New figures show alarming number of Kiwi women suffer online harassment

By Kelly Teed

New figures from Norton by Symantec have revealed 72 percent of New Zealand women under the age of 30 have experienced some form of online harassment. Photo / iStock
New figures from Norton by Symantec have revealed 72 percent of New Zealand women under the age of 30 have experienced some form of online harassment. Photo / iStock

Emily Writes is no stranger to online abuse.

She's been called names, had misogynistic comments directed at her and had her parenting skills criticised - all by strangers on the internet.

"I've basically had every kind of harassment there is - it's just kind of how it is online," she said.

As a blogger, Emily faces a torrent of online abuse almost every time she writes an article - even writing under a pseudonym.

And she's not alone. New figures from Norton by Symantec have revealed 72 per cent of New Zealand women under the age of 30 have experienced some form of online
harassment and more than half of all Kiwi women have been targeted at some point.

NetSafe executive director Martin Cocker says on average, NetSafe receives around 1000 reports of online harassment a year.

"Everything from one-off online abuse and trolling through to cyber-bullying campaigns, which are ongoing," he said.

Forms of online harassment reported in the Norton survey ranged from unwanted contact, trolling and character assassinations through to threats of physical violence, rape and death.

Norton by Symantec's Asia Pacific senior director, Melissa Dempsey said women reported feeling violated, abused and frightened by their online experiences.

More than 21 per cent, or one in five, women reported feeling depressed, and 17 per cent felt helpless. Women also reported feelings of anger, frustration and anxiety.

Those results are concerning, said Dempsey.

Perhaps even more concerning is despite more than 70 per cent of women identifying online harassment as a serious problem, only nine per cent of women affected will report the harassment.

Dempsey says that could be due to a lack of awareness around what sort of help is available.

But Emily isn't surprised at those figures. She says it's hard for women to feel like they'll be taken seriously if they complain.

"Women are told all the time to just accept it. It's very rare for a woman to be taken seriously when they say they're being abused online.

"I think every piece of writing I've ever done, I've had at least one comment that says 'you chose to put yourself out there, therefore whatever you get, you deserve it'," she said.

Solutions to online harassment vary.

Dempsey believes it's important to raise awareness of the help available and Mr Cocker recommends getting professional advice, depending on the situation.

But Emily says it's about changing attitudes.

"It's not for women, it's for men. If you [men] see what men are saying to women online - say something because when they [abusers] hear it from men it'll mean something."

Emily says a lot of women can't speak out about it or push back because it can escalate the abuse.

"I really think it's up to men to be saying to other men, 'hey, this is how you're meant to be behaving online'.

"Because a lot of it is what can women do, what should women do and I actually think the conversation should be moved to men sorting out their mates."

Online abuse

• Online harassment ranges from unwanted contact, trolling, character assassinations and cyberbullying to sexual harassment, and threats of physical violence, rape and death

• 1 in 7 women have been affected by general threats of physical violence including death, rape and sexual assault. This rises to 1 in 4 for women aged under 30

• Harassment is frequently of a sexual nature: 1 in 10 women have experienced graphic sexual harassment, rising to nearly 1 in 5 for women under 30

• Threats of sexual violence are shockingly common; 1in 14 women have been threatened with sexual violence or rape, rising to 1 in 10 for women under 44

• 1 in 4 lesbian, bisexual and transgender women who had suffered serious harassment said their sexual orientation had been targeted

• Despite 70 per cent of women identifying online harassment as a serious problem, almost 40 per cent will ignore it. And only 9 per cent of New Zealand women report perpetrators of online harassment to the police

- Newstalk ZB

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