The Continued (In)visibility of Cyber Gender Abuse
39 Pages Posted: 8 Aug 2023 Last revised: 30 Nov 2023
Date Written: August 7, 2023
For too long, cyber abuse has been misunderstood and ignored. For everyday women and minorities, cyber abuse is unseen and unredressed due to invidious stereotypes and gender norms. The prevailing view is that cyber abuse is not “really real,” though in rare cases authorities take it seriously. Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court demanded and received extra protection for themselves after facing online threats, but, in oral argument in Counterman v. Colorado, a case involving a man who sent a woman hundreds of unwanted, terrifying texts, members of the Court suggested that victims might be overreacting. In other words, protection for me (the powerful) but not for thee. The Court’s ruling sent a clear message to victims that their speech and liberty do not matter as much as the speech of people whose words objectively terrorize them and gave law-enforcement officers and prosecutors additional reasons not to pursue cases. The Supreme Court has made matters much, much worse.
Empirical proof now exists that makes nonrecognition difficult to justify. Studies show that cyber abuse is widespread and has profound injuries, and that the abuse is disproportionately borne by women, who often have intersecting disadvantaged identities—hence, the moniker cyber gender abuse. After years of advocacy and scholarship, it pains me to acknowledge the continued invisibility of cyber gender abuse. Progress is possible if we recognize our failings and commit to structural reform. Internet exceptionalism must end for the businesses best situated to prevent destructive cyber gender abuse. Congress should also condition the immunity afforded content platforms on a duty of care to address cyber gender abuse and eliminate the legal shield for platforms whose business is abuse.
Keywords: cyber abuse, gender abuse
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