Thwarting Sexual Harassment on the Internet!

by Catherine Waerner

1. Ignore Him!

He is beneath your notice.


2. Say NO!

- Describe specifically which language is unacceptable.

- Call on a moral or ethical reason explaining your view.

- make a specific demand asking that it stop.


3. Seek Support!

-Tell the site admin. & his ISP. Tell your friends. You are not a lone or vulnerable, but supported and empowered!


How to Avoid Sexual harassment

Be Wily and Wary!

- Protect your privacy.

- Regularly change your password or address.

- Do not engage in provocative action, like flirting or visiting dangerous sites unless you feel comfortable dealing with harassment.

- Seek sites with a positive culture. Use them as a warm up, chatting place & refuge.


How to change online culture.

- Behave with civility. Demand civility from others! Tell them how to do it!

- Stay online, dilute the boy's club and party on!



Need more detail? Please read on :)!


How to Thwart Sexual Harassment on the Internet!

The Internet is an interesting and fun place, and it a place which women want to use in comfort and safety. Unfortunately, the Net is a peculiar mix of being public and private, and is open to behavior which is not tolerated in physical public places (Not to the extent that it is Online, anyway!). Women often encounter harassment, either abusive or seeking sexual attention. This happens either within a public chat site or through private emails.

This "chasing" of women, which often becomes threatening, is unacceptable behavior. It is a part of Internet culture which is unfortunate and can be changed. Women can sort such men out with an empowered response in three steps gauging by his persistence. Ignore him, then tell him in plain, specific language to stop it, and finally seek support.


1. Ignore him.

Mothers often find that ignoring a small child’s bad behavior tells the child that the tactic is not working, so it fizzles out. Similarly, nothing is more of a wet blanket for men seeking attention than zero response. In a chat group, keep talking with devastating complacency. With email, ignore all emails and employ a filter programme. Do not ever open attachments sent by a harasser. Keep records of persistent harassment in a "Funny Farm Folder". Laugh at his pitiable nature and get on with your life!


2. Saying NO!!

If this unwanted attention is upsetting, frightening or galling, say NO.

When sending such a demand, speak decisively, specifically and with finality. Add no padding, threats, insults, excuses or apologies. The ethical reason helps him to see your humanity as separate from his fantasy, and may make him realise he is affecting a real person. Criticise his behavior, not his person.

Little kids learn bad behavior is unacceptable best when you tell them - "I’m not listening to that screaming", and when you replace the behavior with something better: "call for help when Billy takes your dinosaur!". Similarly, some men respond to a simple, unambiguous BACK OFF! Men are not children, but they can be called to task when acting in an irresponsible, immature manner. Suggesting a positive alternative - argue on the topic, or treat women with respect - may help.

This action is not an attack on him or a temper tantrum. It is a non-violent confrontation - a careful, planned act of resistance to a pervasive form of power abuse. Hopefully, persistent and adamant refusal to co-operate on your part will bring him to his senses.

However, some fruitcakes enjoy even that attention….


3. Seek support

Contact the site administrator and the harasser’s Internet service provider and ask that he be reprimanded and removed. Change your email address and online name. Investigate encryption technology. Visit harassment help sites such as police sites and WHOA (Women Halting Online Abuse) and, and look for others.

Another way to seek support is to draft a letter for all your friends to send to him. Tell them they can embellish it all they like and send it several times (through an anonymous memailer!). Bombard his letterbox with "BACK OFF!" messages. This way you do not appear alone and vulnerable to him.


Some things to keep in mind:

Humour may help. It may rile him, too, though.

While sexual harassment can be intimidating, and men on the Net seem to say some pretty psycho things, they are not all-powerful. This behavior is immature and dysfunctional, so all harassers are in some way vulnerable. If we stand tall with integrity and challenge his faulty logic, he should back down. Men can and will change! Women can and will skillfully thwart such behavior! Let him know that he is way out of line, and that the onus is on him to change.

Continue to use the Internet when you feel ready, and ask that site administrators include an anti-harassment policy. If women keep using the Net, we may encourage others and reach the numbers to dilute the boy’s club. Chin up, sister, he’s only a man!


Tactics for stopping harassment using a harasser’s weak points:

*Is he acting like a boy? Simple - tell him to grow up!:

"Stop sending me pornographic jokes NOW! Every adult knows pornography is disrespectful and threatening to women. It twists violence to make it look sexy. Find something funny to post us!


* Is he pretending you have a private relationship when you’re in a chat group? Is he sending nasty private emails while being nice publicly? Expose him!

Hey, Everyone, if you think Gary behaves like a gentleman, check out this garbage! Clean up your act, Gary!


*Is he learning how to converse? Men who are the strong silent types in RL are just beginning to assert themselves Online using words. Women have an advantage because we are used to connecting using words rather than activity. Gently steer him in the right direction, girls, it’s time he learnt our game plan!


*Is he mixed up with eroticism? Touching and affection can be taboo for many men, apart from sex, so no wonder they crave sex. There seems to be a lot of frustrated, resentful dudes out there. Some men see so many images of free, easy and even abused women that they treat real women like that. Listen to him and show him how to verbalise affection without the creepy stuff:

I hear that you are angry and resentful. That’s okay. However, I did not cause your feelings. I do not want to be tortured. Women do not like torture. Stop writing threatening sex stories. Write women stuff that you wouldn’t mind, say your little sister or your mum reading. Be friendly! J


*Is he playing a game? Games can be important for men. Don’t "take it seriously", negotiate on the rules:

Hey, man, that torture stuff is a bit below the belt, okay? I’m happy to argue with you, but drop the violent sex line. Women don’t like that. You copy?


*Is he stressed out? Some men let off steam Online after a bad day. Listen, but remind him that even on the Net, people aren’t doormats or punching bags. Divert his attention.

Fine, you had a shocker. Work sucks, doesn’t it. Please don’t take it out on me, though, I’ve got a life, too. Hey, did you hear about….


Avoiding such attention:

Check out WHOA’s list of "safe" sites and "unsafe" sites. Some women prefer to use gender-neutral nicknames, while others feel that we should be openly female on principle. Your choice!

Limit the information in your user profile, and change your address, password or nickname regularly. Gauge your level of comfort with flaming, too. If you can argue heatedly and remain detached, fine, but if you find it is getting too close to the bone, get out of there. It is okay to prefer non-adversarial, civilised conversation!

Flirting, etc, attracts attention, so be careful! Get a P.O. BOX and an unlisted phone number. Have a private investigator check out potential dates.


Cheering Up:

It can help to get absorbed in whatever it was you were busy with before sexual harassment interrupted you. Let the harassing man see that you’ve had your say, you are getting on with things, and the onus is on him to pull his socks up.

 The Internet is a great place to connect with women and other nice people(!) and us women have a natural affinity for the verbal-style interaction. Get involved, trust your intuition and enjoy!


Some snappy things to say:

Reading feminist literature and other positive books can build up a person’s pride, confidence and feeling of belonging. Start a collection!

Here is a collection of man-confronting quotes from mine. J

Other techniques:

[Sources: Costello, Firesonte, Field, Langelan, Ehrenreich, Brooks Gardner, Marais & Herman, Anonymous joke sheet off the Net.. For complete bibliography, more ideas and background theory, see "Thwarting Harassment on the Internet" essay <wwwaddress>]


" I am a dangerous woman

Because I will say all this

Lying neither to you or with you

Neither trusting or despising you.

I am dangerous because I won’t give up or shut up,

Or put up with your version of reality.

You have conspired to sell my life quite cheaply,

And I am especially dangerous

Because I will never forgive or forget

Or ever conspire

To sell your life in return."

[End of I am a dangerous woman by Joan Cavanagh]



" I sing: Our will be done!

I sing: Their kingdom wane! "

[Final lines of A Song for Gorgons by Barbara Deming]


Example of a friend’s support letter:

You could send a letter like this yourself, of course, instead or as well as this one.


To the gentleman signing on as "hotrod",

I am writing in support of my friend, who you know as "Sally". I insist that you stop contacting her. The words you use in supposed courtship are actually aggressive power games. "Sally" does not feel that such immature and offensive words are worth bothering with.

I can vouch for the fact that Sally finds your emails uninteresting.

Your persistent contact is ridiculous.

Stop contacting Sally. Do not harass women. Behave politely.



Another example:


To the gentleman signing on as "hotrod",

In support of "Sally", it is asked that contact with her be stopped. The explicit and violent remarks made are not acceptable. They are not considered to be a valid sexual advance.

Such behavior is illegal. The Australian crimes Act, 1914, says in section 85ZE that "Improper use of carriage services" allows for a prison term of up to one year for people who use the Internet "to menace or harass another person."

Your Internet Service Provider and the Site Administrator of the Mathematics Teachers’ Forum have been contacted about your unacceptable behavior.

Do not contact Sally. Do not harass women. Speak in a respectful manner.

That is all.


Or try this!


To the young man signing on as "hotrod"

Sally has asked me to pray for you as a lost soul. The way you have been speaking to her is sinful and Jesus is disappointed.

I will pray to St Christopher asking that he carry you in your time of need as he carried the Christ-Child. I will say a decade of the Rosary every day to Mary, the virgin Mother, that you can search inside yourself and find the grace to love and respect women as Jesus loved and respected His Holy Mother.


If you look in your Bible at 2 Cor. 13, you will find a lovely passage on the true nature of love between a man and a woman.

Take care, now, and God Bless,

Sr. Ann-Bartholomew,

St Pious IV Convent, Brewarina.


Obviously, this is a bit over the top, but it could be good for a giggle. Get a free account for the occasion, maybe.

Anyway, I hope this helps.

Stand Tall, sister! J

See also
Catherine Waerner's essay on the same topic

This document is located on the

Suppression of dissent website

in the section on Documents