It was around 1am on Saturday and I was rather inebriated and amongst some of my best friends when the above comment on my post about consent and the Julian Assange case hit my inbox. That perhaps accounts for my complete and utter failure to be upset by it, or take it as anything other than another badge of honour, following in the footsteps of the “fat and ugly” and “fuck off back home” comments that I occasionally receive on this blog and other parts of the Internet. We even had a dramatic reading!
The tragic reality, however, is that this is not even par for the course for women online – it’s remarkably mild and restrained compared to the kinds of things hurled at people like Anita Sarkeesian, Helen Lewis, or anyone who dares to play video games while female. Anonymous is not threatening to harm me directly, or even encouraging others to do so – merely speaking in hypotheticals, surmising that I may change my mind if I was subjected to what they regard as “proper” rape. Bless their little cotton socks, Anonymous cannot even imagine that I may already have experienced sexual assault and that my opinions may be coloured by that experience.
Statistically speaking, of course dear Anonymous, I am about as likely as not to have experienced a major incident of gender-based violence such as sexual assault (including, as you so eloquently put it, “penis in vagina rape”), domestic violence, or stalking. You on the other hand Anonymous, being almost certainly male, rather lack the frame of reference to even begin to imagine what it’s like to live in a world where everyone thinks they’re entitled to a piece of you. The fact that you feel entitled to make this kind of comment to me rather proves this point, but to be honest I don’t actually expect you to understand that – or spot irony if it bit you in arse for that matter.
When I asked Twitter for ideas on what to do with my thinly-veiled rape threat, a number of people suggested I report it to the police and get it traced (it did come with an IP address and what looks remarkably like a real email address). I must admit this had not occurred to me – partly because the comment is, after all, comparatively mild and does not constitute a direct threat; and partly because the bit of me that’s a digital rights activist really does not want to see restrictions on free speech and people arrested and jailed for mouthing off on the Internet. We have already had way too much of this kind of thing recently.
So I am putting it up here instead. I am doing this to raise awareness of the kind of harassment women experience online and the epidemic levels of gender-based violence in our society, but also as an intellectual exercise for digital rights folk. Or as @graphiclunarkid put it, “If you choose to publish a held-for-moderation threat against yourself are you guilty of s127 menacing, um, yourself?!”