problem”, with 35% of women worldwide experiencing either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
White Ribbon Foundation statistics similarly state that one in three Australian women will experience physical or sexual violence in her lifetime. Violence is also the biggest cause of injury or death for women between 18 and 45.
Women activists know it is no surprise to see Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) denying the frequency of men’s violence against women, inflating rates of false allegations and claiming to be oppressed victims.
A Facebook group with links to MRA group ‘A Voice For Men’ has been formed for the purpose of harassing and abusing Collective Shout members in Townsville. These are a couple of comments from their hate page directed against women who led a protest against Hooters restaurant chain opening in their city.
The harassment and abuse has become so unrelenting and virulent -even male supporters are mocked as ‘manginas’ – our Collective Shout team in Townsville was forced this week to change their Facebook page to ‘private’.
MRA groups are open about their contempt for women. ‘A Voice For Men’ founder, Paul Elam, had this to say about why women get raped:
“I have ideas about women who spend evenings in bars hustling men for drinks, playing on their sexual desires … And the women who drink and make out, doing everything short of sex with men all evening, and then go to his apartment at 2:00 a.m.. Sometimes both of these women end up being the “victims” of rape.
But are these women asking to get raped?
In the most severe and emphatic terms possible the answer is NO, THEY ARE NOT ASKING TO GET RAPED.
They are freaking begging for it.
Damn near demanding it.
And all the outraged PC demands to get huffy and point out how nothing justifies or excuses rape won’t change the fact that there are a lot of women who get pummeled and pumped because they are stupid (and often arrogant) enough to walk though life with the equivalent of a I’M A STUPID, CONNIVING BITCH – PLEASE RAPE ME neon sign glowing above their empty little narcissistic heads.”
Paul Elam also encouraged his followers to “bash a bitch”.
“In the name of equality and fairness, I am proclaiming October to be Bash a Violent Bitch Month.
I’d like to make it the objective for the remainder of this month, and all the Octobers that follow, for men who are being attacked and physically abused by women – to beat the living shit out of them. I don’t mean subdue them, or deliver an open handed pop on the face to get them to settle down. I mean literally to grab them by the hair and smack their face against the wall till the smugness of beating on someone because you know they won’t fight back drains from their nose with a few million red corpuscles.
And then make them clean up the mess. …
Now, am I serious about this?
No. Not because it’s wrong. It’s not wrong. Every one should have the right to defend themselves…
But it isn’t worth the time behind bars or the abuse of anger management training that men must endure if they are uppity enough to defend themselves from female attackers.”
Paul Elam further revealed his hatred for women when he said:
“Should I be called to sit on a jury for a rape trial, I vow publicly to vote not guilty, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the charges are true.”
Greg Canning, representative of ‘A Voice For Men’ in Australia, received media attention after he resigned from his position at James Cook University in 2012. Canning had accused Adjunct Associate Professor Betty McLellan of “publically sexually vilifying men” for her critical analysis of men’s violence against women. When the university refused to act on his complaint, he quit.
The Herald Sun article included a response from Professor McLellan. ‘Dr McLellan said it was ridiculous to suggest she supported violence against men, or vilified them. “I don’t support violence from anybody to anybody: men, women, anybody,” she said. “How am I vilifying anybody, really?” She believed Dr Canning was going over the top by resigning from his teaching position.
‘”It speaks of a man, really, who is fairly desperate because he’s not getting his own way,” she said. “He’s not able to silence a woman who has an opinion.”’
As prominent US feminist Andrea Dworkin (now departed) famously stated, “Feminism is hated because women are hated. Anti-feminism is a direct expression of misogyny; it is the political defense of women hating.”
One of the commenters has provided some more information about AVfM and their habit of cyber-bullying and stalking women who publically critique men’s violence.
When a certain feminist blogger wrote about receiving rape and death threats, Paul Elam responded:
“No matter what you do, you are going to see a lot more of the things you don’t like in the future. I don’t mean that in the way of violent threats and continued fixation on your rectum, but in much more organized, high impact consequences for those of your ilk, courtesy of the men’s movement. Simply put, we are coming for you. All of you. And by the time we are done you will wax nostalgic over the days when all you had to deal with was someone expressing a desire to fuck you up your shopworn ass.”
Paul Elam offers $1000 cash rewards for men to cyberstalk anonymous feminist activists and find their real identities to post online. Dr Greg Canning has also offered to donate money for this purpose.
The following are comments taken from an AVfM forum detailing their plans to punish women who speak about men’s violence:
“The FBI has been contacted, and your publisher has been contacted. Get ready to live a life of misery, you worthless Irish slut.”
“We will NEVER let you escape. You are now on THE LIST.”
STU: “We should limit our activism in regards to them, to advertising their misandry for all to see, recording it….and outing as many as we can so they are forced to answer for it to their employers, any male relatives….and even the local shopkeeper. In other words, don’t bother trying to change them…….just make them pay.”
MANFROMMAN: “At any rate, I submit my pledge herein to support the attempt to expose these tart-brain bitches. Let us all FTSU!”
ALEKNOVY: “If it turns out she has children, she should also be reported to CPS.”
PAUL ELAM: “She is a disease that must be extirpated…Nothing she can do will help her now. It’s too late for forgiveness or mercy. The grinding wheels are in motion.”
ZENCO: “We’re coming for you honey. We will march forward on a road of your bones to victory.”
Australia is in the midst of a public health crisis. Men’s violence against women and children has reached epidemic proportions. It manifests in rape, battering, abuse and even murder.
White Ribbon statistics indicate that up to one in three women will be a victim of physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes. In 2012 Victoria Police Commissioner Ken Lay revealed that officers respond to domestic violence calls every ten minutes.
A woman is murdered by a current or former partner in Australia every week. Domestic Violence NSW has made an impassioned plea via a petition to Prime Minister Tony Abbott “to recognise domestic and family violence as a national emergency” and take action.
Despite the prevalence of men’s violence against women, there is little if any discussion about why some men beat, rape, abuse and murder them. Instead, the national dialogue surrounding the issue shifts attention from male perpetrators and onto female victims.
We ask, ‘Why don’t they leave?’ instead of ‘Why do some men kill women?’ In focusing on the behavior of victims rather than male perpetrators, the burden of responsibility for men’s violence- and for stopping it- is placed on women.
The language commonly used to describe male violence is itself watered down- named domestic violence, family violence- terms that fail to identify the gendered nature of this violence. This glosses over the reality that perpetrators are overwhelmingly men and victims primarily women and children. Read more
Collective Shout’s WA State coordinator was asked for comment about Chris Brown and Rihanna for OK magazine.
Despite R&B singer Chris Brown having brutally beaten pop star Rihanna in 2009, the pair appear to have resumed their relationship. Caitlin tells OK magazine that the emphasis needs to be on Chris Brown. He and other perpetrators of violent crime should be held accountable for their actions.
The night Chris Brown beat Rihanna, he punched her in the face to the point that her mouth filled with blood. He put her in a headlock causing her to begin to lose consciousness. He bit her. He screamed at her “I’m going to beat the shit out of you when we get home.” This was a vicious attack by an animal.
A few years on, Rihanna has forgiven him and continued a relationship with her abuser. Rihanna is a woman and should have the freedom to make her own relationship choices regardless of what anyone else things – however, given her large fan base, what she does means something. Whether or not Rihanna wants to be a role model for her young fans, it is undeniable that they look up to her to know how to be attractive, how to be sexy and how to be a woman.
Of course, survivors of violence have often been subjected to psychological pressure and can be vulnerable to returning to their abusers. The emphasis needs to be on the abuser, though – perpetrators need to be held responsible for their actions. Chris Brown is yet to accept responsibility for his behaviour, as showcased by his Twitter feed and incessant complaining about the public’s inability to forgive his brutal attack.
Caitlin Roper is WA’s State Co-ordinator for Collective Shout – campaigning for a world free of sexploitation
Last month Collective Shout co-hosted with University of NSW, Spinifex Press and the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, a standing room only address by Pornland author and US academic Gail Dines. An extract of her address at NSW State Parliament was broadcast this week by ABC Big Ideas. You can see it here:
The Hardcore Truth About Porn
Julie Bindel writes in The Guardian about the film Hardcore, the true story of what happens to a young single mum at the hands of porn producer Max Hardcore. Describing it as a horrifying look at the abuse of women in pornography, Bindel makes the point that while the film is shocking and some women’s groups have objected to its screening, it helps strip away the myths about pornography being harmless.
‘Porn is used as a tool of degradation against me’
A US prisoner, Kyle Richards, 21, is suing the State of Michigan and Governor Rick Snyder claiming denial of porn magazines is a violation of his civil rights. According to Daily Beast, Richards argues denying him porn subjects him to a “poor standard of living” and “sexual and sensory deprivation.”
On July 7 on Feministing, ‘Lori’ wrote a piece defending Richard’s actions. She received many favourable responses. But not from a woman who actually works in a prison. Lawyer Kendall Krajicek wrote this:
… as a correctional caseworker who works in a prison housing unit, I can attest to the fact that porn (or “fuckbooks,” as the inmates refer to it) is definitely used directly and explicitly as a tool of degradation against me. It is not uncommon for an inmate to draw crass comparisons, knowingly within earshot, between a woman featured in a porno mag and what they imagine my body (“pussy,” to be precise) looks like. Inmates have purposely covered their walls with photos from porn magazines featuring redheaded women (like me), knowing that I am going to search their cell, and shared laughs and insulting comments while I am so engaged. So on and so forth.
Some such behavior is against the rules of conduct for prisoners at the facility where I work, and my male bosses have backed me up in the handful of instances I have reported by imposing institutional discipline (i.e. extra duty or a couple of days of room restriction). But so much of what happens is subtle, or done anonymously (by yelling from within the cell when all the inmates are “locked down,” such that I can’t be certain who said it), or just so dishearteningly common that if I consistently documented and reported such behavior, it would engulf a huge amount of my time. To be frank, I also worry that “making an issue out of it” every time would just make it more pervasive, as it would reveal a sensitivity that may be best left unrevealed in the staff-inmate interactive context, given my fiscal reality of needing to keep this job until I find something better.
The F Word ran a counter piece July 13 by Meghan Murphy titled ‘Of course pornography is a prisoners right because women aren’t actually human beings’. An extract:
Pornography limits our vision of sexuality. It prevents us from achieving true equality. It sexualizes, as Andrea Dwokin said, inequality. It limits how we see women and how we see men. It perpetuates an objectifying male gaze. Pornography has very much structured the way in which we see female and male sexuality. These aren’t images that simply disappear from our minds once they are no longer in front of us. They stick. We are a culture that has been shaped by pornography. It isn’t just a fantasy, it is the lived realities of women (and of men). So I don’t think it is ‘anti-sex’ to desire something different, something that can be understood as real freedom. I would like freedom from these images, personally, but I would also like all women to be free from, not only these images, but from the reality of their lives inside a pornified culture. We know full well that images in advertising and on television impact our perceptions of reality and yet, for some reason, we continue to believe that watching sexist pornography won’t impact real people’s lives.
Caitlin Roper and Dr Michal Flood make compelling case against porn t.shirts
There is a seriously good interview with Collective Shout’s own Caitlin Roper and sociologist Dr Michael Flood. You really should listen to it. From Brianna Piazza’s blog :
Campaigners say no to porn t.shirts
THE UK Report on the Sexualisation of children made many recommendations – one of which was to put modesty sleeves on pornographic magazines for sale.
However, Caitlin Roper from Western Australia says Australians cannot do the same when porn t-shirts are worn in public.
Ms Roper and more than 50 national experts, activists and women’s groups are calling for action on porn t-shirts. In a statement recently published, the signatories say pornographic and images depicting violence towards women on t-shirts contribute to the sexualisation of children.
I spoke with Caitlin Roper and sociologist Dr Michael Flood to find out more about the campaign and the harmful effects such t-shirts have on young people and children.
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