Don’t Let it Stand

A guide to addressing online abuse

About

What is this?

Don’t Let It Stand is a website that aims to bring together strategies women use to address online abuse. It’s intended to be a guide and inspiration for women in distress and a resource for anyone trying to understand women’s experiences of abuse in the digital era. Don’t Let It Stand is primarily but not exclusively geared towards Indian women, and hopes to be a useful and friendly space for women worldwide.

What's the story behind it?

In 2012–2013, the Internet Democracy Project did a ground-breaking research study titled ‘Don’t Let It Stand! An Exploratory Study of Women and Verbal Abuse Online in India’. Here we looked in-depth at 17 Indian women’s experiences of online abuse, where and why the abuse occurred, how women dealt with it, and when – if at all – the law was helpful. At the time, there weren’t many people talking about this issue, and the study was very well received.

In the last few years, the media has exploded with studies and articles related to gender and online abuse. Which in many ways is great, because people are finally talking about the issue (yay!). But on the other hand, a picture has emerged from those stories of the Internet as a very scary place for women.

The Internet platforms don’t care. The laws don’t work. The trolls are everywhere.

You’d almost forget that women continue en masse to use and enjoy a range of virtual spaces. And while doing so, they’re constantly developing strategies to address online abuse.

This website aims to showcase some of these strategies, though we happily acknowledge that there may be additional ones we may have missed. By doing so, we hope to provide inspiration and remind all of us that women do not have to be powerless in the face of such harassment.

Why is this only about women?

Ah, you’re one of those. No, wait, come back – we’re only kidding.

A 2014 Pew Research study found that women are more than three times as likely as men to be stalked online and more than twice as likely to be sexually harassed. Women make up 90% of victims of revenge porn and almost all the subjects of rape videos. Women are also more likely to face ‘sustained, invasive and physically threatening abuse online’ and therefore ‘report higher levels of stress and emotional disturbance’. In addition, 38% of women report being very upset by their most recent experience of online abuse, as compared to 17% of men. The Pew study also found that young women, in particular, experience severe types of online harassment: 26% have been stalked online and 25% were the target of online sexual harassment. Though this study was conducted in the US, there is little reason to think that things are markedly better in India.

In India (as in places across the world), the Internet has been an invaluable space for free expression, fluid identities, and new ways to interact for those with restricted offline opportunities and mobility. For women and gender minorities in particular, online spaces have allowed us to speak and be heard, to participate in public discourse in new and comparatively safer ways. But in accessing these virtual spaces, we are constantly faced with the same kinds of politics, the same cultural, social, and gender barriers, and largely the same kinds of people that also restrict us from freely accessing offline public spaces. Which means that, as they do offline, women face disproportionate abuse on the Internet simply because they are women.

Yet we’re still here; we’re still speaking.

This website is about women because these are not easy battles, yet they’re being fought everyday. And we’d like all women, everywhere, to know that they’re not alone.

This website is about women because we want to showcase all the incredible things women across the world are doing every day – to address the abuse they face online, carve out a space for themselves on the Internet, and fight back against online hate and harassment successfully.

But surely this isn’t a problem that women have to solve themselves?

You’re right, it isn’t. And so we are not at all trying to say that larger structural solutions to these issues aren’t needed – they very much are. Laws and policies need to be strengthened, changes in social attitudes need to be encouraged, community leaders need to speak up against hate and harassment and in favour of equality, and much better support structures need to be put in place to help women fight back against hate and harassment. The onus of stopping abuse does not lie with women, and so this website is by no means intended as a ‘how to stop abuse’ kit (which would look alarmingly like a ‘how not to get raped’ kit, a.k.a., a kit that’s targeting the wrong set of people). That isn’t what we’re trying to do.

But while the wheels of change are slowly turning, women need to keep themselves safe, sane, and strong. This website showcases strategies that might help them doing so, building on real-life examples of women who have used these strategies with varying degrees of success.

Will these strategies work for me?

There are several reasons why some or all of these strategies might not work. The biggest of these is that, as we already pointed out, the burden of stopping abuse ultimately does not lie with you, the target.

Beyond that, whether or not some or all of these strategies ‘work’ for you also depends on tons of other things, including the context, volume and nature of the abuse, what justice looks like to you, as well as who you and the abuser(s) are. Because offline hierarchies replicate themselves online, experiences of abuse are compounded by different aspects of identity. A dalit woman’s experience will be different from a lesbian woman’s will be different from a single woman’s will be different from that of a woman who inhabits all of these identities simultaneously. What identity categories you occupy, both in relation to your abuser and your socio-political context, will vastly affect the way in which your responses and strategising play out.

We have tried to highlight some of the main advantages and challenges of the different strategies to help you decide more easily whether or not something could work for you, but ultimately only you can know whether that might indeed be the case.

And like we said before, there are many strategies out there we may have not included – if you know of any, we’d love to hear about them.

So, who is behind this project?

That’s us – the Internet Democracy Project! We work for an Internet that supports freedom of expression, democracy, and social justice in India and beyond. In other words, a vision of an Internet where all people can express themselves, not just some, is one of the driving forces of our work. Don’t Let It Stand is a key initiative of ours because fighting back against online abuse, including through this website, is integral to our efforts to make this vision a reality.

You can learn more about us and all the other stuff we’re doing to further our cause on our other websites: https://internetdemocracy.in and http://genderingsurveillance.in.

Do you also have names?

Yes! This website was executed as follows:

  • Conceptualisation and coordination by Anja Kovacs and Richa Kaul Padte
  • Research by Anja Kovacs, Richa Kaul Padte, Nadia Lewis, Nayantara Ranganathan, Aiswarya Jayamohan and Ramya Chandrasekhar
  • Words by Richa Kaul Padte
  • Edits by Anja Kovacs and Aiswarya Jayamohan
  • Illustrations by Pranisha Shrestha
  • Website by Prateek Rungta (Miranj)
  • Overall support by Nayantara Ranganathan

A note on permissions

With the exception of celebrities, we have done our very best to seek permission in all cases where we wanted to take an example directly from a person’s social media account. We also haven't credited social media posts if we've received permission from a person to take screenshots directly from their timeline. Where messages were already used in news articles and the like, we did not ask for permission separately.

If, despite these efforts, you have concerns about our use of any example that involves you or a person you know, please do contact us immediately!

Why can’t I comment on any of the pages?

As many of you may have experienced across the interwebs, for every genuine comment there’s at least five un-genuine ones waiting in the wings. And right now we just don’t have the womanz-power to moderate what could end up being an explosive comments section. We do, however, really want to create a space for women and allies to talk about online abuse, get support, and strategise around ways forward. For now, that space is a Facebook group (yes, we do see the irony). Learn more here.