Women’s Aid Conference: Digital Stalking and Online Harassment

I was fortunate recently to attend my first feminist conference organised by Women’s Aid. The theme of the conference was digital stalking and online harassment.

My attendance was a thoroughly positive experience and one which has made a long-lasting impression on me that I will never forget. It felt a supportive and warm environment, conducive to women sharing as much or as little as they wanted to.

The day was also informative with guest speakers such as Caroline Criado Perez, Rachel Griffiths of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust and Laura Richards of the newly formed stalking charity Paladin. Nimko Ali also spoke movingly about the young people she helps, and how she faces daily harassment online as a result of her work helping victims of female genital mutilation.

When I was growing up having suffered plentiful emotional abuse from my stepfather I was anxious maybe even obsessed with not being cast as a victim. Psychology at the time dictated that it was far better to be seen as a survivor rather than a victim. Survivors are brave and strong whilst the victim is somehow weaker more vulnerable and is seen as needing help rather than one who can offer it.

I had real issues accepting that I was a victim of my stepfather’s abuse. Moreover though, I did not want him to win, thus having some kind of power over me, even if this power was socially constructed.

My perceptions were faulty though. There are no winners or losers when it comes to abuse. However, there are victims.

You will have no doubt have heard of Caroline Criado-Perez over the past few months. She first came to prominence when she campaigned successfully for a woman to be the face of a British bank note. It was a conviction campaign and woke many people up to the fact that we live in a misogynistic sexist society.

Sadly this has consequences. We are in the midst of misogynyia;my neologism; a culture where victim blaming is all too prevalent. Where those who have never experienced harassment or abuse feel they have carte blanche to lecture us; those who have. Apparently, we shouldn’t get angry, we shouldn’t swear and definitively we should not feed the trolls. I do not take kindly to being lectured by those who have no idea of the issues at hand.

Society seems ambivalent to misogyny, although the website Everyday Victim Blaming serves as a powerful antidote. Misogyny though, seems to be something for “the wimmin” to worry about. This is why I want to reclaim the word victim, as a counterpoint to victim blaming. I spoke about this with the rappoteurs at the conference, and with Women’s Aid Chair Polly Neate.  I want women to be able to acknowledge with candour the harm online harassment does to them. The way it belittles you and makes you feel like less of a human being. I want society to refrain from offering spurious advice to victims about how they may have caused what happened to them. Instead I want society to say unequivocally to perpetrators that their shit and silencing behaviour is not welcome. That rather, there is one simple solution; stop harassing women and girls.

You only have to look at the speech of Caroline Criado-Perez at the conference to see just how devastating and debilitating relentless misogyny can be. Every line and every word in that speech packs a semantic punch. It sounded like a moment of real catharsis for Caroline and I am glad she was able to ventilate her struggles in a sisterly and supportive environment. I recognise though that this will never ameliorate what she has been through.

To hear the misogyny and pain grossly intoned in every breath, brings home her anger, and concurrent anguish at her plight.

The word victim though, is not disempowering. It is a misnomer I shall correct from now onwards if I see it taking root. Acknowledging your hurt is not wrong, and it is not up to The Internet, as Judge and Jury to tell you how to do it. That is entirely up to you.

Dialogue is also important though, and condemning entire social groups with destructive hashtags is not appropriate either.

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