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
An article was published in The Guardian today about the campaign calling for Snoop Dogg’s visa to be revoked. Titled ‘White singers deserve the same scrutiny for sexism as Snoop Dogg‘, it implied that Collective Shout’s motivation for the campaign was race, not misogyny, sexism or violence against women. The Guardian declined to publish Dr Caroline Norma’s response. So we did.
Dr Caroline Norma
So often, when women speak against sexism, misogyny and women hating in general, they are accused of having a hidden and secret agenda. They’re ‘anti-sex’, they ‘hate’ men,’ they have other secret agendas. We’ve just witnessed a classic example of this in the framing of Collective Shout’s campaign led by 24-year-old activist Talitha Stone, calling on Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to recall the visa issued to well-know U.S rap artist Snoop Dogg, who is about to land on our shores.
Francis Lockie, writing in The Guardian today, fits within this camp. Collective Shout activists couldn’t possibly believe that women and girls are intrinsically worth enough that they would selflessly spend time, money and energy in their service. Other false claims have been made about this grassroots movement in the past – why not add ‘racist’ to the mix?
In Frances Lockie’s view the female activists of Collective Shout have another agenda – and it’s racist. They find the energy to launch campaigns against sexist male singers not out of a desire to stop hate speech against women, but because deep down they are racists, whether they realise it or not. Their racist impulses allow them to work together. In the absence of agendas like racism, why else would they bother?
Criticising feminists as ‘racists’ is easy, because no-one believes women’s activists are genuine in what they believe or do anyway. Everyone is ready and willing to hear an alternative explanation for why women are getting together to do things on their own behalf. Lockie need cite just a sample size of three campaigns–one against Kanye West, one against Tyler the Creator and one against Snoop Dogg– to successfully persuade every one of the ‘real’ agenda driving the tireless work of Collective Shout supporters. Inevitably there is another agenda, so a little evidence goes a long way. (As an aside, there’s no mention of the success of the Tyler campaign in forcing Twitter to establish a ‘report abuse’ button as a result of rape and death threats against Talitha Stone, no mention that the campaign against Kanye West was global and supported by a coalition of international women’s groups, not just Collective Shout).
Lockie spent hours painstakingly gathering up evidence of white men singing sexist things and brutalising women to show how Collective Shout members had given them a ‘free pass’. She wanted to make the point that racism acts as a decoy in diverting attention away from the sexism of white men, and how Collective Shout members had fallen into this trap. So, whether they realise it or not, the women in Collective Shout are actually working on behalf of the world’s most powerful men–this is the real agenda of the group. Through forming a group that sticks up for white men they probably think they can get themselves a better deal in life, and rise above the downtrodden masses of women.
When feminists and their organisations are imagined to have ‘another agenda’, sexism does not just cause us to doubt their loyalty to other women. It also leads us to think women are incapable of acting in anyone’s interests other than men’s, and especially white ruling class men. Even when women tell themselves they’re trying to get a better deal for women, they’re actually trying to protect men, or push down other women so men can rule more easily with more perks.
Lockie probably thinks she’s done Collective Shout members a favour in pointing out their folly. Without Lockie’s good instruction, these women could have carried on their whole lives running campaigns, lobbying and working together on behalf of women–totally oblivious of the fact they were inadvertently protecting white men and covering up their abuses. Collective Shout has said nothing about Axl Rose! Or John Lennon! Our younger members have no idea who Rose is. And the fact John Lennon is dead seems to have escaped her. She ignores our campaigns against Robin Thicke and Brian McFadden for their rape apologist lyrics.
Luckily, Lockie stands apart from women working hard in feminist organisations, so she can objectively assess their agenda and intentions, and deliver pronouncements to the benefit of all. Her aloof impartiality would have been compromised if she’d joined Collective Shout, and donated the research she did on the sexism of white male singers. Lockie might have found herself leading a campaign on behalf of members to stop one of them coming to spread hate speech in Australia. Perhaps she will join us in our efforts against rapper Eminem who brings his special brand of women hatred to Australia next month?
If Collective Shout isn’t prepared to launch official campaigns against every artist who profits from misogyny does that mean we shouldn’t campaign against any?
This debate on violence against women, as glamourised by the music industry, isn’t about colour. Collective Shout (in the face of limited resources and its volunteer nature) addresses this where it can. Two high profile rap artists have toured recently. That they were black was irrelevant. Eminem will receive the same welcome from us when he lands next month. To turn this into a debate about race and not misogyny is to wilfully miss the point and, in a rape culture in which all women and girls have to live, this is something we cannot allow to happen.
Caroline Norma is a lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University
“The attempt to dress this up as black v white issue is beneath contempt”
Here are a selection of comments on The Guardian site which condemn attempts to turn our campaign into an issue of race.
OneManIsAnIsland: The objection to Snoop Dogg, presumably, is that ALL of his songs seem to be extensions of his own persona, and ALL seems to include a casual misogyny which is not contextualised. And finally, before you make it a race thing, remember that Robin Thicke is very, very white.
Jahlion: The attempt to dress this up as black v white issue is beneath contempt.
SidusVitae: Many rap songs that feature violence and misogyny are not figurative – that’s the problem, isn’t it? People have politely tried to point out above, under the guise of ‘context’. Snoop Dogg/Lion actually does have a history of problematic dealings with women.
WinstonThatcher: Have you ever listened to the lyrics on ‘Doggystyle’, Frances? I suggest you do so. They’re astoundingly disgusting (on a whole other level of disgusting), and Collective Shout, if anything, should be admired for not letting the big bad wolf that is accusations of racism cloud their judgement.
SamBeckett2: Are Cave, Dylan, Pink Floyd et al ex-pimps who’ve made porn videos? The vast majority of lyrics you quote are clearly telling stories representing misogyny rather than promoting it.
Timcw: So if a black singer refers to a woman as a ‘ho’ or a ‘bitch’ then anyone who complains at the content of the song is being racist if they don’t research every past instance of a white singer using misogynist lyrics and complain about that at the same time? This article is nonsense even in its own terms. Look at the criticism Robin Thicke rightly attracted recently. More seriously, it reflects a type of thinking that implies any criticism of men who aren’t white over the way they treat women is racist.
StVitusGerulaitis: What an utterly absurd article. This is not a race issue, and trying to make it so is disingenuous and rather desperate.
Sexism is more common, widespread and aceptable in modern hip hop….If anything, people give hip hop more of a free pass.”
NewsfromNowhere: I think that this is the problem. Hip hop is used to play by its own rules and black hip hop artists can always play the race card to get a free pass. White hip hop-ers) have to retract and apologize or lose their gigs. I am seriously concerned about this perspective that white feminists (if Collective Shout are white) can’t protest against misogyny from black men or they are racists.
Robthablob: The Prodigy “Smack my bitch up” and Eminem (many early tracks are both misogynistic and homophobic).
However, I remember both of these being heavily criticized at the time, which kind of goes against the author’s contention.
Luxrothchop: A colleague tells me he’s also a pornographer. Is that also true of any of the performers in the author’s list, and don’t you think that makes something of a difference? Seems to me one can’t do right for doing wrong on this question. When I and other posters criticised Robin Thicke on another thread earlier this week those who leapt to Thicke’s defence retorted that “you wouldn’t say that about a black artist for fear of being called a racist”.
ID2099454: Violence against women is an important issue, and this article makes it sound ridiculous. So thanks a bunch for undermining the hard work of lots of people trying to make a difference
DoctorPeppa: I can’t help but wonder if the author actually bothered to get in touch with Collective Shout with her concerns before publicly insinuating that their feminism is a smokescreen for racism. Why does it have to be their job to police the music industry for hate speech against women – if you have noticed other artists contributing to public misogyny, why not pick up your bat and have a swing for yourself? Other women doing feminist work are not an enemy who deserve to be shot down like this.
Abused, threatened, but Talitha Stone won’t be stopped
One of the great rewards of this work is seeing a growing wave of young women go into battle against violence against women in all its brutal manifestations, calling out and naming this violence as unacceptable. One such woman is 24-year-old Talitha Stone. Talitha decided she had to speak out and has been involved with the work of Collective Shout for a couple of years. Talitha’s passion and gutsy activism gives me hope that things can change. I first introduced you to her when she infiltrated try-outs for the Lingerie Football League last year. You can read about what she experienced here.
Talitha copped a raft of violent threats, including death and rape, when she participated in Collective Shout’s social media campaign against US rapper Tyler the Creator, who we believed was in breach of his visa conditions for vilifying women and celebrating violence as entertainment. She didn’t think his behaviour should be supported and naturalised and threw herself into the fray. The level of venom and abuse she received provided further evidence for our arguments. You can read about the online harassment here. (There have been even more threatening tweets since then, forwarded to police).
On Thursday Talitha attended the rapper’s gig in Sydney, to gather more evidence in our quest to have Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor withdraw his visa. She captured video of Tyler engaging in sexually degrading insults of her, which has since gone around the world and had more than 13,000 views at time of writing. View here. Note the crowd’s response to the tirade, pumping their fists, jeering and cheering, in a ritual celebration of abuse.
I have found out what happens you decide to take on one of the biggest rap artists in the world.
The Australian grassroots movement of which I am a part of, Collective Shout, is currently in a dispute with music artist Tyler the Creator. We believe his lyrics – which often mention raping women – are inciting hatred, and we have been calling on immigration minister Brendan O’Connor to revoke his visa.
This Wednesday, I tweeted both Tyler the Creator and the clothing store Culture Kings. I wanted to inform Culture Kings that the artist they were hosting for a signing event regularly promotes violence against women through his lyrics – some of which promote the rape of dead or pregnant women, and also refer to locking women in car boots and basements. Read more.
A woman who claims she was verbally abused on stage by an American rapper in Sydney on Thursday evening has reported the incident to police.
Talitha Stone, a 24-year-old blogger and campaigner, says she felt “petrified” following “terrifying and disturbing” abuse which she says was levelled at her by US rapper Tyler, the Creator.
Stone, who is a member of the online feminist activist group Collective Shout, had previously been part of a social media campaign to have the rapper banned from Australia. She had received a slew of abuse including rape threats on Twitter after the rapper, who has 1.7 million followers on the microblogging site, retweeted one of her posts, which said: “have to visit @Culturekings tomoz to protest against @fucktyler he will be there at midday. I think they need educating on #misogyny.” Read more
Stone and anti-misogyny organization Collective Shout had been trying to get the Odd Future leader’s Australian visa revoked, citing rules against visitors who “vilify or incite discord” and “songs advocating rape and extreme violence against women.” (Sample lyrics: “Rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome,” “Keep that bitch locked up in my storage, rape her and record it.”) When Stone tweeted about protesting a concert in Sydney, Tyler retweeted her, prompting cyber harassment from his fans and Stone filing a police report. Read more
The rapper certainly isn’t a stranger to controversy or being totes offensive, and now he’s set off some serious dramz in Australia.
It started when the group Collective Shout and female protestor Talitha Stone petitioned to have his Australian visa revoked because his performance would go against Australia’s rules against visitors who “vilify or incite discord” and “songs advocating rape and extreme violence against women.” A number of rappers, including 2 Chainz, haven’t been able to obtain visas to perform in the country in the past.
NSW Police have confirmed they are investigating a sexual assault at a gig where US rapper Tyler, the Creator was performing.
A NSW Police spokesman confirmed it was investigating a sexual assault report made by a woman during a concert at the Enmore Theatre on Thursday night. He said no formal statement had been taken yet.
Police are also investigating a tirade against blogger and campaigner Talitha Stone at the Sydney concert and a Twitter campaign against Ms Stone through Tyler’s 1.7 million followers.
Ms Stone, 24, of Sydney, told Fairfax Media that when she made her complaint to Newtown police on Friday, she was told police were already investigating a ‘‘sexual assault’’ of a woman at the same concert. Read more
See this ABC News video shown Saturday just prior to Tyler’s final Australian gig at Brisbane Eatons Hill Hotel (nice try hotel management saying you didn’t know who the artist who was coming was). Management had earlier received a visit from two of our Brisbane supporters, bearing a 14,000 plus signature petition calling on them to pull the event (the signature list rose another nine thousand a mere 48 hours after that).
Despite the tsunami of hostility against her, unlike many attacking her Talitha chose not to hide behind the anonymity of the internet. She could have used a false name, or requested that her image not be used. But her intimidation is what Tyler and his fans wanted, it’s what misogyny always wants of women. Talitha refused to fear them or to be silenced. If they were going to attempt to abuse a woman, it was going to occur in the light of public scrutiny.
I really like the way ‘Hecuba’ expressed it in a blog comment.
Tyler obviously didn’t like that brave woman who held him to account for his women-hating insults, because Tyler reacted by directing sexually degrading insults at her. Typical male behaviour whenever a male is challenged on his women-hating views, he reacts by uttering male threats and sexualised insults.
Unfortunately all but one of our elected officials gave a damn. The Immigration Minister didn’t reply, and not one female MP had even a word to say about it.
But we press on. Women like Talitha Stone give us the inspiration to do so.
‘ Women are supposed to be sexual objects, we’re still not supposed to be thinking, feeling, complex human beings. It is due to the continual representation of women as just beauties, the attempt to reduce women to a surface on which we project sexuality. So we’re not real people’.
The electronic vilification of Australian women writers and activists – including myself – was documented in June by Christine Jackman writing in the Weekend Australian Magazine. You can read Jackman’s piece ‘War of Words’ here.
Now the issue has been taken up globally, as told in this important piece just published in The Guardian.
I hope women writers and commentators will hold firm and not allow the trolls and haters to win. Hopefully this latest piece will be the beginning of more support for and solidarity between women who choose to speak out.
Crude insults, aggressive threats and unstinting ridicule: it’s business as usual in the world of website news commentary – at least for the women who regularly contribute to the national debate.
The frequency of the violent online invective – or “trolling” – levelled at female commentators and columnists is now causing some of the best known names in journalism to hesitate before publishing their opinions. As a result, women writers across the political spectrum are joining to call for a stop to the largely anonymous name-calling.
The columnist Laurie Penny, who writes for the Guardian, New Statesman and Independent, has decided to reveal the amount of abuse she receives in an effort to persuade online discussion forums to police threatening comments more effectively. Read more
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