Sexual Harassment Online

“Your beautiful body hot as fuck Mmmm I need you and them hips an ass in my life I bet you taste real sweet and just delicious.” 

Uncomfortable? So was I when I opened this Instagram direct message. I get at least five of these messages a week, and I only have around 2,190 followers. This is in addition to several weird comments on photos, and less sexual pestering in my DMs (see below). 

In growing my Instagram account, I often follow a number of accounts that I don’t know. I’d estimate that 70% of the random dudes I follow end up sending me a DM trying to start up a conversation. News flash — just because I follow you does not mean that I’m asking for a conversation, and I’m definitely not asking for a comment on how beautiful I am etc. 

You. Have. Just. Been. Unfollowed, sir. 

Virtual Voyeurism

Instagram has popularized voyeurism. In doing so, I don’t think that they thought about the dangers that it posed. Now, I have chosen to open up my life to the public, but that does not mean I’m “asking for it.” In no situation is a woman “asking for it.” 

Instagram has done its fair share to protect people against bullies, and even just made a landmark decision to prohibit anyone under the age of eighteen to see posts advertising diet products. But it hasn’t done much to stop its sexual harassment problem. In the twenty-five paged PDF, “How to Talk With Your Teen About Instagram: A Parent’s Guide,” there is no mention of sexual harassment. 

There are numerous stories of photographers exploiting Instagram models, or companies preying on influencers’ financial insecurity. And while many proclaim that they’re smarter than that, I can say that it’s tempting. I have a miniscule following, but get offers constantly. And, I regularly get solicited by men labeling themselves as “sugar daddies.” 

What’s worse is that as someone who has been harassed, you can actually get in trouble for calling our your harasser by name on Instagram’s platform. Why you ask? Well, because of their Harassment Policy – isn’t that ironic? Further, Instagram’s “Help Center,” makes no mention of sexual harassment or predatory behavior. They just mention ways to report registered sex offenders. A simple search of related terms comes up with nothing. 

There are many accounts that publicize DMs and comments in which women have been harassed. Often, they poke fun at the issue. As women, we know that to deal with this sort of constant stream of harassment. A bit of levity is needed for us to feel both sane and safe. The account @chossyDMs posted such content… And guess what? it was REMOVED by Instagram. No worries though, you can be added to its new private account, @chossydms2.0

The Downside of Dating Apps

This experience isn’t unique to Instagram. I’ve heard of women experiencing harassment through LinkedIn. Boys, “connecting” on LinkedIn means growing your professional network… not connecting emotionally or sexually. Outside of these platforms, there’s also the obvious — dating apps. These apps do more than Instagram does. I know from experience that Bumble has a no tolerance policy for harassment or predatory behavior. I had my rapist removed from the platform. 

As someone who was assaulted by a connection through a dating app, in the short interm after this happened, I tried to use them again. For obvious reasons, I was hesitant about meeting up with anyone too soon, and refused to go to anyone’s home. Especially not after a few minutes of messaging. I can’t tell you how many guys got angry at that – or even how many unmatched me. This was even after I explained that I had been assaulted in the past and would prefer to get a drink first, or just talk a little more. Matches continually took offense to my fear, or were just outright annoyed at me. 

Boys, let me ask you a question. If your sister, or cousin, or mother, or friend was assaulted in the past, and exercised similar caution on these apps… would you be mad at her

After continual disappointment by men on these apps, and even just on Instagram, I decided to ask my followers if they have had similar experiences. The results were staggering.

Survey Results

Can’t Escape Harassment

When asked how the inappropriate DM made them feel, respondents had reactions ranging from feeling taken aback, to feeling disturbed, violated, and objectified. 

When asked how they responded to dick pics, some ignored them, some replied something snarky or angry, but the majority blocked them. Not a single respondent reported the message. One individual said the following about the message she received, “I was fourteen and never had seen an adult penis. It made me feel SO ashamed and disgusted.” 

This is the world that women live in. We are never free from harassment, not even in our own homes because of the digital world we hold in our hands. 50.3% of active Instagram users are female. And while the majority are 18-24, a significant portion fall into the 57 million portion that are ages 13-17. Instagram SHOULD take responsibility for the safety of these users. If they truly want to create a safe and positive environment for its users, it can not ignore this problem. 

Let’s Demand Change

I created a petition on change.org about this issue to demand that Instagram create policies around sexual harassment and predatory behavior, as well as mechanisms to report such incidences. Today I ask you to #bebossy with me and sign this petition. After signing, please share the petition to you social media platforms with the hashtag #EndInstaHarassment. Our voices matter.

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