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Researcher discusses ‘unjust burden’ put on women by online harassment

Laura Thompson speaks to The Huffington Post about problems caused by digital technology

by Ed Grover (Senior Communications Officer)

A PhD researcher who is investigating online abuse and harassment has spoken about new ways that women are being targeted through digital technology.

Laura Thompson says that women face a “never-ending task” to protect themselves from unwanted attention and this “unjust burden” is becoming worse with new communication methods.

In comments included in a series of articles by The Huffington Post, Laura explained that online harassment is aimed at women far more than men.

The latest of the articles shows how women are changing their iPhone usernames – to things like “John’s work iPhone” – to avoid “cyberflashing” from men who send lewd images via the wireless Apple AirDrop system to devices that have female usernames.

Laura told The Huffington Post: “From a young age, girls are taught that they must keep themselves safe from sexual harm, for example by not walking home by themselves at night.

“This sort of safety work is a never-ending task throughout women’s lives. It impacts on their freedom, sense of security, and ability to occupy public spaces. Now that digital technologies can also be used to harass and perpetrate new image-based sexual offences, this unjust burden on women is growing.”

A new form of harassment

The PhD student, whose doctoral research project investigates abuse and harassment in online dating, recently published a study on the Bye Felipe and Tinder Nightmares social media pages, which publish examples of messages that women have received.

She also contributed to a BBC Radio 4 programme called Single Black Female, which looked at the dating experiences of black women in the UK.

According to the researcher, new types of online harassment are merely a continuation of a trend of male behaviour towards women that existed long before the onset of the digital age.

In a second article in The Huffington Post, Laura said that society must recognise the harm that harassment and abuse has on individual women, and also consider the broader ways this behaviour contributes to gender and sexual inequality, which she says limits women’s confidence and security in public spaces.

A third, earlier article for the news website looked at the problem of “cyberflashing” when it was first coming to light. In this, Laura explained harassment was a long-standing issue.

She said: “These things have always been a problem, there has always been sexism, and men who abuse power and abuse women and this is just another way to do it.”

Online dating research

The City researcher added that it should not fall to the victims of abuse to find solutions.

“I think that it is unfair to expect women to be continually self-policing and every time they want to use some function online they need to think about how it might be misused by someone else and we can’t scare women off using the internet, or smartphone technology, because it is simply not fair,” she told The Huffington Post.

Laura has previously written for The Conversation about the subject in an article that was republished by The Independent.

Describing here research, she said: “People who use online dating can experience hostile, rude or even sexist behaviour from other users, such as unwanted, sexually aggressive messages, unsolicited nude images, and sexualised threats or insults.

“My research explores how these experiences might be gendered. Specifically, I am exploring how gender is performed in online dating interactions and how this relates to problematic behaviour.”

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