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Why Do Women Face So Much Harassment Online — and What Can We Do About It?

If you are a woman or girl who spends time on the internet, chances are good that you have experienced some form of online abuse. While anyone can be a victim of this type of abuse, women and girls are often targeted. Online abuse may include posting humiliating content about the person, sharing their personal information (doxxing), stalking through electronic surveillance, making violent threats, impersonating them, and sharing revenge porn. It often includes sexism, misogyny, racism, and other forms of prejudice. The goal of this type of harassment is often to silence, embarrass, scare, threaten, or even encourage mob attacks against a particular person.

Women who are in the public eye, including journalists, politicians, and actors, often face an ongoing torrent of digital harassment. However, any woman or girl who is on social media, message boards, or the internet generally may face this type of abuse. It can include something as straightforward as using gender-based slurs in an internet argument (such as calling a woman a slut or commenting on her physical appearance) or something more complex, such as posting the woman’s home address and encouraging others to pay her a visit.

Online harassment of women is a form of bullying. It happens for the same reason that many types of bullying happen — to gain a sense of power over a person, or to shame them. When you add the relative anonymity of the internet and the misogyny that is embedded in our society, it creates a toxic brew.

According to a recent survey of over 14,000 teenagers and young women in 22 countries, 58% of respondents had been targets of online abuse. The most common types of harassment include:

  • Abusive and insulting language (59%)

  • Deliberate embarrassment (41%)

  • Body shaming (39%)

  • Threats of sexual violence (39%)

Women and girls who identify as people of color and/or as LGBTQ face even higher rates of harassment, much of which is aimed at their sexual or gender identity or their race.

This abuse happens most often on Facebook (39%), although it is common on all social media platforms. A report from Amnesty International found that online harassment of women happens frequently on Twitter.

Even though online harassment takes place electronically — rather than in person — it can still be incredibly damaging. People who experience online harassment may fear for their physical safety, have low self esteem, or be diagnosed with conditions like anxiety and/or depression. Many women and teenage girls choose to leave social media entirely to escape the abuse.

Online harassment also contributes to larger problems in our culture. First, it spreads many of the toxic ideas that contribute to other forms of violence against women — like the notions that women are only valuable for their appearance, that women are not equal to men, and that women’ bodies must conform to a certain standard. Second, it makes it much harder for women and girls to express themselves. When women and girls are afraid to speak their minds for fear that they will be harassed, it both damages and limits their ability to share their opinions.

If we want to live in a better, more equal society, we have to address all forms of abuse. This includes online harassment. Each of us has a role to play in ending this type of abuse. The simplest and most effective way that you can help is to say something. If you see a friend being abusive to someone online, speak up against it. You can also report the comment or post to the social media platform.

We don’t have to accept online abuse as inevitable. We have the power to make this kind of behavior unacceptable, and we should use our voices to do so.

If your life has been affected by abuse or violence, we are here for you. Reach out to us anytime at 1-888-832-2272.


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