Like many women and gender minorities who dare tread anywhere in the vicinity of video games, 21-year-old Australian game reviewer Alanah Pierce receives a lot of sexist messages on her social media profiles, including her Facebook account and YouTube channel.
In 2014, she contacted the mothers of the boys who were threatening her with rape on Facebook. Some of these boys were as young as 10 years old.
mother who responded to Alanah (um, yes, only one
of several mums of abusive sons) made her son handwrite an apology letter. She also promised to speak to
other parents about the online harassment their kids might be
Contacting an abuser’s family can be an effective way to shift responsibility back to them, especially if the abuser is a minor.
by Alanah, journalist Andrea Grimes tried a similar tactic. After
receiving a vicious piece of abuse on Facebook, she combed Facebook
looking for anyone and everyone who shared the abuser’s ‘rather
unique last name’. She then sent screenshots of the abuse to their
A few days after sending out these screenshots, the miracle of miracles occurred: Andrea received an actual apology. The first she’d ever gotten from an (online) abuser.
I reacted differently to him than I have to any other troll, ever. Instead of pretending like he existed solely on some elusive nonspace called “the Internet” that we’ve somehow (wrongly) come to think of as being wholly separate from the “real” world, I treated him like a human being, who owes it to his fellow humans not to act like a complete jerk.
She’s tried this with other abusers too, and oftentimes, the response has been at least somewhat supportive.
Or kinda-sorta supportive.
Andrea cautions that the success of this strategy depends on whether an abuser uses his real name online; if not, you may still be able to figure out his identity, but that will require considerably more effort and there is no guarantee that you’ll find the information you’re looking for.
The success of this strategy also depends on whether or not his community condones or condemns the abuse.
Feeding a troll back to their social circle […] requires a troll’s target to have the time and emotional wherewithal to risk further abuse, or to hear from those whose aid they seek that it’s just not their problem. Or worse, they could find that their trolls’ social circles support their behaviour.
While contacting an abuser’s community is an effective way to remind abusers of their social context, there’s no way to know in advance what their community’s reactions will be like.
More often than not, harassers aren’t masked strangers. More likely, the person abusing you belongs to a mutually shared community of online or offline friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Which means that things can potentially get really messy. This is Vishaka Karnath’s story, written for The Ladies Finger.
A dude whom Vishaka hadn’t seen in years messaged her on Facebook, confessing his ‘feelings’ for her.
I wasn’t interested, and thought I’d try and cut him off as casually as I could, and get on with my day. But he wasn’t giving up any time soon.
Vishaka decided she’d had enough, unfriended him, took a screenshot of what went down, and posted it on her Facebook wall. Here’s why:
For one, it was funny. Moreover, I was like, hell, even people you know can do shit like this to you online? I wanted to show people that this could happen. And I just wanted him to stop with the messages and leave me alone.
And here’s where it all got weird. Sorry, weirder.
She received an onslaught of aggressive abuse from the guy, but what’s more, their mutual friends began asking her to take the post down! Yes, seriously.
One of my friends called me up to tell me that she knew him well, he was a really nice guy, and would never do such a thing.
Because you know, the abusers can’t be our friends, right? Not these nice guys.
[Apparently] I’d been really mean by outing his abuse […]. One of my friends texted me to say, “You ruined him.”
The sad truth is that some sections of your mutual community and friends will probably side with your abuser. People you assumed would have your back might take his side, which can make for a really tough experience. But you also might find support where you least expect it, which can be heartening.
Thankfully, most of my friends and family support[ed] me completely, and a few friends even asked if I wanted legal support. I’m very grateful and truly touched. I NEED MORE PEOPLE LIKE YOU GAIS.
As much as sharing abuse with a mutual community is about calling out an abuser, it can also be a process that reveals what certain sections or members of your community are ‘really’ like.
If you and your abuser share friends, colleagues or even family, it can be really difficult when they end up picking ‘sides’. Hopefully, though, you’ll still be able to find the support you need: experience shows that often, you do.
So, okay, we know that all abusers are ‘someone’s’ loved ones, friend or husband. But what happens when they are yours?
One day, a 32-year-old woman discovered that her husband was a big-time Internet troll. She shared her experience anonymously on Reddit’s subreddit /r/Relationships.
He left the browser open on our laptop after he went to work […]. I was disgusted at what I found. My husband is a troll. A really fucking nasty troll. He leaves horribly mean comments to all kinds of people […]. [He] calls women who post on /r/gonewild sluts and whores and cunts, etc.
She couldn’t believe it.
My husband is a nice, gentle man who is supportive and kind […]. But this is something else […]. [He was] also harassing teenagers on tumblr. Telling them to kill themselves, calling cute girls ugly and fat and stupid, etc. It horrified me to think that this was the man who could be raising our daughters with me in a few months.
She confronted him to find out why he was doing it, and learned that he didn’t see the people he bullied as ‘real’. For him, it was just an outlet for stress. And he wasn’t prepared to stop.
I cannot see my husband as a loving, gentle man. I am not afraid of him, but I am disgusted with his behavior […]. And because I want to protect my child, myself, I have asked him to leave the house.
I’d hoped this story would have gone another way.
What’s heartening is that she received hundreds of supportive comments below both her posts on Reddit, and barely any that took his side. With people sympathising, agreeing or outraging with her, the general consensus was that she did the right thing.
It’s important to know that there are close members of an abuser’s community who will hold an abuser accountable for his behaviour, no matter how painful it is for them.
Pulling people up for bad behaviour is not just an individual task, though.
In May 2015, A. received a gross, sexually harassing LinkedIn message from an Assistant General Manager at the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD). He’d used a professional network, of all places, to tell her she was looking ‘sexy and hot’ – amongst other things.
She made the message public
via her Twitter account, where she received a ton of support. She
also contacted the Chairman of NABARD with an email of complaint.
Soon after, she received a semi-apology from the harasser, stating that his remarks were ‘inadvertent’.
She also received a semi-follow up from the Chairman, who said that they’d be taking ‘the strictest possible action’ against the abuser.
However, despite numerous media houses contacting NABARD on her behalf, there was no real follow up. A. was never made aware of what the ’strictest possible’ action was, and if it had even been taken. The harasser deactivated his LinkedIn account, and when we spoke to her in September 2015, she said that’s the last she heard.
If only most employers took sexual harassment by their employees seriously. But maybe the more complaints we make, the more they’ll be forced to take notice and actually hold their employees accountable.