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Although people of all genders can experience violence and abuse online, the abuse experienced by women is often marked by sexism and misogyny.

A woman may have multiple aspects of her identity targeted for abuse, meaning she will also experience violent behaviours such as racism, transphobia and homophobia while online.

The aim of this violence and abuse is to create a hostile online environment for women with the goal of shaming, intimidating, degrading, belittling or silencing women.

There are multiple platforms on which violence and abuse can happen, such as smartphones, social media platforms and email, and with more women and girls using the internet with greater frequency during Covid, exposure to abuse from both strangers and acquaintances has increased.

40% of women have been sent an unsolicited photo

In Britain, more than 40% of millennial women have been sent an unsolicited photo of male genitals usually using iPhone AirDrop, according to a YouGov poll in 2017.

Some smartphone apps allow users to send anonymous pictures to others in their immediate vicinity, meaning women in restaurants, train carriages and other public places are at risk of seeing unsolicited explicit photos on their phones.

In this way, a woman’s right to privacy and freedom from harassment is attacked simple for existing in a public space.

The UK could face a 60% increase in reports of revenge porn

Sharing of sexual or imitate images without a person’s consent is often referred to as ‘revenge porn’, the aim of which is to cause shame and distress.

Since April 2015 perpetrators of image based sexual abuse (revenge porn) have faced prison sentences of up to two years, however this type of crime still remains widespread.

Research by Refuge found that one in seven young women had received threats to share intimate images or videos.

In addition, The UK Safer Internet Centre predicts that the UK could face a 60% increase in reports of revenge porn compared with last year.

Sexualised threats, harassment and doxing

Online threats of violence against women are often sexualized and include specific references to women’s bodies.

In addition, abusive language can include sexist name-calling such as “bitch” and “slut”, as well as direct and indirect threats of physical or sexual violence, such as death threats and rape threats.

Privacy violations, known as ‘doxing’, involves abusers making a person’s private information public, such as a home address or phone number. This can be particularly alarming as it puts both victims and their families in danger.

Worsening online abuse during Covid

The UK’s largest investigation into gender-based and intersectional online abuse during the pandemic revealed that reports of online abuse had increased and worsened during Covid, with black and minoritised women and non-binary people more likely to report cases of online abuse.

84% of respondents experienced online abuse from strangers – accounts that they did not know prior to the incident(s). Meanwhile, 16% of respondents faced abuse from an acquaintance and 10% from a partner or ex-partner. Some 9% of people faced abuse from a colleague or superior at work.

Anawim’s office can be reached on 0121 440 5296 – for anyone who identifies as a woman to speak with a specialist female caseworker about mental health, abuse and/or violence, families and relationships, housing, finances or anything else.

While our own services are specialised for women, anyone can experience abuse. If you feel that online abuse is impacting your mental health, Mind’s infoline is available on 0300 123 3393.

Stop Hate UK run a 24 hour helpline on 0800 138 1625 to support people who have been affected by hate crime.

LGBT+ and anti-violence charity Galop provide a helpline on 0800 999 5428 and can support people who have experienced a hate crime.