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
‘What I’ve learned from Twitter is that it doesn’t matter what I do. It didn’t matter what I’ve done, what I’ve said, what I’ve written. My body of work doesn’t matter and my actual thoughts don’t matter. Not to those who have decided to hate me’
I’ve got a problem with Meghan Murphy and her Feminist Current blog. Every time I go there I want to re-print pretty much everything she writes. Here’s her latest. And yes, if you’re wondering, this piece resonated. A lot. Especially a week into the twitter response to my piece in Fairfax papers on the need for Australia to follow France’s lead in adopting the Nordic approach to prostitution last week (no, I’m not ‘whorephobic’ and no, I don’t want all sex workers to die).
I love the internet. I really do. And I can’t stand the luddites who romanticize the days where people talked. Face to face. Or called each other. The phone? Really? Please. Fuck the phone. The internet is magic.
I have found dozens — I’d even be so bold as to say hundreds — of brothers and sisters across the globe who I would have otherwise never found, if not for the ability to connect online.
So I have no interest in blaming technology or social media for people’s behaviour or arguing that Twitter is unequivocally “bad” (or “good,” for that matter). Things are never quite that simple. But what I will say is this: Most days I hate Twitter. And many days I think Twitter is a horrible place for feminism.
While I would never argue that feminists stay off of Twitter and do tend to believe it’s a necessary evil, of sorts, if you are in media/writing/journalism, I don’t think it’s a place for productive discourse or movement-building. I think it’s a place where intellectual laziness is encouraged, oversimplification is mandatory, posturing is de rigueur, and bullying is rewarded. I think it’s a place hateful people are drawn towards to gleefully spread their hate, mostly without repercussion. And more than half the time I feel as though I’m trapped in a shitty, American, movie-version of high school that looks more like a popularity contest than a movement to end oppression and violence against women. Read full article here.
This message from a special fan landed in my public profile Facebook inbox this morning. I won’t include his name, as he would probably enjoy that too much.
You are a dickhead. You fk’n leso feminist. I bloody hate u bitch. You always have something to say. I bet you think “Playgirl” with pictures of men in porn magazines is all okay but when it’s women, it’s taboo as far as you are concerned. You have obviously had a very sheltered life. I would guess that I am not the only one who hates you. It is fair enough if women’s heads are photoshopped onto models bodies but when women SEND IN THEIR OWN PICTURES, it’s because they want to show off their bodies. They are not made or forced to do so. You have a very shallow mind bitch
It’s just one of many along these lines which come to me regularly. My friends all get them too, mostly through social media. We often compare them at the end of the day to see who got the ‘best’ one. I used to be the winner most days but now a couple of my mates are in the lead, especially those who have taken it up to the Lingerie Football League. All in a day’s work.
But it was good, just after reading the latest love letter, to come across this commentary by Van Badham on Women’s Agenda (a site I’ve only just discovered and which ran this really good piece about women and appearance). Here’s an extract but it’s worth reading the whole thing:
Whether it’s deliberate or non-self-aware, Brospherism is passive-aggressive sexism that foments social awkwardness and inflicts personal damage, because it masquerades as the instruction of colleagues whilst relying upon same old, same old sexist traditions of dismissing women’s agency and enforcing gendered standards of behaviour. You know you’re up against the Brosphere when you encounter subtly gendered language to dismiss the (unheard) sound of written women’s voices as “yelling”, “shrieking” or “shouting about nothing”. Call out this or any other kind of discursive marginalization in an online forum and you risk invoking the wrath of Brospherus Maximus, a pack-attack of mutually reinforced conclusions that the feminist doesn’t know what sexism is, that she is “over-reacting”, “over-sensitive”, “crazy”. The gender-doom of denunciation as “hysterical” is only ever one connotation away, the words “calm down” or “settle” apparently inevitable, while substantive content of whatever comment made by a woman displeased the original Bro is ignored in favour of a defensive schooling in how feminists who criticize sexist behaviour just can’t, um, engage criticism. Read more here.
Repeat this too many times to count and you get an idea of the twitter phenomenon which began when UK Geordie Shore reality TV star Gaz Beadle asked his 500,000 followers: “How many people r doing the walk of shame hahahaha #wakeupwitharandom #awkwardtaxihome.”
Large numbers of men began tweeting photos of their one-night-stands, in a virtual game of one-upmanship where a woman’s right to privacy was violated for their cyber shaming pleasure.
The ‘star’, described by Jezebel as “sadly but unsurprisingly a role model for many idiots”, then merrily retweeted the pics sent by his gleeful fans.
The topic trended on twitter, Beadle said he’d had a great time at the online humiliation party and was “Defo doing it again next week yer?”
However, The Sun got hold of it and following a storm of criticism, Beadle deleted all the photos and comments from his twitterfeed with an apology that was too little too late. The damage was done. The photos of many unsuspecting women continued to circulate, justified it as women getting their just deserts.
“If these girls weren’t so easy then they wouldn’t end up in #bedofshame”
“People have to remember that the so called victims of #bedofshame made the decision to have a one night stand.#consequences”
Another man thanked his comrades for helping him identify all the sluts to avoid.
Here’s what I had to say on Channel 7 Sunrise this morning.
For some it seems, there is a difference between rape, and you know, rape rape.
If the latest debacle involving a UK sports ‘hero’ found guilty of rape can tell us anything, it’s that rape is when a slutty, drunk chick totally has it coming. This kind of rape shouldn’t be taken seriously because, well, she’s drunk and the guy was just having a bit of fun.
Rape rape though is when a sober woman dressed head-to-toe in white is viciously attacked while leaving church by a man with a thick moustache and twitching eye. This man is clearly a rapist, and this woman is clearly innocent (not like that slutty chick, am I right?).
Wales and Sheffield United professional footballer, Ched Evans, was sentenced to five years in jail after being found guilty of rape. The basic premise is that last year in May, a young intoxicated woman went back to a hotel room with Evans’ teammate, Clayton McDonald. She and McDonald had intercourse, and soon after Evans arrived and McDonald left.
This is when Evans is said to have had intercourse with the young woman, while two friends had the audacity to film it through a window.
The victim claimed to have no memory of the night, and with the assistance of CCTV footage showing just how intoxicated she was before the incident, the jury found that the 19-year-old was in no state to be able to consent to sexual intercourse. McDonald was acquitted and Ched was found guilty.
However, sometimes the law is not enough to quench the thirst of a troll; because although the jury found the 19-year-old’s accusation to be legitimate, she is now facing trial by Twitter.
It started with Evans’ teammate, Connor Brown, posting a series of vicious tweets on the micro blogging site. He called her a “money-grabbing little tramp,” and eloquently added, ““If ur a slag ur a slag don’t try get money from being a slag (sic) … Stupid girls… I feel sick.”
This was just the beginning. London Feminist, in a post titled ‘Rape Culture in up to 140 characters’, kept track of the #chedevans Twitter trend and found that a disturbing number people don’t seem to understand exactly what rape is.
Here are just a few.
“Curious to find out more about the #chedevans rape conviction. Not premeditated but locked away for 5 years for lack of consent.”
“Read up on the laws as well now! I change my mind! Seems that it is rape after all! #chedevans”
“Baffled by the #ChedEvans case. You convict both men or neither! How can there be any evidence if the silly bitch can’t remember anything?”
“If nailing a tramp who is too wankered to say no is a crime….. then the old bill need to get down to mine with a set of cuffs. #ChedEvans”
But here’s the thing: rape is non-consensual sex, and a woman being drunk does not and should not exempt rapists from the law. We could question how one man was sentenced to jail and how the other wasn’t, but Senior Crown Prosecutor in Wales, Nita Dowell, lays out the facts.
“Ched Evans took advantage of a vulnerable young woman who was in no fit state to consent to sexual activity. It is a myth that being vulnerable through alcohol consumption means that a victim is somehow responsible for being raped. The law is clear: being vulnerable through drink or drugs does not imply consent.”
Well said. Now if someone could just pass that on to the Twitter trolls.
Jane Hollier is completing a Media degree at Charles Sturt University.
Most days when I turn on my computer I am offered wisdom on what would make me less angry about the treatment of women and girls, the issue I most care about.
This can be summarised as ‘MTR really needs a good f**k’.
And that’s a mild offering.
I receive, through twitter, email and my blog threats of violence and sexual abuse. Explicit descriptions of what a man (anonymous, though identifying as male) would like to do to me. And a couple of death threats. Some people have tried to post child porn in the comments section of my website.
I am asked to send in pictures for ‘arse’ or ‘boob’ appreciation societies.
Of course I am not the only one. Online vilification happens to many women who are subjected to a virtual gang bang. If we protest we are told we have no sense of humour. Rape threats are just for LULZ, don’t we know?
In the last week I have received so much e.hate I have had to disengage. I am told to ‘block the bullies’. I don’t have that many hours.
It’s not that I don’t expect strong reactions to my strongly expressed views. If I were thin-skinned I’d hardly put out a book titled Big Porn Inc: Exposing the harms of the global pornography industry. I’d be writing about puppies, kittens and fluffy bunnies instead.
But there is so little engagement with or critique of my arguments. Instead, aggression and intimidation seem to have become generally accepted as a legitimate means of making a point, especially since the advent of new media forms.
It’s the wild west. All the norms and expectations of civil discourse have gone. Social media lacks the inbuilt filtering system of traditional media.
This corrosive behaviour contributes to a narrowing of public debate because many don’t want to participate when they are eviscerated in a savage online environment.
I propose that we try to work out decent ground rules. We tell children that sticks and stones will break our bones, but words will never harm us. We know that it is not true, that words can harm.
Consider the “word crimes” of blackmail, invasion of privacy, sexual or racial intimidation and harassment, conspiracy, extortion, libel, fraud, misrepresentation: all are areas where harmful speech is entitled to regulation and redress. All are areas that give us principles on which to formulate ground rules for social media communication.
No one has a right not to be offended, but everyone has a right not to be harmed by others whether in actions or words. Do no harm is a universal precept.
I hope you are encouraged by this clip from the CBC Early Show about the campaign to remove a T-shirt marketed to young girls with the logo ‘”I’m too pretty to do homework, so my brother has to do it for me.”
It was great to see how quickly this took off, after one woman, Lauren Todd, decided to take action, at first posting on Facebook, then launching a petition through Change.org.
Less than a day later, with 1, 600 signatures collected, JC Penney pulled the shirt from its website and issued an apology.
Here’s my favourite quote from Lauren:
“Consumers are supposed to get together and tell corporations when they are unhappy with what they are doing.”
So simple, so true, and so much at the heart of what we at Collective Shout are about. Often our campaigns begin when just one person decides to take action, then engages and mobilises others for the cause.
We’ve seen wins like the JC Penney victory too, after some of our campaigns have gone viral. I think my favourite was when Harvey Norman pulled an offensive radio ad (combining Santa, lap dancing and children) after a Twitter storm of a mere four hours on a Sunday afternoon.
Record response from company following a few hours of twitter action
This is the story about the fastest response from a company I have ever seen.
It is also testament to the power of new forms of social media.
I was at my desk, (which sounds better than saying ‘I was in bed reading Facebook updates on my phone’), when I saw a FB message sent Saturday from my fellow advocate for girls, Dannielle Miller. It was about a Harvey Norman ad she’d heard on Sydney radio station Nova:
So I thought I’d send a few tweets about it while working yesterday afternoon. While I had hoped the tweets would make their way to the company at some stage, I hadn’t realised Harvey Norman was also @HarveyNorman – on twitter.
My twitter followers got fired up. One was about to buy a TV from Harvey Norman. Not anymore. @Cbngal tweeted this:
Then this lobbed into to my twitter feed:
I realised Harvey was also hanging around the twitterverse on a Sunday afternoon. And reading my tweets, including a re-working of the ‘Go Harvey Norman’ theme (suggesting where they could go, which probably wasn’t very nice).
Journalist Sandra Lee @Fittoprint tweeted ‘the smell of victory’. I hoped she was right but didn’t want to expect too much.
Gary Wheelhouse, head of social media for Harvey Norman, then emailed me:
So I tweeted on his prompt reply. And expected to hear back on Monday.
Forty-five minutes later I received this:
Lyndal Gabriel heads up Harvey Norman’s radio and TV advertising.
Ms Gabriel informed me that the ad had just started running on the weekend, only on NOVA, and was pulled at 8pm. She emailed this comment this morning:
As a Retailer we do not wish to offend anybody, and as such when Gary picked up the comments on Social Media, we immediately acted and pulled the ad.
So all in all a mere four hours of action for the ultimate result.
While of course you have to ask who it was at Harvey Norman that thought this ad appropriate to run at all, I think it is important to commend corporations who recognise they stuffed up and act promptly to make amends.
The only other time I have seen a comparatively quick response was when Best & Less acted speedily to withdraw a padded push-up bra – for tweenagers – after I blogged about it in February. (In contrast, some retailers - like Roger David - don’t bother responding at all).
I really hope this account gives encouragement to other activists and would-be activists, that we really can make a difference. Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation has achieved some significant wins in its first year. Get on board, shout out against sexploitation in all its forms.
Antoinette Jones – Principal – Mitcham Girls High School
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Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
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“Melinda’s presentations to our parents, staff and full day workshops to students was inspirational, transforming the attitudes and thinking of all involved”
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“Melinda Tankard Reist’s presentation to Middle and Upper School students at Pymble Ladies’ College was absolutely brilliant!”
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“Melinda Tankard Reist has had a transformational affect on our school.”
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