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It's On Us to prevent harassment of women online

While Derrick Rose was seen smiling with the jurors after a not guilty verdict in his gang rape trial, men were gleefully harassing women on social media who disagreed with the verdict.  Although that type of online harassment is not directly equivalent to sexual assault, it is up to all of us to prevent the dehumanizing treatment against women. Here’s what you, as sports fans, need to know about the problem and the solution

itsonus.org

As you may have noticed, all of SBNation’s individual blogs recently changed their logos to It’s On Us. What you may not know, however, is why. SBNation supports the It’s On Us campaign — the focus of which is on decreasing sexual assault on college campuses. But as the last few weeks of current events have made clear, this isn’t an issue that goes away after graduation.


“Locker room talk”

A few weeks ago a video was released that showed Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump* speaking candidly with TV host Billy Bush in 2005, describing sexual assault and harassment he’d committed against women. This was an off-the-record conversation that Trump later likened to “locker room talk,” indicating that it was not to be taken seriously.

This was, as many pointed out, inaccurate for two reasons — the first of which is the fact that they were not in a locker room and many athletes have weighed in saying Trump’s statements are not anything like actual locker room conversations they have ever engaged in or witnessed.

The other reason is that the phrasing deflects from the actual point, which is that “locker room talk,” as it is used here, is code for a place where women are not welcome, where some men may feel comfortable sharing and laughing about assaulting women without recrimination. That isn’t to be ignored, because minimizing boastful admissions of sexually assaulting women to “locker room talk” normalizes this behavior and implies that all men do it — which is offensive to men en masse.

Since then, multiple women have spoken up about being assaulted by Trump, all of which he denied. He has since gone on to personally attack most of those women, going so far as to openly mock them, to loud cheers, laughter and, most disturbingly, chants of “Lock her up!” and “We don’t care!” aimed at his accusers.

This has even led some of his top supporters to question the very idea of consent being necessary, to the point of mocking the concept, which is the scariest part of all and a huge step back in the fight to end sexual assault — via methods outlined in the It’s On Us campaign.

This is how we get people like NBA player Derrick Rose, who was recently found not guilty of drugging and gang raping a woman with his friends, saying he doesn’t know the meaning of consent, with a case more focused on trying the victim rather than the defendants.

*Trump’s words and those of his supporters are not discussed here to attack the Republican party or their political beliefs. These are current events shaping the landscape we are living in right now, removed from the realm of politics and used for contextual purposes.


What does this have to do with sports?

We are sports fans, yes, but we are people first. We are people in a community of other people who have the same interests as us, even if they like other teams. Those communities are not all male.

So let’s start with addressing the objectives of the It’s On Us campaign in relation to our community.

Objective 1: To RECOGNIZE that non-consensual sex is sexual assault.

Objective 2: To IDENTIFY situations in which sexual assault may occur.

Objective 3: To INTERVENE in situations where consent has not been given or cannot be given.

Objective 4: To CREATE an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.

Much of this is up to us as individuals in our offline lives, and the It’s On Us website provides plenty of tips for what to look out for to help make a difference when you see someone who is in danger of sexual assault.

The most relevant of those objectives to us as an online community of sports fans — be it on SBNation or social media — is the fourth:

To CREATE an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.

It is on us to create an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.

To make survivors feel supported, it starts with how we treat each other. It starts with how we view each other. There is a permeation of rape culture and overt sexism in online sports fandom. This doesn’t mean it’s only targeted at women, but sexist slurs and gendered insults are used, regardless of the target’s gender — calling a man a “b****” or a “pu**y” as an insult, for example.

This stems from various levels of sexism, but generally shows itself through harassment first. Female sports fans, sports writers and athletes receive vicious, hateful insults and threats on a regular, if not daily, basis. A lot of the times this happens for no other reason than them doing their jobs or existing in a space that men deem as theirs — which goes back to the harmful nature of dismissing “locker room talk.”

Break it down for me

There’s a spectrum of online harassment to be found if you’re paying attention.

The lower end tends to be superficial, at best. A woman’s looks will be insulted first because the harassers feel that has to be her biggest weakness because appearance is what harassers value most about women.

The harassment escalates from there to sexist slurs. We all know the ones: “b****,” “c***” and some version of a word indicating sexual promiscuity.

This is generally followed by some expression of a wish for the woman to be sexually assaulted, or otherwise harmed, but without making it a direct threat.

The most worrisome level of harassment involves direct threats and actions taken that threaten the safety of the woman, such as revealing contact information like private email addresses, phone numbers or home address, and encouraging others to make use of the information.

The most innocent explanation for this behavior would be ignorance — some people legitimately don’t know that what they’re saying is harmful. They see it as “just something guys do.” Sometimes you can talk to those people and show them how their actions are affecting others. Other times, they will get defensive and lash out.

That often leads to a backlash of sorts from “anti-feminists” — men who think feminists hate men and are out to get them just because they’re men. They refuse to find fault in any of their own words, thoughts or actions when they are addressed. And they see any woman with an outspoken opinion as a feminist who should be combatted.

Here, you will find men who don’t believe victims of sexual assault because they believe false assault claims are more prevalent. And they see false assault claims as more of a direct threat to them than ever being assaulted themselves.

There is a deep lack of empathy for female victims and these men are oftentimes the ones doing the worst of the harassing on social media.


Prove it

As an example of a typical form of harassment that many women have faced, a friend recently received this tweet*:

(*Parts of this tweet were redacted to conceal personal information.)

This was in response to something Carmen wrote comparing baseball players Anthony Rizzo and Brandon Belt — both of whom play first base and were facing each other in the playoffs at the time. His tweet has since been deleted, but here’s what it was in response to:

Carmen said that she receives sexist messages somewhat regularly, on a varying scale, noting that she predominantly receives messages challenging her to prove her level of knowledge about sports — something men don’t seem to have to do for their opinions to be taken seriously.

She also added, “Honestly, the idea of someone hiding behind a keyboard is pretty frustrating, especially when you feel kind of helpless to the harassment and being able to actually deal with it head-on.” But she noted the importance that women stand up for themselves in these situations and stand up for other women in sports media.

The irony in this situation is that this person had, not two tweets earlier, mentioned that he was participating in an anti-bullying school tour. This person is teaching the youth of our country about bullying and he can’t even see that what he is doing is bullying.

Well, he was teaching the youth of our country.

Carmen stood up for herself. She reported him to Twitter and called his behavior out to her followers. Several people took screenshots of it and held the user accountable for his words and he is now no longer associated with the anti-bullying group.

But think about it — how many of the men that do this must genuinely believe harassing women online isn’t bullying? That it’s normal to reply to a woman’s opinion on sports — sports, which are supposed to be fun — with that type of response? Most of us know how to trash talk fans of other teams in good humor. But that response is not what this was.

These types of situations may seem harmless to you, because it’s a stranger on the internet who you will likely never encounter in person. But look at the language used. This type of response is far too common when men have a problem with a woman’s opinion about sports, or — really — anything at all. You can’t say you respect women if your first response when you disagree with a woman is to sexually harass her.

If this Twitter user had a problem with Carmen’s opinion, he could have said anything relevant to the topic at hand. Disagreeing with a woman about her opinion on athletes is fine. It’s normal. It’s treating her like a person. Writing what that user wrote is not treating her like a person.

The bottom line

Ultimately, lack of respect for women as people is what this comes down to.

There is a huge difference between physically assaulting women and harassing women online. Most of the men who say these things online would probably never say them to a woman in person. And it is probable that most of the men who threaten physical assault online would likely not threaten or attempt to follow through on a threat if they were speaking to a woman in real life.

It comes down to the power of anonymity and distance. Removing the face-to-face element of human interaction can reveal the ugliness in some people. It empowers them to be their worst selves with little threat of consequence.

Power.

That’s something online harassers have in common with those who do physically assault women. Sexual assault is about wanting to physically overpower a victim, and online harassment is about mentally overpowering someone to make them shut up, often in the crudest ways imaginable.

Oftentimes, when women tell their stories of online harassment, many men don’t believe them, or they don’t believe that it could be that bad. Many say to just ignore it and not to “feed the trolls.” But there are two points to remember:

  1. Seeing this in your inbox or notifications on a regular basis is not healthy; and
  2. Ignoring this behavior is allowing it to continue unchecked.

Not holding men accountable encourages the mindset that it is okay to devalue women by treating them this way — and it is not.


What can we do?

This leads us to our objective from above: “It is on us to create an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported. “

It’s easy: Listen to women when they tell you their experience.

Especially in regards to the topic of sexual assault. After the Derrick Rose verdict was announced, while he was posing for pictures with fans who were members of the jury that had just found him not guilty, men were gleefully harassing women who disagreed with the verdict; exhibiting the exact behavior I described above. It’s toxic and it belittles the experiences of women who are upset because they’ve been through the same situation.

You don’t have to look farther than the first responses to a woman expressing her opinion on this verdict to find an example:

Perhaps men don’t believe it is as big of a problem because of how few accused perpetrators of sexual assault are ever convicted. But consider, too, the difficulty of even getting a rape case to trial, let alone getting a jury of your peers and a fair trial that doesn’t attempt to smear the victim. Per RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network:

Out of every 1000 instances of rape, only 13 cases get referred to a prosecutor, and only 7 cases will lead to a felony conviction.

Less than 40% of sexual assaults are ever reported, for the reasons noted in that link. And for those who believe false accusations are prevalent, note that of those that are reported, only 2% are unfounded, according to the FBI.

Listen to women. Believe them. Take action. Stand up for the women in your online communities and call out unacceptable behavior when you see it, just as people did for Carmen. Women standing up for themselves —by themselves — are ignored, mocked or harassed even further. Men speaking up seems to resonate more, which is a sad but true fact.

When this topic is brought up, a lot of men speak out and say they would never say or do anything like this, and that is great. But you can do more good by not allowing other men to get away with it.

Calling people out for sexism and sexual harassment is the only way to make them realize that their words have consequences. That’s how you can help create a supportive environment that doesn’t tolerate targeted harassment against women, such as this:

People often cite the first amendment when they get called out for harassment. Yet no one is free from the consequences of their words online. So choose your words wisely and consider how you can be part of the solution instead of perpetuating the problem.