Twitter Has a New Handle on Sexual Assault

As the scope of the conversation surrounding women’s rights continues to broaden and gain ground, social media has taken a proactive stance in addressing and preventing sexual harassment and assault. Twitter recently announced a partnership with Women, Action, and the Media (WAM!), a nonprofit organization that advocates for gender equality in the media and takes accountability to an unprecedented level by allowing victims of online harassment to report it.

The new “WAM Twitter Harassment Reporting Tool” enables users to report online harassment by filling out a simple form specifying the identity of the perpetrator, the time and extent of the harassment, whether the threats elicited fear of personal safety and an account of the harassment that took place. WAM! will then send confirmed complaints to Twitter within a day and record their response to the various forms of gender-based harassment.

Photo courtesy of Theo / Flickr

Photo courtesy of Theo / Flickr

The project is an extension of WAM!’s participation in the Speech and Safety Coalition, which brought women’s advocacy groups and social media together to safeguard the rights of women to free speech and safety online. Following this pilot project, WAM! will collect and analyze the data provided by the forms and work alongside Twitter to better understand how gendered harassment operates in conjunction with other forms of harassment in regards to sexual orientation, race and weight, and determine how Twitter can formulate responses to combat and subvert it.

Twitter has been admirable in its quest to promote dialogue about women’s issues, and it is taking an even greater step by introducing measures to take action. In the past, Twitter has used hashtags to open up conversations about such issues as sexual assault, rape culture and sexism.

In March, feminists took to Twitter as a means of explicating gender-based violence and victim-blaming using #RapeCultureIsWhen. The hashtag prompted hundreds of women to post online about their own experiences with rape culture--a society that places the responsibility on women to protect themselves from attack and effectively blames women for being attacked--and fostered meaningful dialogue about the difficulties faced by women daily in this environment.

The practice of victim blaming was also confronted on Twitter using #NotAskingForIt, which asserts that how women choose to dress or act is never and should never be a factor in their sexual assault or rape, period. The hashtag reinforced the notion that there is simply no excuse for commentary, harassment or abuse--the blame falls solely on the perpetrator.

Most recently, the #BeenRapedNeverReported trend in October united victims of sexual assault who had never reported the crime and women whose reports were not believed when they spoke up. The powerful stories of women’s experiences with rape prompted support and solidarity, as tweets from women and men alike reflected the need to speak out in support of victims and against sexual violence.

The malicious and often cruel attacks on women online have reached critical levels, as verbal abuse, threats, stalking and sexual harassment pervade the internet and impact the lives of those targeted. According to a recent Pew study, a staggering 25% of young women have experienced sexual harassment online, while an additional 26% have been the victims of online stalking. This cruel treatment of women online results in a drastically reduced conversation as women restrict their own thoughts and opinions from fear of harassment. With the recent collaboration between WAM! and Twitter, however, it seems there is reason to hope that women’s voices online will be amplified rather than silenced.

Photo courtesy of Verdict / Pinterest

Photo courtesy of Verdict / Pinterest

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