When Cyberhate Targets Women

A recent poll commissioned by Amnesty and carried out in eight countries by research group Ipsos MORI showed nearly one in four women (23%) have experienced abuse or harassment online, much of it disturbingly aggressive. The poll shows women are often left traumatized and anxious after encountering this abuse, which may be of various types:


Taking many different forms, online violence and abuse against women is an extension of offline violence and abuse against women. It can include direct and indirect threats of violence, such as physical or sexual threats. Of the women surveyed who said they’d experienced online abuse or harassment, 26% said they had been threatened (directly or indirectly) with physical or sexual violence. In some instances, such threats can quickly spill over into the offline world. Pamela Merritt, US activist and blogger at AngryBlackBitch.com, has received hundreds of threats online:

       “I have basically reconciled myself with the fact that I’m prepared to die for the work that I do. That might happen. If you get 200 death threats, it only takes one person who really wants to kill you.”


Content that is sexist, racist, homophobic or otherwise targets someone’s identity, as well as material that aims to belittle, humiliate or undermine an individual. UK Member of Parliament Diane Abbott explains how the abuse she receives not only targets her gender but also her race:

      “People sent us hundreds of emails using the word nigg*r – that’s the sort of response we get. It’s highly racialized and it’s also gendered… they talk about my physical appearance in a way they wouldn’t talk about a man. I’m abused as a female politician and I’m abused as a black politician.”


Revealing personal or identifying documents (or docs=dox) or details online about someone without her consent. This can include personal information such as a person’s home address, real name, children’s names, phone numbers and email address. A violation of a person’s privacy, the aim of doxxing is to distress, panic and otherwise cause alarm. Of the women surveyed who had experienced online abuse or harassment, 17% said their personal details had been revealed online in this way. Pamela Merritt’s experience shows how dangerous publicly posting private information can be:

     “I had one incident when I got an email from the FBI; they needed to talk to me about some activity related to my blog. There was a white supremacist who was actively trying to find out where I live. That took it to another level.”


Frequently carried out by an ex-partner with the aim of distressing, humiliating or blackmailing an individual, this act is sometimes referred to as “revenge porn”. However, this is a charged and unsatisfactory term that fails to convey that sharing such content violates an individual’s right to privacy. While a woman may have initially consented to taking images and voluntarily shared them with an individual, she may not have given that person permission to share them more widely. It’s the non-consensual aspect of “revenge porn” that, in part, makes it distinct from sexually explicit content online more broadly. 10% of women polled in the USA who had experienced online abuse or harassment said they had been victims of this type of abuse.

This piece was originally published in Amesty Internationals’s Wire Magazine