What the Online Harassment Law can (and cannot) do. (2023)


More than a third of women say they have been harassed or threatened online. That's what the justice system really says about your options.

VonMarlisse Plata Sweeney
What the Online Harassment Law can (and cannot) do. (1)

It was late summer when we met on a terrace that jutted out into the Pacific. The night was still warm when I drank my Gewürztraminer and asked him about his exciting run. Her articulate responses drew me in and I breathed in the nerves and adrenaline with the sea air as we continued on this perfect first date.

As busy professionals, our schedules rarely overlapped, so the digital flirtation began. It wasn't long before she asked me to send her a "cheeky photo" (her words) and it wasn't long before I told her it was just not my thing. At least not until the third date, I joked.

Days later, Jennifer Lawrence and more than 100 other women were exposed online. I sent him a "you see" message. He sent me back an almost complete frontal via Snapchat. He was sexually liberal. I'm basically a Victorian, but I thought we could find a happy medium in the modern age. I accepted a second date.

Within two minutes, or maybe when he asked me if I wanted to leave the restaurant and take a shower together, I realized we were looking for different things. I turned my cheek as he tried to kiss me goodbye and was glad there were no more dick pics in my life. After ignoring some messages from him I told him he was busy but polite. A few days later he sent me a Snapchat video. It was a closeup of him masturbating for 10 seconds.

It wasn't "let's fuck". It was a fuck you. And above all, it felt like a threat.

"We take unwanted sexual contact online seriously," said Scott Berkowitz, founder and president of the National Network Against Rape, Abuse & Incest. Statistics from the US Department of Justice suggest that 850,000 American adults, mostly women, experience cyberbullying each year and 40 percent of women have experienced electronically transmitted intimate partner violence. A recent study byPew Research Centerfound that 40% of adult Internet users have experienced online harassment, with young women experiencing particularly severe forms. 38 percent of women who have been harassed online said the experience could be described as extremely or very distressing for them. "When gender and severe bullying are combined, the results are particularly severe," writes the report's author, Maeve Duggan.

I was lucky. I deleted our contact history from my phone and blocked it. Case closed. But for thousands of women, and some men, the consequences of their actions online have been dire. Amanda Todd, a 15-year-old girl from British Columbia, Canada,his life ended tragically, who cites two years of online extortion and cyberbullying by a sexual predator as the cause of his depression. That's what opera singer Leandra Ramm saiddedicated a decade of his life to fighting a cyberbully. More recentlyJennifer Lawrence speechvanity fairWhen a hacker stole nude photos from her phone and posted them online, she feared for her career, calling it a sex crime.

But what exactly is the crime?

When our digital space is invaded by sexual harassment, violent messages and threats; or if our private data, information and photos are disclosed, it seems that it violates the law. "It's not a scandal. It's a sex crime," Jennifer Lawrence said.vanity fairafter her photos were leaked. "It's sexual abuse. It's disgusting. The law needs to be changed and we need to change it.”

There are currently several ways in which victims can approach their abusers through the legal system, both civil and criminal. Unfortunately, many of them are expensive and invasive, and coupled with a lack of education and precedent, these channels don't always deliver the justice people seek. The law is notoriously slow to adapt to technology, but advocates say the law, if done right, can be used as a tool to stop this behavior.

In its most basic legal definition, "cyberbullying is repetitive behavior directed at an individual to cause emotional distress and fear of physical harm," said Danielle Citron, a professor at the University of California, Maryland's Francis King Carey School of Law . Citron is an expert in the field of cyberbullying and recently published a book entitledHassverbrechen im Cyberspace. Citron told me that cyberbullying involves threats of violence (often sexual), spreading lies that are presented as facts (e.g. networks). security numbers) and technological attacks (falsely closing someone's social media account). "Often it's a perfect storm of all those things," he said.

When this happens to the victim, they can bring their complaint to one of two worlds of the justice system: criminal or civil. In civil courts, victims of these types of cyberattacks, including stalking, revenge pornography, and online harassment, can sue their harassers under what is known as tort law, also known ascivil injustices. There, victims can plead the crimes of defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, harassment and public disclosure of private facts, Citron said, depending on the specifics of the case. But unless you have Jennifer Lawrence's resources, that's not exactly realistic: filing a case like this is a very expensive and time-consuming process, not to mention the emotional drain.

Citron can only recall three or four reported cases in the United States where victims have successfully obtained a monetary judgment against their online harassers. A public trial can also draw unwanted attention to the situation. Citron cites the case of a Hawaiian woman who wanted to sue the person who posted her nude photos online but asked permission to do so as "Jane Doe" so her reputation would not be further slandered. The court said no in a ruling that shows the "practical limits" of tort law in stopping online abuse, Citron said.

Where the victims aa little more successin the civil arena, it threatens lawsuits or even copyright infringement lawsuits if a website displays photographs originally taken by the victim. Since the copyright arises when a work is created, the photographer usually has the right to the image. Photos taken by you, nude or not, are the property of the photographer unless otherwise noted, so a website displaying such photos without permission is in violation of copyright law.

In the world of criminal lawFederal laws against cyberbullying, which have been in force since 2011, contain language that allows prosecutors to prosecute people who use electronic means of harassment. These laws expressly state that an "interactive computer service" may not be used to make threats. According to Citron, about half of US states have updated their laws to allow authorities to bring charges against people involved in bullying and cyberbullying. Back in 1999, shortly after California enacted the country's first cyberbullying law,Gary Dellapenta was chargedand finallysentenced to six years in prisonfor placing online ads and responding to emails on behalf of a woman about rape fantasies, prompting the men to show up at her home.

Therefore, in states with specific cyberbullying and cyberbullying laws, such as California, Illinois, and Massachusetts, victims can theoretically file criminal complaints against their bullies and online bullies. (In theory, because, as we'll see later, it doesn't always work the way it should.) But for those living in a state without such laws, few other resources exist.

Take the case of Ian Barber, for example, which was New York's first "revenge porn" case.According to court recordsIt is alleged that Barber posted nude photos of his then-girlfriend to his Twitter account in 2013 and sent the photos to his employer and sister. He was charged with three crimes includingSecond degree bullying.

However, New York Criminal Court Judge Steven Statsinger dismissed all three charges. With respect to the harassment charge, the offense requires the accused to communicate anonymously or non-anonymously with the victim by telephone, telegraph, mail or any other form of written communication. Since Barber did not send the photos to his girlfriend, the judge concluded that he could not be held liable under this section of the penal code. Essentially, Citron said, the law has not been updated to reflect the realities of the internet.

"We can and we must reform these laws," Citron said. But it can be difficult to keep rewriting the laws as technology changes. For this reason, Citron prefers a "technology-neutral" language that resists the changes of the digital world. “Look at the 2013 changeFederal telecommunications harassmentstatuteCitron informed me in an email. "Congress replaced the phrase 'harass anyone on the called number or harass the recipient of the communications' with 'harass a specific person'."

Some states have already criminalized the dissemination of sexual images. ciderenrolledPlanksNew Jersey became the first country to criminalize the dissemination of sexual images without consent in 2004. In Canada, the government enacted a colloquial asProtecting Canadians from the Online Crime Act, according to a report on cyber misogyny byLegal Education and Action Fund for West Coast Women(MOVEMENT).

The law, if passed, would make posting non-consensual intimate images a national criminal offense and also give a court the power to order a Canadian ISP to remove the images from its server. In America, Citron also proposes limited modificationsAbschnitt 230 des Communications Decency Act,which currently grants website owners immunity for posting these photos. (Critics say it can reduceimportant first modification rights.)

According to Laura Track, legal director of West Coast LEAF, the Canadian bill would also add sexual grounds to the Canadian Criminal Code's hate crime provisions, which Citron says is underused in the context of US civil rights. For example, under California's Bane Civil Rights Law, someone who commits bullying based on bias, including the victim's gender, may be subject to more severe penalties. But Citron said the 10 cyberstalking cases prosecuted in California over the past three years were all against women and none of them sought further penalties using civil rights statutes.

"This activity is not just an unlawful online attack, it is unfair discrimination ... targeting [victims] based on their gender," Citron said. EITHERGamerGate-Kampagneand the gruesome threats of violence, rape, and murder from prominent women in the gaming community such asBrianna WumiAnita Sarkeesiansupported online is an example of this. These threats forced these women to file complaints with the police, to flee their homes for security reasons, and to cancel lectures at the university. These are clearly examples of thisgender attacks, and could theoretically be processed as such.

But it's not always about a lack of legal precedents, but also about gaps in police training. In its investigation, Citron said it found that many law enforcement agencies don't allocate resources to combating these types of crimes. Victims who go to the police are often told that it is a civil matter and not a criminal matter, when in fact there are criminal laws to prevent harassment. Many police forces "just don't have the training," Citron said. "We can do better than that."

Hence the question "why didn't you just go to the police?" it's often bad, one that ignores the reality of what authorities are willing to do for victims. See the case ofFeminist blogger Rebecca Watson. Watson writes that in 2012 she found the website of a man who was writing about her murder. After doing some research, he tracked down her real name and whereabouts (which was a three-hour drive from her home). He called the police department in that jurisdiction, his own, and the FBI, but after some initial questions, said the authorities didn't seem to care. "I've lived in several different cities ... and received several horrific threats, and I've never met a single helpful police officer who even tried to help me feel safe," she writes. Amanda Hess keeps a running file of people threatening her with death online, she explains in her widely-cited article: "Why women are not wanted on the internet.When she first filed a complaint about a man who threatened to kill her, the officer asked her, "Why would anyone bother to do something like that?" and decided not to report it.

So what do women who are being harassed online do without police support and in the face of confusing and useless laws? There are some first steps victims can take to protect themselves, said Jayne Hitchcock, President of theWorking to stop online abusein a recent phone interview. First, even if they are not helpful, encourage victims to inform the appropriate authorities and clearly tell the harasser to stop contacting them. They should then stop responding to messages or online communications from their stalker. And while it's tempting to delete the messages, Hitchcock said everything should be kept and documented in the app or system the messages were sent to, and with screenshots in case the harasser tries to delete the messages.

According to Hitchcock, if the communications came from a free email or social media account, users should file complaints with the company, report the messages to social media, and ban the person from their phone or friends list. Of course, social media companies in general don't have a good track record of dealing with abuse either. But Hitchcock said abuse is still worth reporting, if only to cover its bases.

The US Supreme Court will hear the case in Decemberelonis v. USA. In accordance withcourt documentsAnthony Elonis was sentenced to 44 months in prison after being found guilty in Pennsylvania's Eastern District of killing his (now ex)wife through violent Facebook posts.

"There is one way to love you, but a thousand ways to kill you. I won't rest until your body is a mess, covered in blood and dying of so many cuts," reads one of the posts from 2010. Elonis argues that the lyrics were rap, and since they were over the internet were broadcast, he did not demonstrate a "genuine threat," which required subjective intent, he said. Court documents show his ex-wife testified of her impact on her: "I felt harassed. I was very afraid for my life, my children and my family," he told the court.

The Supreme Court decision in this case will solidify how intent to threaten an individual is translated online.PlanksDalia LitwickthisThe case is important not only for clarifying the doctrine of real threats and free speech, but also "for moving the conversation about law enforcement, law enforcement and threats to a much more nuanced understanding of the ways in which the internet isn't doing justice." is a rally or a letter.”

In fact, it seems to be a conversation that needs to be encouraged both inside and outside the courts. No amount of legal updates will solve the problem of online gender-based harassment. This is as much a social as a legal problem. But when bullies, bullies, and online bullies can rest assured that they'll never be caught, let alone prosecuted, for their attacks, maybe it's time to review the laws, policies, and practices that protect them while they're keep growing. becomes virtual reality. our reality

I was shocked when a man I barely knew texted me about his masturbating. It felt disgusting and like a violation of my previously relatively safe online space. However, I now understand how lucky I was and how things could have been worse. The internet has become yet another alley where women have to walk faster and look over their shoulders at night. But at least the streets have clear laws.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Horacio Brakus JD

Last Updated: 03/14/2023

Views: 6348

Rating: 4 / 5 (71 voted)

Reviews: 86% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Horacio Brakus JD

Birthday: 1999-08-21

Address: Apt. 524 43384 Minnie Prairie, South Edda, MA 62804

Phone: +5931039998219

Job: Sales Strategist

Hobby: Sculling, Kitesurfing, Orienteering, Painting, Computer programming, Creative writing, Scuba diving

Introduction: My name is Horacio Brakus JD, I am a lively, splendid, jolly, vivacious, vast, cheerful, agreeable person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.