The Internet: Creating a Safe Space


Access to the internet is a basic right that allows women to learn, promote themselves professionally, band together, and obtain help. One law student in Pakistan used the internet to publicize her stab wounds, helping her to win a legal case against her assaulter.[1] However, the internet can also provide an additional space for women to be bullied and harassed.

A recent study found that almost twice as many women as men experience cyber-sexual harassment.[2] This is a global problem of varying degrees. A recent study in the Middle East found that “[o]ne third of Palestinian women in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and inside Israel have been subjected to various forms of sexual violence and harassment online.”[3] A Pew Research study of Americans found that women are at least twice more likely (higher if they are ages 18-29) than men to report being harassed online due to their gender,[4] and to report that their experience with any type of online harassment was “extremely or very upsetting.”[5] Men and women of color are also more likely to be harassed online.[6] The Pew Research found that “25% of all black adults and 10% of Hispanics have experienced harassment online as a result of their race or ethnicity [while] just 3% of whites say this has happened to them.”[7]

Types of online harassment vary from writing malicious content to sharing private information publicly, and even sending threats of violence. Women’s Media Speech Center has a project called Free Speech to define the many types of online harassment. Ashley Judd, one of the creators of the Free Speech Project, explained in her TED Talk, that sharing definitions of online harassment is needed, “because it’s hard to attack a behavior in the right way if we’re not all sharing a definition of what that behavior is.”[8] This resource is great for understanding the meaning of terms such as doxing, revenge porn, cyberstalking, and others.[9]

kellymarietran4Reactions from women harassed online can range from speaking up less, deleting accounts, or even paying someone to censor out harassment from social media accounts.[10] A prominent Star Wars actress Kelly Marie Tran deleted all her posts on Instagram after being severely trolled, and wrote an op-ed describing her experience for The New York Times. She wrote, “[i]t wasn’t their words, it’s that I started to believe them. Their words seemed to confirm what growing up as a woman and a person of color already taught me: that I belonged in margins and spaces, valid only as a minor character in their lives and stories.” She ended the editorial by saying that she is not giving up.[11] Opting out of maintaining an online persona affects women kellymarietran2professionally. “An analysis of online harassment in Twitter, for example, conducted in 2014, revealed that women journalists and writers are among the most targeted for online abuse. Research shows that women silence themselves, opt out of doing certain work, avoid certain topics, are fearful and restrict their level of public engagement.”[12] Many women who decide to stay online report feeling less comfortable sharing their opinions. A journalist from The Guardian interviewed Blandine Mollard, a researcher for the European Institute for Gender Equality, who said that harassment of women online “is particularly bad for young women, who end up censoring themselves and taking less part in public debate.”

featured_art_safe_internet_credit_gracia_lamWe can make a difference in how women are treated online. We can support women by never participating in online harassment or by being a silent bystander to such harassment. We can also help those being harmed to know that what is happening to them is not okay, and that we support them. We can also support movements to bring about greater protection against harassment on various online sites, especially social media, and for greater legal action against online harassment. Creating a safer internet for women is a critical part of enabling women to experience a safer world.

—by CM


Image Sources:

Woman and Laptop Illustration –

Kelly Tran’s Instagram –

Kelly Tran –

Women Under Wi-Fi Umbrellas –



[1] D’Arcy, Patrick. 2018. “How One Woman in Pakistan is Fighting to Make the Internet a Safer Place for Women.” TED Ideas, March 8. (December 5, 2018).

[2] Chatterjee, Rhitu. 2018. “A New Survey Finds 81 Percent of Women Have Experienced Sexual Harassment.” NPR, February 21. (December 5, 2018).

[3] Hatuqa, Dalia. 2018. “Palestinian Women Face Barrage of Sexual Harassment Online, Report Finds.” Middle Eastern Eye, November 23. (December 5, 2018).

[4] Duggan, Maeve. 2017. “Online Harassment 2017.” Pew Research Center, July 11. (December 5, 2018).

[5] Duggan. “Online Harassment 2017.”

[6] Duggan, Maeve. 2017. “Experiencing Online Harassment 2017.” Pew Research Center, July 11. (December 5, 2018).

[7] Duggan. “Experiencing Online Harassment 2017.”

[8] Judd, Ashley. 2016. “How Online Abuse of Women Has Spiraled Out of Control.” TED. (December 5, 2018).

[9] “Online Abuse 101.” Women’s Media Center. (December 5, 2018).

[10] Judd. “How Online Abuse of Women Has Spiraled Out of Control.”

[11] Tran, Kelly. 2018. “Kelly Marie Tran: I Won’t Be Marginalized by Online Harassment.” The New York Times, August 21. (December 5, 2018).

[12] “Online Abuse 101.” Women’s Media Center. (December 5, 2018).

One thought on “The Internet: Creating a Safe Space

  1. Good Reason says:

    It is just so sad that women are forced out of any space where their voice could be heard! Whether it’s the public square or the internet square, women are just not welcome. It’s so very sad.

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