I can’t believe this is happening again…
These were the words running through my mind as I entered the police station. While I had been here once before, for the most part I didn’t even bother going to the police because I didn’t see the point. But this was the worst it had ever been.
It was that same day I had learned about the website. It had been found by a family member; this site created by men whose stated objective was to ruin my life.
Once I knew what I was looking for, the page was easy to find. My photograph was at the top, alongside an invitation to members of the online community:
“I have found the perfect target. This c*** needs to feel our full wrath. Are you up for it? Are you prepared to take down a militant feminazi?”
Scrolling down the page I found the names of both friends and family members, complete with links to their social media accounts. Phone numbers. My home address (fortunately, outdated). Photos – of me, my parents and even my children. Before me was a smattering of captured moments apparently taken from the Facebook pages of my relatives; family events, picnics, me smiling with my parents outside a production of Les Miserables. Memories now tinged with a sick feeling, tainted by being reproduced in this context.
“Find her children and make their life a living hell,” said one commenter. ”Best way to get a woman is through her children.”
It didn’t end there. Next were the pornographic photos of me, with my face superimposed over a series of pornographic images depicting various sex acts. The caption read, “Send this to her sons.”
I read a long thread in which they discussed their potential plans for me. These included plans to hack into my personal email account to find ‘dirt’ on me. Hacking my social media accounts for the purpose of wrecking my reputation. Ejaculating on my photo. Or even swatting – a potentially deadly ’prank’ in which harassers make a false report of a hostage situation or a bomb threat, resulting in armed police showing up at the target’s house.
As I read what these men had in store for me, the lengths they were willing to go to in order to silence women like me, it became clear this wasn’t just ‘trolling’. They were strategising on how to get me raped or seriously hurt.
“Let’s send a pack of feral n*****s/ rapists to her house,” suggested one. (Keep in mind at this time they thought they had my address.) Others agreed long term operations would be the most effective and discussed ways to provoke specific religious, ethnic and extremist groups. “We need a demographic that will react violently.”
I’ve been on the receiving end of these sustained and organised campaigns for years. In that time, I’ve come to see that the deliberate and targeted abuse of women on the internet, often downplayed as trolling, is nothing less than an open expression of misogyny.
Women’s experiences in online spaces – particularly those of us who express feminist sentiments – are often characterised by sexist harassment and abuse. We are called bitches, whores and worse; we endure uninvited sexual comments and images, messages encouraging us to suicide, threats of violence and rape and appraisals of our bodies from men contemplating how rapeable we are.
The men who targeted me made plans to ejaculate on my photo, they turned me into porn and reduced me to masturbatory material. None of this was intended to be ‘empowering’ or a celebration of female sexuality, rather, it was a statement of utter contempt for women. The intention is to degrade and humiliate female targets, to inflict shame, as Susan Hawthorne writes in ‘Dark Matters: a novel’. Through the sexual humiliation of women, men assert their dominance and send a clear message that there will be repercussions for those women who forget their place.
A few months ago, I was contacted by a journalist who was interested in exploring the online abuse of women. I sent her some examples of the abuse, threats and images that had been directed to me over the past few years. When we spoke the following day, she confided that the content I had shared with her literally gave her nightmares.
As predicted, the police said they could do very little and referred me on. There would be no consequences for these men, no investment of police time or resources. The best I could hope for was for the website to be taken down, which after several months it finally was.
The men who doxed my family, posted pictures of my children, turned me into pornography and discussed ways to get me raped, believe that women can be intimidated and threatened into silence. I won’t be.