Cyber Harassment: Yes, It is a Woman’s Thing

In response to yesterday’s post, commentators questioned whether cyber harassment is a gendered problem. The answer is yes. While cyber attackers target men (see my post here), more often their victims are female. According to a University of Maryland study, online users who appear female are 25 times more likely to receive threats and sexually explicit messages than online users with male names. The disproportionate targeting of women accords with statistics compiled by the organization Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHOA). In 2007, 61 percent of the individuals reporting online abuse to WHOA were female while 21 percent were male. 2006 followed a similar pattern: 70 percent of those reporting online harassment identified themselves as women. Overall, in the years covering 2000 to 2007, 72.5 percent of the 2,285 individuals reporting cyber harassment were female and 22 percent were male. 70 percent of the victims were between the ages of 18 and 40 and half of them reported having no relationship with their attackers.

What of the comment that these statistics are somehow skewed because women are just more likely to “*complain* about it [whereas] Men are more likely to either ignore it, see it as trivial, or engage in self-help.” Here, the study from the University of Maryland’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Department is particularly instructive. Robert Meyer and Michel Cukier studied the threat of attacks associated with the chat medium IRC. They used a combination of simulated users (i.e., bots) and regular users. In an experiment using silent bots, they tested whether or not the gender of the user-name had an affect on the number of attacks received. The female names used were Cathy, Elyse, Irene, Melissa, and Stephanie. The male names were Andy, Brad, Dan, Gregg, and Kevin. The study found that female bots received on average 100 malicious private messages a day while the male bots received an average of 3.7. It found that the user gender had a significant impact on the number of sexually explicit and threatening messages received. Moreover, studies suggest that women under-report cyber harassment due to feelings of shame, not over-report as the commentator suggests.

Some commentators suggest that my work ignores the First Amendment. As my article Cyber Civil Rights develops in great detail, the civil rights proposal that I suggest for the most egregious of these attacks accords with both First Amendment doctrine and theory. Indeed, working to change our online culture to prevent such cyber sexual harassment would, in fact, enhance more valuable speech than it would inhibit. As L.P. Sheridan and T. Grant explain in their work, victims of cyber harassment are often advised to stop using computers. And recent cases suggest that many women do precisely that: Kathy Sierra shut down her blog “Creating Passionate Users” in the face of cyber harassment as did the many female bloggers attacked by Anonymous who were literally shut down by the group’s denial of service attacks. Without the fear of rape threats, published home addresses, and technological attacks, women would continue blogging and aggregating their ideas with others online. That honors the First Amendment.

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53 Responses

  1. A.W. says:


    So, world of warcraft, right? just wondering.

    As for the larger conversation, 1) sorry you and your friend had to deal with that stuff. 2) its interesting that then blizzard decided from a customer service POV to fix the problem. no need for legislation. Of course, if we are talking about WOW, we are talking about a (relatively) small and controllable evironment. But there is a good example of how we can control this without resorting to government intervention.

  2. “Consider what a douche the average person is. Half the people are douchier than that. Now, stir in anonymity, 93% of the communication being lost, and the GIFWT and what do we have? A pretty good picture of why people act like jerks on the internet, but one that is remarkably gender-neutral.”


    I would expect no less flare from you. Well stated. I agree, specifically, with your last statement. One thing to consider is how people view their identity. Some women identify themselves as females first, most likely because of their biology; others might identify with their sexuality first or their spirituality or profession, perhaps motherhood AS THE main identity upon which they create a life. The same would apply to men.

    Biologically I think our life is based solely on gender. However, I think the mind is gender-neutral and the anonymity in chat-rooms may trigger the “anonymity” – gender-neutralness of the mind. Meaning, the intent isn’t to harass a male or female via their gender. The intent is to harass another person who just happens to be female in this case and attacking the sexuality of a female is the easiest way to go.

    When a woman wants to attack a man, well, any smart dad will teach a girl to hit those balls, and we do. It works. The same applies to the verbal sexual abuse towards women. It works and this debate proves it.

    What I wonder is, if a woman identifies herself via sexuality first (based on biology) then what would drive one woman (A) to call this type of harassment against women and another (B) to say it’s an attack towards another human being, therefore requiring a different type of discourse? An answer might lie in the way each woman identifies herself on the comprehensive or narrow view held in the area of female sexuality, individual and as a group. I suspect woman A might feel enslaved to a biology she cannot control and from personal experience, the entire reproductive system and the vagina do in fact create an enslavement of sorts for the roles females play. It is frustrating and from a purely female perspective, I find this harassment to be against women. However, looking at it sans biology and strictly from the gender-neutral place of logic, feminism needs a modern spin on its philosophy. This case is a stupid boys grow up to be stupid men scenerio. Have mother’s failed their sons?

    What women really need is education on female sexuality and the way it can empower them rather than continuing this fight that’s just making women look like a bunch of cry babies to men. Cyber-harassment is not okay yet why is the attack always on women via sexuality? Because it’s the weak point for women.

    What many women don’t keep in mind – just a guess from life experience – is that male talk is derogatory. They use trashy language amongst themselves in a group and in chat rooms. Look at your (Randazza’s) word choice of “douche”. Point is, men are like that so what do women do, change men? Ha! Good luck. Maybe women can take males’ crappy lingo with a grain of salt because most often, *that’s* how it’s meant to be taken. This doesn’t diminish the inappropriateness of the cyber-harassment in this case but to consider violating free speech simply because some women can’t handle the real world is asinine and completely un-American. This is high school taken into adulthood!

    Could it be that modern women have become sexually confused because of the conflicting messages they’ve been given about sex from the onset of 2nd wave feminism? Clearly the new generation is sexually oppressed while violence is glorified for them. It is a wonder sexual harassment occurs in the only non-real place of existence where nobody knows your name? Isn’t it crazy that a recent poll discovered more teens thought Rihanna “asked for” a beating than not? Here we have 2nd wave feminists cat fighting about how women don’t have equality and are being sexually harassed and yet the young generation accepts that violence and fear are a norm yet they’ve gone hog wile in their sexuality? Who actually guided the youth? Perhaps we ought to lighten up on the sex thing and concentrate on the violence a bit more. Creating healthy attitude about sexuality can only empower us, men and women. Violence is never healthy.

    The only crime here is that the guys were guilty of being total assholes. I know a few of those. Too bad we can’t criminalize assholeness. Count me in as a supporter if it ever comes to be. I’m rather tired of yet another debate about how a woman was a victim. I’ve been a victim so many times it just rolls off of me now. It doesn’t mean I didn’t cry or that I didn’t feel attacked, helpless, fearful or angry. It means I found self-empowerment through it. Life is tough so get tough and one way to toughen up is to not allow stupid and/or cruel verbal sexual attacks to bring women down.

    By screaming feminist attack, it merely gives men more power over that kind of abuse and I have yet to meet one man who doesn’t possess some sort of wall with the word feminism. The average person has no clue what 1st, 2nd or 3rd feminist waves are. The average “Joe” groups them together and they equal in meaning 2nd wave simply because that’s what they’ve grown up with, they’re the women who have shaped what is the status-quo.

    Men are sexually confused too. America needs Dr. Marty Klein and those like him. We’re simply at the verge of a new sexual revolution being driven by youth and too many of us “oldies” think that’s a scary thought. Stop the bickering. The key to modern feminism is female sexual empowerment. Who’s teaching that to our youth? It’s not women who feel their sexuality belongs to men that’s for sure. Everybody has been abused or in some dysfunctional situation or another. We all have a story. Here’s a tissue. I want to hear about how women found ways to make their sad stories successful ones because those women didn’t allow men’s assumed power to destroy them. That’s how I define a feminist.

    “…all else being equal, framing the issue as a women’s issue, as opposed to a social order issue, will result in greater visibility within the academy (marginally higher likelihood of publication, higher readership, etc…”

    JP- excellent. I rather more and more enjoy that I’m not part of academic molding but simultaneously, I don’t then think about the point you brought up. If I understand correctly, what you’re saying is that framing it as a woman’s issue creates greater potential for *mainstreaming* the information, be it via discourse or generally education onto others about its occurrence. Is this a correct interpretation?

    If so, on the surface it would appear to benefit women; however, deeper I think it becomes the type of complaint Randazza illustrates. I do agree it ought to be discussed but in a humanist form.


  1. January 24, 2010

    […] each up side to social media there is a down. Con­cur­ring Opin­ions demon­strates con­vinc­ing evi­dence  that it is pri­mar­ily women who are the vic­tims of unpro­voked […]