Freelance writer from Cornwall
Since yesterday’s post I’ve continued following the ongoing Laurie Penny fracas and done some digging into cyber-stalking in the UK generally. A few thoughts spring to mind along with a few facts.
Cyber-stalking and online harassment are NOT a group-specific issue. Granted, women many women suffer from this form of crime, but then women can also readily resort to cyber-stalking as well. and a report in 2011 revealed that nearly 40% of victims are actually men. That’s not to say that female sufferers should be forgotten or their problem downplayed, but it does go to illustrate that cyber-stalking and online harassment can be inflicted on anyone, by anyone with access to a web connection. An article in the Guardian newspaper covering this can be found here:
Cyber-stalking isn’t a group-specific issue. It can be inflicted by anybody, on anybody. Whether the stalker has a particular personal grudge against their target, considers their race, religion, sexuality, gender or vulnerability (such as being disabled) as a good enough reason to stalk them or whether they simply enjoy putting people through the mill doesn’t make one group any more entitled than any other to claim ownership of the problem. Anybody can inflict it, anybody can suffer it and whetehr its a perosnal grudge, general bigotry or innate sadism makes no difference to one simple fact.
It’s everybody’s problem.
The web should be as safe a space as is practical for everybody. Not just for whichever demographic happens to shout the loudest. It’s entirely untenable to suggest that one group is entitled to greater protection than any other unless you’re prepared to admit you think other people’s suffering is lesser than your own. If one group or individual (Laurie Penny, for example) comes across as seemingly making it all about one group they instantly sideline less well-known groups and individuals who may be suffering just as badly if not worse. Cyber-stalking doesn’t become any less serious or painful depending on who’s on the receiving end of it. Online harassment is wrong, period. There’s no ‘hierarchy of wrongness’ and it’s probably deeply frustrating to anybody suffering in relative silence for anyone else to behave as though there is.
Concentrating the issue around any single group also allows their detractors to downplay the problem, to write it off as being just (in Laurie Penny’s case) as being some whinging, lefty do-gooder who needs to develop a thicker skin, to roll with the punches, to grow up and accept that not everybody is an unbridled fan. It allows people who indulge in online harassment to do so with a ready-made defence of only being joking, or that she’s looking to be offended or, as has also happened, that she might use it a means to smear any and all critics while using the resulting publicity to increase personal profit margins. To some extent it plays right into their hands.
What also plays into their hands is that one group seeming to claim ownership of the problem instantly makes others feel as though it isn’t theirs to deal with. Perhaps there are many who see it as a women’s issue or a feminist issue so they decide it isn’t their problem. After all, they don’t identify as being affected, so leave it to those who already seem to have the problem in hand. This is ridiculous when anybody with a web connection and the literacy to type threats and insults can send them all over the planet to any target who takes their fancy at the touch of a button.
Which rather begs the question, if online harassment and cyber-stalking are a menace (they are) and can be inflicted by anybody on anybody (they can, and are) where s the unified, co-ordinated response to the problem? How many different groups, representing different demographics are all working separately to fight it when they might benefit far more from a more unified approach? Do these groups liaise to avoid duplication of effort and co-ordinate with each other to make a more organised, visible, louder and therefore more powerful lobby? If not, why not? It would be the most efficient way to fight the problem, surely?
Legally speaking, the tools exist in the UK to deal with online harassment and cyber-stalking. There are actually more bullets in the legal gun than you might think:
The Malicious Communications Act, 1988.
.The Communications Act, 2003.
Computer Misuse Act, 1990.
Offences Against the Person Act, 1861.
Criminal Justice Act, 1988.
Public Order Act, 1986.
Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, 1994.
Protection from Harassment Act, 1997.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but they can be found here:
And more serious offences such as rape, arson, manslaughter, attempted murder and murder committed by a stalker can be prosecuted under their own statutes with the standard sentences imposed. The tools exist to do the job and there are more available to British law enforcement than in many other countries.
Which, with regular media stories of people driven to desperation, misery, self-harm and occasionally suicide as a result of cyber-stalking and online harassment in mind, begs a question.
Are they used as regularly as they can be, across the board against all online bullies and cyber-stalkers and for the protection of their victims regardless of their social demographic?
And if not, why not?