With technology and the internet increasingly integrated into our daily lives, the barriers between digital spaces and the real world have started to erode. With the COVID-19 pandemic we saw this accelerated further, with our classmates, coursemates, colleagues, and many others we had casual acquaintances having more insight into our bedrooms – and by extension lives, than we ever would have ever thought. Many of us downloaded zoom for the first time, and unfortunately may have experienced “zoom bombing.” Like any other form of harassment, women and those from marginalised genders were the ones most acutely impacted. A survey by Rights of Women in January of 2021 saw that: - 15% of women who have experienced sexual harassment at work reported an increase in online harassment whilst working from home during Covid-19. - 45% of women experiencing sexual harassment, reported experiencing the harassment remotely. Remote sexual harassment refers to the following: sexual messages (e.g., email, texts, social media); cyber harassment (e.g., via Zoom, Teams, Slack etc); and sexual calls. - 23% of women who have experienced sexual harassment reported an increase or escalation whilst working from home, since the start of lockdown (23rd March 2020) The End Violence Against Women campaign, in partnership with Glitch, released “The Ripple Effect” report. The findings showed that 46% of respondents reported online abuse since the beginning of COVID-19 - for Black and minority respondents, the number was 50%.
Whilst digital spaces kept us more connected to our loved ones, friends, and colleagues. It also, unfortunately, kept us in touch with abuse and harassment. Refuge, puts this aptly when describing the increase of #TechAbuse. “In today’s world, our relationships are not only connected physically but also digitally, from sharing locations, Netflix accounts, and general passwords.” With increased accessibility and development of technology, it has become more widespread in its use for harassment and abuse, hence the coining of the term technology-enabled abuse. It can take many forms and impact many areas. This means that technology-enabled abuse also has implications for street harassment. I have unfortunately experienced how the two can intertwine. This looked like harassment following me online, onto my personal devices, and into my home. Whilst at university I was a keen runner and participant in university sports teams. I must admit, one perk and motivation for this was the customised sports team hoodie. On most days I would go for a jog with my name proudly embroidered next to the university logo and sports club name. Unfortunately, with a unique name, it meant that soon enough, I started receiving unsolicited messages from a man who had seen me running in the area. As a survivor of sexual assault, running was a part of my self-care routine. For someone to turn an enjoyable activity into a source of harassment was an unfortunate wake-up call of being aware of not just physical but online safety. I had experienced public street harassment and online harassment in the past but this was the first time that they had been intertwined. Why had this man chosen to message me on Facebook rather than to just cat-call me like all the others had? Thinking about it now I think it may be the “closeness” of him being able to try and infiltrate my online world, and know more about me through that. I am pretty digitally aware, and usually hide online profiles from people without mutual friends or things in common. I hate to think of the information this man had gathered about me now he knew about my online profiles, as well as my in-person locations.
My case, luckily, did not progress past a few lines of odd messages, telling me about how they had recognised me and asking if I was a student in the city. I was also never confronted in person, but it shook me up all the same. I believe in advocacy for safety in public spaces and in the 21st century, the internet is a form of public space.
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Cover Art Illustration courtesy of Ebrul (@ebrulillustrates on Instagram)
In-Article Images Courtesy Mia Sale (@shardstudios on Instagram)