Just a couple of weeks ago, a YouTube commercial for a dating app went viral. Dating app Truly Madly's commercial — created by All India Bakchod — struck a chord because it talked about creeps on Facebook. It revolved around two women engaged in a qawwali contest, claiming 'mere creep se bada koi creep nahin (there's no creep creepier than mine)'.
The video is testimony to how rampant online sexual harassment is and how we have managed to normalise that kind of sexual aggression in our lives. In fact, we are so 'used to' this form of unsolicited messages of sexual nature that we can actually laugh about it, like we laugh at traffic in Mumbai, Delhi's summer and Game of Thrones jokes. What we fail to realise or perhaps realise and refuse to act upon, is the fact that online sexual aggression thrives partially because of our inability or unwillingness to retaliate. The section of the 'Truly Madly' ad which drew the most laughs was in which one of the women argue that 'her creep' had sent her a picture of his penis, completely unsolicited, and therefore, qualified to be the biggest creep of all times.
Online harassment is just an extension of the crippling misogyny women face off the internet. Yet, most of us deal with sexual aggression on social media with the block button. However, a handful of women decided to hit back at the offenders. Here's a list of some women who managed to defeat and publicly shame online harassers.
Mia Matsumiya, US
The Japanese American violinist had borne the brunt of the unbridled misogyny of the internet for several years. From MySpace and Facebook accounts to her profiles on dating sites, Matsumiya's social media accounts, like those of several other women, have been glaring reminders of the audacity of internet sexual predators.
"Pretty much most of my life now, I've encountered Asian fetishists, pedophiles, stalkers, racists, and who-knows-how-many unsolicited sexual comments. It had gotten to the point where someone would send the most scathing, racist, violent thing to me -- like rape or death threats -- and I would barely have a reaction," Matsumiya told Huffington Post.
However, one day she decided insulating herself against online hatried and violence will only indulge the offenders. So she set up an Instagram account called Perv_Magnet, where she has put up screenshots of over 1000 ridiculously aggressive messages. Following are a few samples from her Instagram account:
There seems to be some amount of inconsistency in Matsumiya's stand on revealing the identities of the offenders — some names and faces are blurred, while some aren't — but it's a useful strategy to hit back at harassers nonetheless. Most online creeps draw their courage from the fact that the physical distance between them and their victim will ensure that they are not reprimanded for their actions. Matsumiya's public shaming initiative hopefully should come as a lesson for some of these men who feel completely safe threatening violence against a woman from a distance.
Prerna Pratham Singh, India
Twenty-something Delhi resident Prerna Pratham Singh catapulted to internet stardom overnight, and for a good reason. She did what most of us don't bother to. She wrote a scathing reply to a man who had been harassing her with sexually explicit messages on Facebook, took a screengrab and posted it on Facebook. It got shared over a thousand times and even managed to garner the attention of a special commissioner of the Delhi Traffic Police, who urged her to file a complaint against the man.
The man in question first sent her a message saying 'hello sexy'. When she didn't reply, he persisted asking, "Chut nahin hai kya? (don't you have a vagina)". To which Singh wrote a singeing reply, apprising him of the police complaint she was about to make. Though the man apologised and proceeded to delete the account, she still filed an FIR against him.
The incident helped send out a message to several internet creeps, telling them that they would be up for similar legal action.
Paloma Newton, Australia
23-year-old Olivia Melville was in for a rude shock when she realised that a screenshot of her Tinder profile had been posted by an unknown person on Facebook, who insisted on miscontruing her profile description. It read: "Type of girl that will suck you dry and then eat some lunch with you." It was a line from a popular song by Canadian rapper Drake but was held against her as a testimony to her unsophistication and alleged lack of morals. The post received several comments with men tearing her character apart and also threaning her with sexual violence.
Which is when the Australian's friend Paloma Newton stepped in and decided to file a police complaint against some of the offenders. She also went on to set up an organisation called 'Sexual Violence Won't Be Silenced' in Sydney. One of the guidelines in the code of conduct page reads: "Bear in mind that this is a safe space for people who have experienced forms of harassment, particularly sexual harassment. As such, it may exhibit stories and accounts of marginalised groups of people whose voices and expressions have been suppressed in society." Online sexual violence is not just encouraged by the silence of the victims but a sheer lack of empathy from others. It's mostly dismissed as fogettable and bearable too, as no bodily harm is caused to the victim. Newton's group helps dissipate this 'tolerance' for online sexual aggression.
Nighat Dad, Pakistan
Lahore-based lawyer Nighat Dad set up the non-profit organisation 'Digital Rights Foundation' in 2012 to help Pakistani women battle online sexual harassment and intimidation. In an interview to Time Magazine, Dad said, "...Women should come seek help if they are targeted and not feel ashamed.” A single mother who herself fought a difficult custody with her powerful bureaucrat husband over their only child, told Tech In Asia, "While most [women] understood there were laws to deal with potentially harmful offline behaviour, the online space was completely new to everyone. They wanted to know what the legal remedies were for online harassment." And Dad was their answer.
There are few very legal professionals who dabble in cases related to online harassment and most victims usually turn to friends and relatives to deal with harassers, instead of seeking professional help. The likes of Dad make their struggle slightly easier.
Swati Chaturvedi, India
Twitter made bickering over politics the favourite pastime of many countries, including India. However, besides arguments, it also ends up hosting nauseating personal attacks over political differences. Delhi-based Journalist Swati Chaturvedi experienced it first hand, like many others, but decided to not ignore the relentless slander. After a pro-Hindu right, pro-BJP handle called 'Lutyens Insider' cast aspersions on her work and character, Chaturvedi decided she has had enough. She promptly lodged a police complaint against the person(s) behind the Twitter handle. As soon as she made it known on social media, the handle which enjoyed enormous following from BJP and Hidutva fans deleted tweets, changed its name and basically was sent scurrying for cover.
She wrote for The Quint: "Most journalists on Twitter think that trolls are an occupational hazard. They dutifully reply, LOL and then finally block. But why should we put up with it? Pretend it does not matter! It matters to me. I am not very thick-skinned and my reputation is my most precious asset. So after tossing and turning all night, I decided that I will do, what we as the media, keep prescribing to others — take action."
And like this BBC report shows, several women found courage to report their Twitter harassers after Chaturvedi's move.