Ruth Jacobs – WNN Features
(WNN) London, England, UNITED KINGDOM, WESTERN EUROPE: A recent interview by women’s advocate and stop-human-trafficking activist Ruth Jacobs with author Trista Hendren brings a controversial subject to the public. Cyber-harassment is a growing phenomenon online and one that numerous women, teenagers and children face daily.
Has Facebook been ignoring human rights and the need for women and children to be protected from cyber-attack and harassment online? Indications of a response to this issue by Facebook in May 2013 may surprise some activists, but the issues are now linked to advertising dollars for the social media giant.
This question of safety online is part of an important discussion that examines the divide between global freedom of speech on the internet and the rise in online threats, bullying and intimidation.
Today’s definition of cyber-stalking includes conditions that are familiar to numerous women’s advocates, especially feminists, who have published blogs online or have been active on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter. Cyber-stalking is an online criminal behavior that works to create fear in one or more victims. Use of technology is the key ingredient as severe harassment can occur via email, the internet, or any electronic device, including mobile phones.
As harassment reaches a level of severity it’s effects also can have lasting psychological repercussions.
“Defined as ‘willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices,’ cyberbullying has become a growing concern.,” outlined the FBI – Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2013 as they described best practices for law enforcement officers in response to crimes committed through the use of the internet.
While much of the media focus on cyber-bullying has covered suicides due to extreme online bullying behaviors, women who speak out for rights online are also victims of bullying and stalking by most often anonymous perpetrators who are technologically savvy users of the internet.
“The victim’s fear for her/his ‘safety’ or that of someone known to her/him is not restricted to fear of physical harm but rather, includes fear for her/his mental, psychological and emotional safety,” outlines a 1999 Canadian handbook advising both police and local prosecutors ‘How Criminal Harassment Charges Work’.
Trista Hendren is a children’s book author. She is also the co-founder of Rapebook, a Facebook page that is now inactive but was originally set up to expose ‘rape-humor’ online, as well as other abusive content placed on Facebook. In her interview with Ruth Jacobs, Trista Hendren shares her frustration as she reported ongoing online abuse to Facebook staff. Like many other women who have faced similar situations the abuse Hendren faced continues to haunt her.
“…in particular during the time her Facebook page was being hit daily with up to 500 abusive links, comments and messages by attackers who also made rape and death threats against Hendren,” says Jacobs.
Ruth Jacobs (RJ): Trista, can you tell me what prompted you to create the Rapebook page on Facebook and what were the aims of the page?
Trista Hendren (TH): I noticed that many women I knew via Facebook were having issues over the course of about 2 months. I began to connect the dots and wrote an article that included examples from a variety of women from around the world.
The more I opened my eyes to what was happening, the more frightening it became, particularly as it related to teens and young girls. I ended up writing a series of articles. Then I was involved with a group of feminist administrators of Facebook pages. Ultimately, we formed Rapebook as a protest.
Our primary concerns were child sex abuse images—and other sexualized images of young girls—and violence against women. As we got into it, there were many things I just wish I had never seen. The prevalence of pornography and images of child sex abuse on Facebook is just huge. Those are things that we could not of course re-post. So a lot of our work was under the radar.
We were criticized that some of the things we posted were really “not that big of a deal.” I think it’s really important to note that what we felt we could post ethically as opposed to what we actually saw ourselves, and tried to deal with amongst ourselves, were two very different things. One admin in particular was singled out in a horrible way. They even went after her 12-year-old daughter.
After several months, it became increasingly heated, resulting in death and rape threats.
Many people thought I should abandon this work, particularly after the threats. My kids are still fairly young, and had I known it would turn out this way, I probably would not have done it.
However, I felt that I could not stop once I started. I can’t ignore the fact that I have a daughter. She, like all of our daughters, is at a tremendous risk for sexual violence. I knew that if I stopped, I would always blame myself for not standing my ground.
I think Facebook is very dangerous because it normalizes this violence to an enormous audience. Our collective consciousness is being very badly damaged by pages that glorify rape and abuse of women and girls. If we don’t stop this, I believe we will see significantly more rapes and violence.
RJ: When the page was attacked by sick individuals posting horrific content, including images of child sex abuse, how did Facebook handle that?
TH: Facebook was always very responsive and professional – I will give them that. But in terms of action, the word impotent comes to mind. Yes, this is offensive, even horrible – but we can’t stop free speech.
What generally happened was that the content was removed if it was a threat or a picture of an actual rape. But I would do things differently now. When Facebook removed pictures, it later meant that the FBI was not able to prosecute, or even investigate, those individuals due to lack of evidence.
RJ: So because Facebook was not removing these comments and posts, you were left with no option but to close the page in order to stop Facebook hosting that content?
TH: The page is actually still up – it is just no longer active.
At one point, we did take it down for a few days because the trolls were targeting us with the intent to have the page removed. We wanted to leave on our own terms, so we took a time-out and came back later.
The reason that we did log off was that it began to affect all of our health. I was the sickest I have ever been for about 2 weeks. You can actually see one of my eyes is bloodied in the ABC television interview I did – and that was weeks after being almost exclusively in bed, which is not like me at all. It took weeks for me to be well enough to even do the interview.
Another admin started throwing up all the time. It was really disgusting work. And, we just began to think, why are we devoting all our efforts on a volunteer basis to do work that Facebook – with billions of dollars – should be taking care of?
It was a never-ending workload. The harder we worked, the more we found. It was impossible for us to keep up—and we began to question whether we were even making a difference.
We felt we would make more of a statement by posting a final letter to the page for all to see.
RJ: Do you think Facebook should be charged with storing and sharing images of child sex abuse?
TH: Absolutely. I strongly believe that one day, they will.
RJ: Are you aware of profiles on Facebook used for human trafficking?
TH: Yes, I became aware of that only recently. I find it both horrendous and inexcusable.
I believe most people have no idea what is on Facebook. Perhaps they don’t want to know. I’d like to think if more people were aware of these human rights violations, they would leave the site altogether.
RJ: Do you believe Facebook’s recently announced participation in Thorn‘s technical task force will be enough to combat child sex abuse images and human trafficking on their site, or do you think there are other measures Facebook could also be taking?
TH: No, I do not believe Facebook has done nearly enough.
They need more trained moderators. They must have a zero tolerance policy on images of child sex abuse and human trafficking.That needs to be made clear to everyone.
One of the biggest problems I see now is that no one really understands what their policies are. There are many things they could do that would make Facebook safer for children. The Red Hood Project has done a tremendous amount of work around this, as have many others, such as the Global Alliance against Minor Exploitation (G.A.M.E.).
Anonymity on Facebook has allowed online social revolutions and campaigns to explode. But today the social network has announced its changing policy. Authors behind posts glorifying violence against women will be forced to identify themselves. Facebook made the decision after an anti-misogyny campaign and advertiser boycott. In spite of the change in Facebook policy, women facing threats and harassment online continues. This 2:07 min May 2013 video release by Sydney, Australia based journalist and video-journalist for SBS World News Australia Katrina Yu. You can follower her on Facebook or on Twitter @Katmyu.
Jackson Katz, Phd, is a male anti-sexist activist and expert on violence, media and masculinities. An author, filmmaker, educator and social theorist, Katz has worked in gender violence prevention work with diverse groups of men and boys in sports culture and the military, and has pioneered work in critical media literacy. Katz is the creator and co-founder of the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program, which advocates the ‘bystander approach’ to sexual and domestic violence prevention. You’ve also seen him in the award winning documentary “MissRepresentation.” This video is a TEDxTalks production.
For more information on this topic:
- “WHY ARE COMMENTS TURNED OFF?,” Video from TEDxTalks 2012 with Anita Sarkeesian – Washington D.C., December 2012;
- “Cyber stalking: An Analysis of online Harassment and Intimidation,” International Journal of Cyber Criminology, 2007;
- “The Law of Cyberspace,” Ahmad Kamal, UNITAR – United Nations Institute of Training and Research, November 2005;
- “10 Things Men Can Do To Prevent Gender Violence,” Jackson Katz – webpage;
- “Cyberstalking / Harassment,” CyberAngels (A Program of Guardian Angels Keeping It Safe) – webpage.
Ruth Jacobs is the author of Soul Destruction: Unforgivable, a novel exposing the dark world and harsh reality of life as a call girl. The main storyline is based loosely on events from her own life. Ruth studied prostitution in the late 1990s and has firsthand experience of many of the topics she writes about such as post-traumatic stress disorder, rape, and drug and alcohol addiction. In addition to fiction writing, Ruth is also involved in non-fiction, journalism and broadcasting for charity and human rights campaigning in the areas of anti-sexual exploitation and anti-human trafficking. Learn more about Ruth at ruthjacobs.co.uk and soul-destruction.com
2013 WNN – Women News Network
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