Shouting back at Twitter rape threats

Caroline Craido-Perez (far right) poses with a poster showing the design of the UK's new 10-pound note.

Caroline Craido-Perez (far right) poses with a poster showing the design of the UK's new 10-pound note. Photo: Getty Images

When UK journalist and co-founder of The Women's Room Caroline Criado-Perez spearheaded a campaign to replace Charles Darwin’s image with Jane Austen’s on a British banknote, her efforts were rewarded by a sustained Twitter attack from some of the more repugnant turds excreted by society’s sulphurous bottom.

Within hours, Criado-Perez’ experience reinforced what female users of Twitter have known since its launch - that the social media site woefully fails to support the vast network of women who are subjected to abuse (often graphic and violent) simply for daring to have claim space in the ‘conversation’ that Twitter positions itself as being the locus of. She is now leading a campaign similar to the #fbrape one conducted a few months ago, with the intention of having Twitter become more accountable for the way their platform is used. Twitter has been threatened with a mass boycott on August 4 from prominent celebrities, MPs and writers should they continue to sidestep responsibility over the issue. (So far, Twitter UK general manager Tony Wang has responded by stating that they are looking at simplifying the process of reporting offensive tweets.) 



The question of what can be done to counter gendered online abuse is routinely painted as a woman’s problem to solve with the most frequently offered directive being to ‘just ignore it’. Having experienced such unwelcome intrusions on repeated occasions, I am familiar with those responses aimed at discrediting the justifiable anger of being told, for example, that even though you’re too ugly to rape, you probably still deserve it. ‘Don’t pay attention to them’, such advice dictates. ‘You’re only giving them the attention they want.’ Or, ‘You have X number of followers, and this person only has a handful. Why are you abusing your power like this?’

Occasionally, I have been lectured on my attempts to ‘shut down free speech’ - as if it is my objection to sexual assault being used as a warning that threatens the fabric of society, and not the fact that some people still find it a useful tool of debate.

Criado-Perez quite rightly calls bullshit on this tactic, advocating instead a commitment to ‘shout back’. Ignoring abuse doesn’t make it go away. Believe me, I know. What it does is make you feel invaded, powerless and (if the troll in question seems to have a greater than usual insight into your online activities) vaguely paranoid. Too often, trolls are left untended simply because they are invisible. They are the Peeping Toms of the online world - they can peer through your windows, but you can’t see their faces. So to stop them from salivating over your distress, you become weathered against their hatred.

The result is twofold. Firstly, women become superficially immune to the pain of being told in minute detail what it is we deserve to have done to us as punishment for the crime of speaking. It still surprises me when I hear gasps from groups as I reveal some of the things that have been said to me in the past, and urges me to remind myself that this experience of dehumanisation is not the rent a woman must pay for being given a spot at the table.  

But there is deeper damage being done, an erosion of the sense of self. One can only be exposed to this sheer hatred so many times before it begins to seep into your core. You read it and hear it and see it without flinching, and then suddenly without warning find yourself standing in the shower one evening feeling broken yet unable to cry because you’ve been steeling yourself against vulnerability for so long that you don’t seem to know how to do it anymore. It is a theft of emotion, and it is unforgiveable.

These misogynists ejaculate their rage all over the internet, using their threat of both a rutting penis and the denial of it to try and keep women in their place. It happened to Lindy West when she criticised the abundance of jokes about rape. It happened to Marion Bartoli when she won Wimbledon, and viewers decided she was too ugly and unf--kable to deserve this honour. 

And when the trolls are found out, what do they do? They scurry away and hide, delete their accounts, protect their tweets, complain about how women can't take a joke and whinge that feminists are trying to censor them. Mostly, they bank on the fact that no one will find them out - that their real life personas, complete with jobs, partners, children and friends will remain separate from the online one where they use handles like RapeCr3w and talk about how 'consent' is irrelevant.

To them, degrading women on a routine basis is both an enjoyable game and a silencing tool. As Tanya Gold wrote recently in The Guardian, “Rape, and the threat of rape, is a favoured weapon for men who hate women. It is an effective mode of decapitation, speaking (or rather shouting) only to the vagina, pretending the brain doesn't exist.”

But occasionally we can fight back. At the time of writing this, a 21-year-old man from Manchester had been arrested in relation to the threats made against Criado-Perez, with the possibility of more to follow. Despite what some might say about the sanctity of free speech and the lawlessness of the internet, this is not an overreaction. These trolls bank on women’s silence while ironically defending their fundamental right to say whatever they like without consequence.

Well, women aren’t going to roll over and ignore it. We’re not going to enable their entitlement by keeping our mouths shut. Like Criado-Perez says, we’re shouting back - and if these misogynist troglodytes don’t like the sound of one banshee standing up for herself, they’re going to really hate it what it sounds like when millions of us do it together.




  • You have my support and the support of millions of other men, I am sure, to shut down these cowards who seem to think it is ok to hide behind twitter and hurl abuse.

    Date and time
    July 30, 2013, 3:05AM
    • Yay! It's a shame, isn't it, when such a small minority have such power?

      I'm sure there's be comments along the lines of 'just ignore them' as has been said in the article, but that completely ignores the effect this type of abuse has on a person.

      Date and time
      July 30, 2013, 9:04AM
    • Surely the Twitter-attack of the 'repugnant turds' validates Darwin's theory AND his rightful place on the banknote - as opposed to Jane Austen, who wrote about (unhelpful) fantasy romantic fiction?!?!?

      Date and time
      July 30, 2013, 11:00AM
    • Thank you Mr McLovin. That shows me that you and your mates are strong, secure men who don't feel threatened by women. Good on you. Ms Ford is spot on. We must fight back, support each other and not just be doormats. That's why they are still going with these ancient fears about women - because it has been allowed to.

      Date and time
      July 30, 2013, 11:01AM
  • Really well written piece, Clementine. I've observed the online bile that spews from twitter trolls and am always baffled at what kind of person is behind such hatred. What upbringing (or lack of one) taught them it was OK to interact like this with other human beings? Do they hate themselves as much as the target of their rage? I'm a male and I can't imagine even making a joke about rape, let alone threatening someone with it—anonymously or otherwise.

    Date and time
    July 30, 2013, 8:46AM
    • Max - my suggestion would be not to think about it too much. People who engage in this sort of trolling on the internet are to my mind engaging in the same continuum of behaviour that rapists, domestic abusers, and shameless people such as Tony Abbott engage in, almost as if they can't help themselves, because it's in their nature and they seem to find it extremely difficult to understand that what they are doing is wrong.

      There's no empathising with these people, and as Clementine Ford has unfortunately found, being forced to engage in their world often proves tremendously upsetting to sensible people.

      I sort of agree with the concept of fighting back, but only insofar as this is done on the broadest possible level - like what is done in efforts towards curbing sexual and domestic violence, or the retrospectively quite successful campaign against sexual harrassment that we saw in the 80s and 90s. As a community we need to condemn this behaviour in the strongest possible terms, and yes, develop systematic ways of shutting it down where it does occur, like moderating Twitter for example. It's not free speech - it's just criminal.

      But unfortunately we're also going to have to remain mindful of the fact that these people will always find new ways of disseminating their depraved world views, and will keep operating wherever the opportunity exists. Just like interactions in the real world, it seems to me this is going to be a long-term battle.

      Date and time
      July 30, 2013, 4:16PM
  • given modern technology, i find it hard to comprehend how these comments are finding their way on to twitter at all. couldn't they just filter them and then use a 3 strikes rule and delete the accounts of these morons? seriously, can't be too hard...

    that said...sorry i am still in more shock that Jane Austen is replacing Charles Darwin on the 10 pound note - as a women to me this screams of "make allowances for" rather that equality for women. great scientist c/w fiction writer??? that's one giant leap backwards for women - in my opinion. Madame Curie was a great scientist who died in her pursuit of science and could reasonably be considered to have equal stature to Charles Darwin. If you want the women of the world to be looked upon as accessories for entertaining society - the same trap we are trying to get out - Jane Austen is the perfect choice. Sad. Just sad. Rape threats are just wrong. But derision in response to replacing Charles Darwin with Jane Austen, totally appropriate. As a female, I'm disappointed.

    Date and time
    July 30, 2013, 8:56AM
    • Bloomberg IB (chat system for financial markets) filters for potentially offensive words and if you have typed them asks if you want them to be sent, so presumably it isn't that technically demanding to implement a filter system. I'm not sure if a "three strikes and you're banned" rule would help much as there isn't really anything stopping people from making other accounts but it would be a start I suppose.

      As far as the banknotes go, there is a woman on every UK banknote already. Or have people forgotten about the queen?

      Date and time
      July 30, 2013, 9:31AM
    • It seems the poms change their banknotes every decade or so anyway, so I don't think it's quite the insult to Darwin some are making it out to be. Darwin was due for a retirement, and when Churchill replaced a woman, others wanted a woman to balance it out.

      I can't say I agree with any decision that starts with the assumption that a woman must be chosen for a gender-neutral role and then figure out which woman it should be, but these tweets are truly horrifying. Threatening violence doesn't help your argument, it's just hateful and disruptive, which is what the trolls want.

      Curie was Polish/French, though. Rosalind Franklin would make a better replacement for a scientist - she's definitely under-appreciated for the work on DNA Watson/Crick are recognised for.

      Date and time
      July 30, 2013, 10:03AM
    • That comment is so offensive.

      Art and science both seek to understand the world. Both pursuits enrich our understanding of ourselves and the world we live in..

      I have equal respect for artists (including novelists) and scientists. I have none for those who seek to create a hierarchy of human endeavour based on their own narrow view.

      Date and time
      July 30, 2013, 10:24AM

More comments

Comments are now closed