Online harassment of women is undoubtedly an epidemic — a recent study found that women are called “slut” or “whore” an average of 6.6 times a minute on Twitter. But few perpetrators of such abuse ever actually face punishment for their behavior, which is why a recent case in Australia could be a major victory for those pushing to see greater regulation online.
According to ABC Australia, in August of 2015, a man named Chris Hall screenshotted Olivia Melville’s Tinder profile and posted it to Facebook with the caption “stay classy ladies.” (Melville’s bio had included the line “type of girl that will suck you dry and then eat some lunch with you” from Drake’s verse on Nicki Minaj’s “Only.”) Commenters piled on, writing things like “this is why I worry about having a daughter.”
When Paloma Newton, a friend of Melville’s, defended her, a 25-year-old man named Zane Alchin jumped in to leave over 50 angry and demeaning comments on the thread. They included: “The best thing about a feminist they don’t get action so when you rape them it feels 100 times tighter,” and “It’s people like you who make it clear women should never have been given rights.” He also said, “kill it before it breeds.”
Hall ended up losing his job over the original posting, while Melville and her friends founded the advocacy group Sexual Violence Won’t Be Silenced, urging the Senate to address online harassment and threats. Newton also reported Alchin to the police for his egregious comments. He was charged with “using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence.” (The laws were written before social-media platforms were invented.) He pled guilty and faces up to three years in jail.
Following the guilty plea, Newton released the following statement: “This case will be the first of its kind and will represent a landmark victory for opponents of online harassment. We will no longer be silenced.”