During the last couple of weeks in Australia the debate around reporting men who harass high profile feminists on social media has been full blown, vivid and – that rare thing in the time of Twitter spats – game-changing.
I felt distressed when I read the blog detailing the gratuitous, grotesque abuse Ford received – and initially applauded her and other feminists fighting back by naming and shaming abusers.
Ford reported one of her harassers to his employer and he lost his job as a result. There must be consequences for that level of abuse.
But why should women have to take on these measures themselves – measures that can bring further risk to their personal safety?Yes, why can’t
Women who are harassed on the internet could seek to rely on section 474.17 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) which makes it an offence to use “a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence” along with ‘using a carriage service to make a threat”. Punishment is a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment and a fine of $19,800. But there is the hurdle of “threat” .
One-off posts by strangers on Facebook calling you a slut or hoping you die might not be enough to pass all the necessary legal requirements for feeling “threatened” – which traditionally has meant a certain level of fear that occurs when the harassment occurs repeatedly and at close range.So you want to regard as a ‘threat’ something no reasonable person would ever regard as a threat? Well, it’s easy to see why you might have problems doing so!
It’s a lot harder to see why you might think anyone should consider that we lower the threshold just for you, though.
The law needs to be expanded to encompass penalties for trolling. How about amending criminal codes to make posting offensive, vile and threatening messages on people’s social media pages come not only under stalking provisions, but become a public decency offence?
Calling someone a slut on their Facebook page should be akin to urinating in public. Common standards of decency are offended, and there should be a penalty for that, with the penalties becoming more severe depending on the nature of the threats.There’s a good reason urinating in public is an offence. It’s dirty, it’s dangerous (for transmission of diseases) and it’s unpleasant for other members of the public.
None of that applies to words on a screen that you can turn off or delete, love. So wind your neck in.