Sharing images of ‘missing children’: the problems of violent fathers and spiteful trolls

Within hours of the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, people across social media were sharing images of those who were declared missing. Some of these were shared by family and friends who knew girls and women attending the concert, but who had not yet heard whether they were safe. These images were also being shared by those wanting to help – a desire borne out of genuine kindness. Unfortunately, by early Tuesday morning, media were already reporting that some of the images being shared were of people who were not at the concert. One of the first images we saw when we logged on to Twitter was of Nasar Ahmed, who died in November from an asthma attack at school. We immediately tweeted out asking people not to share images of children declared missing unless they knew that the source is real. At that point, we didn’t know the scale of the spiteful and cruel trolling. Then we were informed that another image being shared was of Jayden Parkinson who was murdered in 2013 by her boyfriend, who had a history of domestic violence. In the end, multiple false images were being shared; many of which originated from a thread on reddit where men were encouraging each other to deliberately and maliciously harm the families and friends of victims with ‘fake news’.

Male violence doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The toxic hyper-masculinity, which results in suicide bombers targeting young girls attending a concert in Manchester, the mass sexualised violence of children, and the proliferation of violent pornography is also responsible for the so-called ‘trolling’ of victims of male violence. Terrorists, like rapists and domestic violence perpetrators, depend on the support of these men to increase the carnage and fear. Whilst we’re quite sure that these ‘trolls’, who deliberately shared misleading images will have absolute tantrums about being compared to the supporters of Daesh, they are part of the same conducive context of violence against women and girls that allows male violence and toxic masculinity to flourish.

This is the reality of male violence in the global context: men believing they have the right to commit violence against the bodies of women and children; men believing they are entitled to control women and children; and men thinking it is hilarious to maliciously target traumatised victims and their families.

There is another reason to be careful when sharing images of ‘missing children’ online, which is also due to male violence. In this case, it is men who are perpetrators of domestic violence and abuse.The most dangerous time for women is when they leave a controlling or violent partner. It is this time period which sees an increase in the intensity of violence, such as that requiring medical treatment, but also murder: of the woman, a mother with her children, or the children to ‘punish’ the mother. Violent fathers denied access to their children have been creating fake ‘missing children’ notices for years, relying on the kindness of strangers on social media to stalk former partners and children.

It is essential to ensure that images of ‘missing children’ come from a reliable source: a family member or police in order to prevent violent men finding victims of their violence and, now, preventing so-called ‘trolls’ for targeting victims of terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, due to institutionalised racism and misogyny, police forces don’t always recognise missing children as ‘missing’. BAME children are far more likely to be deemed ‘runaways’ and, therefore, not worth ‘wasting’ police time in searching for them. Mainstream media are equally culpable and are far more likely to share images of white children who are missing. Sometimes social media is the only place actively searching for these children. If a missing child image does not come from a reliable source, you can reverse image research to find the origins of the photo.

In a just and fair world, all missing children would be deemed equally important. Mainstream media would give as much attention to a missing 14-year-old Black boy from London as they do a 13-year-old white girl from Surrey. The police would have appropriate resources to find children and support them – after all, children who do run away from home do so for a reason. Sometimes home is the least safe space for a child. Children, and their mothers, would be able to live free of violence, or the threat therein. Perpetrators would be held accountable for their actions and choices. Family courts would ban violent fathers from using them to continue controlling their former partners. Child contact would be deemed in the best interest of the child based on peer-reviewed research, which clearly shows that children do better without being forced to visit violent fathers.

We don’t live in a just world though. And, until then, we need to take care on social media to ensure that the children labelled missing are actually missing. We need to hold the mainstream media and police to account when they fail to investigate and report on missing BAME children. It is a delicate balance that no one will not always get right every time, because it is hard to believe just how spiteful and malicious online ‘trolls’ are. They depend on our compassion for others, which is why we need to hold the men who posted false images of ‘missing children’ legally culpable, as well as those who commit terrorist attacks. Sharing fake images of ‘missing’ children is a heinous act and it is part of the continuum of violence against women and girls. We need to eradicate all forms and this starts with insisting that spiteful and malicious ‘trolling’ of the victims of violence is a serious criminal act so that no other family has to go through what happened to those impacted by the Manchester bombing: as victims themselves or families like those of Ahmed and Parkinson.

 

First published at Everyday Victim Blaming on 7.6.2017

@TakingShapeUK liken women to animals to be hunted with #skinnybirdwatching

B-RuJO5IQAAboHk.jpg-largeThese images are actually from Taking Shape UK’s twitter feed advertising their new campaign #skinnybirdwatching.B-RuMJlIQAAxXBt.jpg-largeB-RuTXWIAAAMw3R.jpg-large

 

This is pretty clear evidence of a piss-poor understanding of social media, body-shaming, and and a failure to recognise the reality of violence against women and girls. Taking Shape UK are a clothing brand which specialises in plus size clothing. Their campaign features people sitting in a box on a road looking for women who are a size 6 so they can prove that size 6 isn’t that common.

Now, I’ve been that natural size 0 (4 in Canada). I’m pretty short but I still regularly got called chicken legs and accused of being anorexic. I was working in a bakery at that time where my diet consisted of free pizza pretzels, donuts and fresh bread. Completely unhealthy diet? Absolutely. Anorexic. No.

I was bullied for years at school and this shaming of my body for being naturally short and skinny was part of it. I’m no longer that skinny – not from having children (although I never returned to a size 0) after my kids. I’m now fat because I have been seriously ill for years with fibromyalgia and asthma. The steroids for my asthma made me gain weight, my fibromyalgia limited my ability to walk even short distances and I have an even worse diet because of comfort eating associated with depression.

I was once that object of shame for being skinny and am now an object of shame for being fat.

This is precisely the kind of campaign that makes me want to reach for those donuts again. It is body-shaming women who are naturally a size 6 – or those who exercise constantly to be a size 6 because we live in a culture where women are rewarded for it. Blaming women for trying to neutralise any possible “flaw” which could lead to abuse is pretty much the essence of internalised misogyny. It certainly won’t help women living with eating disorders like anorexia deal with their illness. Instead, it will make them feel more judged – and this is the very last thing these women and young girls need.

Taking Shape UK are objecting to the use of size 6 models during London’s Fashion Week by reducing women to animals to be judged like pigs at a country fair. Will we be judged on our plumage – acceptable as fat if we have great hair? Or, our skin colour? A quick skim through their catalogue shows only white women. Women are not animals and a clothing company which refers to its customers as animals has pretty much lost the plot.

What are they claiming is the perfect size? A 14? 16? 18? Do women only count who have ‘curves’? If that’s the case, I’m fucked as a short, fat woman notably lacking in curves. The language of the reprehensible ‘real women’ campaign by Dove is littered through this. That was nothing more than a cheap marketing gimmick too.

Why aren’t Taking Shape recognising that the  obsession with ‘real women’ having curves just as damaging as the  fashion industry’s obsession with size 6 models? All this campaign is doing is judging women for their bodies. It is the patriarchal fuckability test in action.

There is another side to this particular campaign which is troubling and that is the issue of stalking. Sitting in a box watching women is seriously fucking creepy. Likening women to animals to be hunted whilst sitting in a box is even creepier. Setting up to monitor women with binoculars with the intention to draw images of them (as it says in their press release) buys into a deeply misogynistic construction of women as objects to be owned and surveilled. This is precisely the type of abuse that stalkers engage with when they target women.

All in all, this is a disgraceful social media campaign and Taking Shape UK have seriously fucked up. No woman deserves to be judged for their body type and women are not animals to be monitored in the streets.

This campaign is pretty much the essence of misogyny.  And, the images below – well, Taking Shape won’t be getting my custom anytime soon.

bird 1 bird 2

 

Mrs Doubtfire is a Great Dad: And Other Stories of Stalking as Fathering

I was watching reruns of Bones the other day. I love Kathy Reich’s books and her character of Temperance Brennan and the TV show is an interesting way of rebooting the series without following the books (although I suspect partly this was a way of ensuring that an actress in her 40s wouldn’t play the main character because middle age women are a no-no if they aren’t married with children). The entire subplot of one episode was of the male lead Special Agent Seely Booth, played by David Boreanaz, using his privilege as an FBI agent to investigate the new partner of the mother of his child. At no point during the episode was it made clear how creepy, controlling and illegal the act was; instead, it focused on what a good Dad he was.

This same story line was integral to the plot of Mrs Doubtfire: a movie which celebrates incompetent fathers stalking their ex-wives and gaining access to their personal life and house through deception.  I’ve written before about my failure to recognise the abusive behaviour within Mrs Doubtfire:

 The stalking of the mother and the wearing down of her boundaries is classic abusive behaviour. Being “jealous” of Miranda’s relationship with a new man isn’t the behaviour of a good man – it’s the behaviour of an abusive man who believes his ex-wife is also his possession. Daniel has no right to interfere with his ex-wife’s new relationships. He has no right to stalk her and he has no right to manipulate her. Lying to Miranda and the children about who he is isn’t a funny movie plot. It’s the creepy behaviour of a classically abusive man.

I’ve seen far too many police dramas recently where fathers misuse their power to stalk their former partners and spy on them. This is always presented as normal behaviour by a man concerned about his children’s safety. The male lead in Breakout Kings, played by Domenick Lombardozzi,  consistently violates the boundaries of his ex-wife and screams in her face. Even when their child is abducted, he fails to talk to the ex-wife and, instead, screams repeatedly at her. This is the entire sum of their communication throughout the series: he shows up at her house screaming and demanding to see the kids. He pushes his way into the house, demands they do exactly what he says immediately and repeatedly refers to the child as his possession. Somehow, we’re supposed to believe these are the actions of a good cop who loves his children and not of an abusive man continuing to abuse both the ex-partner and child after the end of the relationship – that stalking and harassment are the signs of a good partner and not a criminal act.

I would like to see a cop drama run this story line and the police officer get caught and sent to prison. Just once, I want a program to reflect the reality of male violence, stalking and harassment.

 

Peter Nunn is not an “Internet Troll”

UPDATE: Peter Nunn has been jailed for 18 weeks and has two restraining orders in place preventing him from contacting Caroline Criado-Perez and Stella Creazy. I am quite disappointed as I had hoped he would receive a longer jail sentence to reflect the severity of his crime. I also think we should institute immediate temporary restraining orders during the investigation and trial of harassment and stalking, which can be reviewed upon completion of the trial with mandatory extensions following conviction as Nunn continued to create twitter accounts to abuse Criado-Perez and Creazy following his arrest.

Criado-Perez has written a brief statement on Nunn’s sentencing here.

 

Peter Nunn is not an internet “troll”. He is a violent and abusive man who sent abusive messages and rape threats to multiple women, although his conviction today was only for his campaign against Caroline Criado-Perez and Stella Creazy. Nunn’s account was suspended by Twitter following his abuse of multiple women. He then set up multiple accounts continuing the abuse, many of which were also suspended.

Nunn’s tweets were not “jokes” – and any suggestion that sending rape threats and suggesting women in the public sphere deserve the abuse – is misogyny. Nunn is a misogynist. Those who defend his actions as “free speech” or the fault of his wife for “nagging” (as suggested on twitter today) or because he was “drunk” are perpetuating misogyny. Nunn is the ONLY person responsible for the crimes he committed – and sending threats of rape, physical violence or death to individuals is not protected by free speech (especially as we live in the UK where free speech isn’t a part of British law).

Nunn is just like every other abusive, controlling. misogynistic man. He thought he could say whatever he wanted to women without being held at all accountable for his actions. Just like every other man who commits violence against women and children: from those sharing the images of Jennifer Lawrence to men who commit domestic violence to those who think it’s acceptable to ‘catcall’ women in the streets.

Excusing Nunn or using words like “troll” to define his behaviour minimises the crime and the harm committed by Nunn. Trolls are pathetic little dickheads who think it’s funny to use demeaning language about women – Nunn was deliberately and maliciously causing harm by sending rape and death threats. He isn’t pathetic – he’s a dangerous man who deserves a custodial sentence.

We need to stop referring to men who send rape and death threats as trolls and start recognising them as the abusive dangerous men they are.

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.

Gaming

[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

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.

Gavin De Becker’s The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect us From Violence


The February Non-Fiction Mumsnet Feminist book club was Gavin De Becker’s The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect us from Violence. It isn’t an explicitly feminist text [and, obviously, not written by a woman] but I was so incensed by the absolute misogynistic twaddle being peddled as “romance” in Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife that I think the following information can not be stressed enough:

(T)here are many reliable pre-incident indicators associated with spousal violence and murder. They won’t all be present in every case, but if a situation has several of these signals, there is reason for concern:

1) The woman has intuitive feelings that she is at risk.

2) At the inception of the relationship, the man accelerated the pace, prematurely placing on the agenda such things as commitment, living together, and marriage.

3) He resolves conflict with intimidation, bullying, and violence.

4) He is verbally abusive.


5) He uses threats and intimidation as instruments of control or abuse. This includes threats to harm physically, to defame, to embarrass, to restrict freedom, to disclose secrets, to cut off support, to abandon, and to commit suicide.

6) He breaks or strikes things in anger. He uses symbolic violence (tearing a wedding photo, marring a face in a photo, etc.).

7) He has battered in prior relationships.

8) He uses alcohol or drugs with adverse affects (memory loss, hostility, cruelty).

9) He cites alcohol or drugs as an excuse or explanation for hostile or violent conduct (“That was the booze talking, not me; I got so drunk I was crazy”).

10) His history includes police encounters for behavioral offenses (threats, stalking, assault, battery).

11) There has been more than one incident of violent behavior (including vandalism, breaking things, throwing things).

12) He uses money to control the activities, purchases, and behavior of his wife/ partner.

13) He becomes jealous of anyone or anything that takes her time away from the relationship; he keeps her on a “tight leash,” requires her to account for her time.

14) He refuses to accept rejection.

15) He expects the relationship to go on forever, perhaps using phrases like “together for life,” “always,” “no matter what.”

16) He projects extreme emotions onto others (hate, love, jealousy, commitment) even when there is no evidence that would lead a reasonable person to perceive them.

17) He minimizes incidents of abuse.

18) He spends a disproportionate amount of time talking about his wife/ partner and derives much of his identity fiom being her husband, lover, etc.

19) He tries to enlist his wife’s friends or relatives in a campaign to keep or recover the relationship.

20) He has inappropriately surveilled or followed his wife/ partner.

21) He believes others are out to get him. He believes that those around his wife/partner dislike him and encourage her to leave.

22) He resists change and is described as inflexible, unwilling to compromise.

23) He identifies with or compares himself to violent people in films, news stories, fiction, or history He characterizes the violence of others as justified.

24) He suffers mood swings or is sullen, angry, or depressed.

25) He consistently blames others for problems of his own making; he refuses to take responsibility for the results of his actions.

26) He refers to weapons as instruments of power, control, or revenge.

27) Weapons are a substantial part of his persona; he has a gun or he talks about, jokes about, reads about, or collects weapons.

28) He uses “male privilege” as a justification for his conduct (treats her like a servant, makes all the big decisions, acts like the “master of the house”).

29) He experienced or witnessed violence as a child.

30) His wife/partner fears he will injure or kill her. She has discussed this with others or has made plans to be carried out in the event of her death (e.g., designating someone to care for children).

De Becker’s book is not without criticism particularly in its use of “choice” discourse in discussing intimate partner violence [IPV]. There are two clearly competing and conflicting theories: one in which women need to trust their instincts to prevent being victims and one in which women are being held responsible for being victims. He’s quite honest about his abusive father and I wonder how much of the second theory is [unconscious] unresolved anger at his own mother for not “protecting” him even though he [consciously] understands the pathology of IPV. However, the psychological IPV in The Paris Wife is so constant and insidious that the idea that it can be “romantic” is dangerous, destructive and the reason that Mumsnet has such a well-used Relationships board.