A How Not to Guide on Teaching Children Internet Safety

She said X was the closest park to her house

This is genuinely a line in a YouTube video called “The Dangers of Social Media” that claims to teach parents how easy it is for a ‘paedophile’ to groom a teenage girl: by identifying the neighbourhood she lives in to 30 million viewers.

In fact, the video reveals identifying details of three teenage girls, including street views of their homes and their parents’ faces. Rather than giving any information to help parents actually teach their children how to navigate social media safely, the video invites us to participate in the public shaming of these girls. We are allowed to watch the parents shouting at the girls but not actually engaging in why these girls arranged to meet a stranger they met online. If the aim was to highlight their lack of skills in navigating the internet, a more pertinent question was why no one bothered to teach them any. Why isn’t the focus on the parents rather than the children?

There are so many issues with this video that it’s hard to know where to start. The language itself is incorrect – the term paedophile has a specific clinical definition. The vast majority of child rapists are normal men who make a choice to harm a child; they have no pre-existing psychological condition.

The video also reinforces the ‘stranger danger’ myth. Statistically, fathers form the majority of perpetrators of domestic violence – whether this is physical, emotional and sexual abuse of the children themselves or witnessing the abuse of their mothers. Fathers, brothers, cousins, grandfathers, uncles, and stepfathers are far more likely to sexually abuse a child than a stranger. If we focus on ‘stranger danger’, we ignore the majority of men, and most child sexual abusers are male, who are actually a danger to children. This isn’t to say we pretend that strangers never harm a child; rather that we need to understand risk and help children develop the skills to keep themselves safe. Pretending that the only person who is a child rapist is a creepy man in a trench coat puts them at risk.

Rather than going for scare tactics like those in the video -having parents dress up in skeleton masks and drag their kids into a van- we need to teach children the skills to negotiate a world where a large number are at risk of experiencing domestic and sexual violence and abuse. We can start by using the appropriate words for body parts like vulva and penis.

Children also need to be taught about consent starting as toddlers. One easy way to do this is with tickling. If a child squeals no, stop and ask them if they want you to continue tickling. Then keep asking them. Another way is by telling children that they don’t have to hug or kiss anyone anyone that they don’t want to. Granny might want a hug but a child shouldn’t feel pressured or obligated to do so. Doing this teaches children that they have the right to bodily integrity and that their boundaries should be respected.

Children need to learn the skills to negotiate social media, including online gaming safely. Banning social media until the age of 13, as Facebook does, and then expecting children to be safe online is simply ridiculous. How are children meant to differentiate between unsafe and safe adults when their parents have 900 ‘friends’ on Facebook? If we depend on ‘stranger danger’ myths, do these 900 adults then become safe because their parents ‘know’ them? Equally, we give children mixed messages if we tell them not to talk to strangers but allow them uncontrolled access to X-Box Live. How are children meant to recognise that the older boy from down the road is a child rapist or that the really cool guy on Minecraft is a safe person if we don’t give them the tools to do so.

More importantly, shaming is not an acceptable teaching technique. Publicly shaming your child will not encourage them to have open and honest dialogue with you. It teaches children that their parents are more interested in the performance of ‘safety’ than their actual safety. It makes it impossible for children to ask for help when being bullied at school, never mind when experiencing abuse by a family member or a stranger they’ve met online.

Parents, and schools, need to take more responsibility for helping children develop the skills to negotiate social media and gaming safely, but, as Lynn Schreiber, an expert in social media, says about the video:

Scaring parents will not protect children. Blaming victims will not protect children. This video also reduces the eSafety message to one (fairly rare) danger, while ignoring the far more commonly occurring issues of children viewing violent or sexual content, cyberbullying, going viral, reputation management, and public shaming. Our children are growing up with this technology and need to be taught how to use it in a positive and sensible way.

The average age a child views porn online is between the ages of 9 – 12. Many children experience online bullying and harassment. Others live with domestic and sexual violence and abuse within the home. These conversations on personal safety, online and off, are very difficult but that is why they are necessary. We need to teach children the skills to deal with unsafe people and navigate the real world. In our global economy, the Internet is the real world.

This is what child protection should start with: teaching children their emotions are valid, that they have the right to say no, and that is completely unethical and unfair to publicly shame them on social media.


Originally published in the Huffington Post on 02/8/15.

An earlier version of this article appeared on Everyday Victim Blaming on 17/8/15

The “Die in a Fire” Meme is both Male Violence and Hate Speech

I’ve written numerous times about how the “die in a fire” meme used by transactivists (both those who are Trans* and those who self-define as cis) is a deliberate invocation of the mass murder of women by fire throughout history. It is chosen because fire has been, and remains, a way in which violent men control and punish women. It is used today by men committing domestic violence just as it was 400 years ago to punish women deemed ‘witches’.

Telling someone whose politics you dislike to “die in a fire” is replicating male patterns of violence and control. Telling anyone to “die in a fire” is a deliberate and malicious silencing tactic. I do not accept the theory that there is ever an appropriate time when this threat is acceptable, nor do I believe that any class of people are ever so oppressed as to make this statement acceptable.

Today, Sian published a very personal post on having experienced having her hair set on fire as a teenager. Until I read this post, I had thought only of fire in terms of domestic violence and the control of women throughout history. I hadn’t thought of the times in junior/ high school when boys thought it was “funny” to threaten to set fire to my hair. I hadn’t thought of the times that all of my friends were threatened or the time my stepsister’s hair was actually set on fire. I hadn’t made the connections in my own mind between the threats made about fire by boys and how often fire was actually used to punish and control my friends: particularly by burning homework or books.

In all the times I have written or spoken about unspeakably hateful the “die in a fire” meme is, I hadn’t made the connection with my own experiences. I had othered the threat so as not to have to think about just how real that threat is – not just for abstract women online but for myself. These people bandying about the “die in a fire” meme are deliberately triggering women’s experiences of male violence in order to shut them up – no dissent is ever allowed and any questioning immediately requires a threat of violence.

These threats are real. They are not just words or justified by ‘oppression’. They are nothing more than male violence. If you struggle to understand how fire is a violent threat, then please read Karen Ingala Smith’s blog which names the 16 women in the UK whose brutal murder either involved fire or who were set on fire after their deaths between January 2012 and December 2013.

And, think about how many women are either killed in a fire or their bodies desecrated by fire on a daily basis on our planet.

“Die in a fire” is hate speech. It is hate speech used to silence women and it is used to kill women.


Men respond to discussion of male violence with abusive language

Men responded to my post on the Santa Barbara shootings with their usual aplomb:

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And then we have the “Whatta about meeeeee!” whiners:

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Because the brutal murder of 6 people by one man in a culture of systemic violence is all about one dude with hurt feelings.

No woman deserves misogynistic abuse.

I don’t know why this doesn’t constitute stating the freaking obvious but I’m becoming increasingly enraged by the assumption that it’s totally okay to abuse a group of women you disagree with or that to defend yourself from abuse, you have to list every single horrible thing that’s ever happened to you.

Well, fuck that shit.

No woman deserves abuse.

No woman deserves ridicule.

No woman deserves to be silenced.

And, NO ONE should be forced to disclose their personal traumas in order to defend themselves from personal attacks.

Nor is trauma an acceptable excuse others. Many women have experienced domestic and sexual violence. Most do not express their trauma by abusing, harassing and threatening other women. It is simply unacceptable and cruel to collude with a traumatised woman by telling them that it’s okay to abuse other women. What they are doing is replicating the same abuse which happened to them to others. It is not acceptable.

Nor are there are a hierarchy of women who are allowed to be upset at abuse directed at them. Suggesting that is unkind and anti-feminist.

Nor are there ‘acceptable’ types of abuse which can be directed at women you disagree with. Parody accounts are intended to cause harm to a woman’s work and reputation. They aren’t a ‘little thing’ or less important than other forms of abuse. They are very clear forms of harassment and intimidation.

Equally, no one has the right to tell another woman if, how and when she’s allowed to react to abusive behaviour. Every woman has the right to decide for themselves.

The above are all techniques that the patriarchy uses to create categories of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ women. I have no intention of enabling or colluding with abusive behaviour directed at other women. Nor do I have any interest in people telling me how I can and cannot react to abuse directed at me.

And yeah, the idea that there is always something ‘more important’ to worry about is an anti-feminist silencing tactic designed to isolate women. I’m not interested in playing that game either.

My Speech from Women’s Aid Conference on Cyber Stalking and Online Harassment

Alison has discussed the beginnings of our campaign as well as the spectrum of online misogyny. Before I speak to some of the specific examples of online abuse brought to the attention of EOM, I want to talk about some wider examples of the consequences of online harassment and stalking in terms of women’s access to online support.

There are several obvious consequences of online harassment and stalking all of which are designed to silence and isolate women, particularly since online communities have become a lifeline for many women. For women with caring responsibilities, life limiting conditions and disabilities, social media can be their main access for contact and support. Women in abusive relationships or who have experienced sexual violence are increasingly looking for safe spaces online to discuss their experiences as specialist services for women are being demolished by “austerity measures”.

The increase in cyber stalking and online bullying is eradicating what should have been safe-spaces and succeeds only in further isolating women.

Parenting Websites

There are a number of parenting sites based in the UK that are dominated by women. These function as both support sites and places just to “hang out”. Whilst the positive impact of these sites for women cannot be underestimated, they can also be used as ways of controlling women’s behaviour.

Despite anonymity, abusive men have managed to track down their partners and stalk them online. There have been a small number of cases wherein abusive men have threatened to use women’s as “evidence” of a woman’s “unfitness” to parent in court. The threat has been sufficient to result in a number of women having to have their entire posting histories removed because of stalking by violent ex-partners. While this may sound inconsequential to those with offline support, for women who depend on parenting websites the removal of an entire posting history is detrimental to their emotional welfare.

More commonly, sites like Mumsnet which have an active feminist community, are also targets for abusive men targeting any vulnerable women. Abusive men have taken to posting on the relationships board. Very frequently, posts on the relationships board are by women in abusive relationships asking for support or simply for someone to name what is happening to them, especially around the issue of rape in marriage.Abusive men post on these threads in order to minimise male violence but equally to gaslight women into believing that they are over-reacting to the abuse. Unfortunately, some women do collude with the abusive men although in many cases these are women who are not yet ready to confront the abuse in their own relationships.

The relationships board on Mumsnet is perhaps one of the safest feminist spaces online. The abusive men get very short shift from long-term posters but the fact of the matter is that these men, either singly, or from “invasions” of men from Fathers4Justice, Reddit, and a number of “car enthusiast” sites are deliberately targeted mostly women spaces in order to harass and stalk women. Sometimes it is to target women they know but frequently it is just to harass random women on the internet. These men do not make outright threats of violence but their behaviour is clearly designed to harass women.


[Massively Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Game and First Person shooter with multi-player functionality]

The misogyny within the online gaming community is well documented with women frequently being targeted with abusive language, sexually explicit language and, increasingly, threats of sexual violence. Many multi-player online games have chat functions which can, and are, used by abusive men to send threats of sexual violence and abusive language. Along with female avatars, which consistently present women as sexually objectified, online games allow male players a space to sexually harass women. Stalking has become an increasingly common phenomenon. I have heard numerous stories of teenage girls pretending to male when playing these games in order to stave off sexual harassment from adult men.


Facebook’s toleration of online misogyny and abuse is equally well documented. The secret and closed group function on Facebook could have been a very safe space for women to interact, however, Facebook has made it perfectly clear that the safety of women is not their concern. They allow pages threatening rape to be posted. “Revenge porn” pages are abundant and Facebook has refused to remove videos of women being raped.

The recent campaign against Facebook’s problem with misogyny led them to acknowledge that it has a problem but without actually doing anything about it. Instead of being a safe space, Facebook has made it clear that they are only interested in protecting men’s rights to sexually humiliate, stalk, harass and threaten women.

Examples of Abusive tweets sent to EOM

As Alison mentioned, our campaign was in a direct response to the attack on Caroline Criado-Perez, however abuse of women on twitter is not new. The woman raped by Ched Evans was the victim of a coordinated attack by Evans supporters which included releasing her name online. EDL members have a well documented history of sending racist and misogynistic threats to women. There are literally hundreds of thousands of examples of twitter accounts opened with the express purpose of abusing women and which twitter has consistently refused to close.

These are just a selection of abusive tweets that have been brought to the attention of EOM in the past few weeks. I have redacted names for this paper.

  • Oh, I’ll rape you so hard, you’ll forget your name. 
  • All, I can think of is [redacted] fat pussy rubbing against my ass cheeks. Dem cheeszy skidmarks 
  • Ironic you show a fist, as you’re quite partial to a bit of fisting you ugly fat trollop. Still can’t feel it in your big vag. 
  • #DearTerfs I hope you all die in a fire. You don’t deserve to be called “women” 

I won’t mention anymore as Caroline has already presented a selection of the horrific abuse directed at her.

The fact that twitter allows this abuse to continue unabated and flat out refuses to permanently ban violent men from sending threats makes Twitter another unsafe online space.

We are #shoutingback because we will not allow violent men to control online spaces. 

We are #shoutingback because no woman deserves abuse.
We are #shoutingback to show just how common online harassment of women actually is.

We are #shoutingback because women are human too.

Louise Mensch is a professional troll but why do we find her so surprising.

I genuinely don’t know what to say about Louise Mensch anymore. I know she is a troll by profession but her recent tweets have been shocking. At least, I’ve always assumed she was a professional troll, along with Dr. Christian, but I am at a loss for words to describe her recent tweeting. If she were a friend, I would be worried about her. I cannot decide if she’s actually quite dim with moments of brilliance or if she genuinely lacks the empathy to even attempt to understand the lives of people who aren’t wealthy and white like her.

The idea that George Zimmerman should be thankful for the imminent birth of the “royal baby” demonstrates such a lack of awareness of reality that I’m gobsmacked. How can anyone living in the US think of the Zimmerman acquittal in positive terms? A child is dead, dead because of racism and utterly insane laws about “standing your ground”, and Mensch is blithering on about the birth of a child in a country that she no longer lives in.* 

As for “rape fantasy porn” tweets, I can’t believe any woman could be so dismissive of the experiences of sexual violence of other women. Mensch is engaged in that old skool narcissistic twitter tendency to retweet everyone who agrees with them and ignore the comments by those who disagree. Her replies to those expressing concern are dismissive and, frequently, rude as though survivors of sexual violence aren’t worth her time. 

I loathe the term “rape porn”. Rape, by definition, is a non-consensual act. It is impossible for consensual porn to be made about rape. As for Mensch’s assertion that most women have “rape porn” fantasies, well, I’d like to see her research to back up the statistic because I think it’s complete twaddle. What really shocked me was Mensch stating she would blog about the “rape porn” debates AFTER she blogs about the royal baby. How skewed are her priorities if the potential birth of one child is more important than legislation dealing with pornography and sexual violence? I know she’s hardly the only person blithering on as if we are witnessing the birth of the new Messiah but her tweets shocked me.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at what Mensch tweets or blogs since she is clearly in it for the attention and the best way to get attention in our culture is by being utterly ridiculous. This is just another dimension of our reality television based culture which grants those engaged in self-destructive behaviour with fame and columns in national papers. Instead of publishing actual news, our national media has spent the day stalking a hospital where one woman is giving birth in a denial of her right to privacy and at the expense of reporting information which is important.

It is a sad indictment of our culture that Louise Mensch, who resigned as an MP to live in the US with her new husband, is still considered an important political commentator on our culture.

A selection of her tweets on the murder of Trayvon Martin

People most thankful for #royalbaby – George #Zimmerman and his family. 

Should #Zimmerman have followed #Trayvon, no. Did Trayvon have right to attack, yes. Previous statement still applies. Not guilty. #tcot 

In the end #Zimmerman defence & acquittal very simple, backed by forensics; #Trayvon attacked, GZ feared for his life, shot him. Not guilty 

George #Zimmerman wasn’t on trial for being a puffed-up vigilante. He was on trial for murder 2 & the President should not have intervened.

Her tweets on the debate over “rape fantasy” porn

I would hope that any such law would be challenged in the courts and fail in the courts. It is inhuman. Rape and rape fantasy not the same. 

It is not for our government to police consensual simulation, between adults, of one of women’s most common fantasies. 

It’s not law yet and I hope it never will be. The Simon Walsh Obscenity trial should give all MPs pause. Govt out of people’s bedrooms. 

Going to blog on opposition to government seeking to criminalise simulation one of most common female fantasies, rape, but after #royalbaby

* I know insane is not the right word to use here. I apologise for the ableist term. I’m just so angry that I can’t work out what to say.