Online Sexual Harassment: On Processing Things You Shouldn’t Have To
TRIGGER WARNING - This article discusses rape and sexual harassment. I am a minor, so any mention I make to these things will be in the context of me being a legal child. Please do not read if those topics may cause you distress. Avoiding your triggers is not cowardly or shameful.
Tomorrow morning, I will wake up at about 8 am.
I will complain about this, because I will want more sleep. At about 10am, I will go for a job interview at a local museum and I will hope that the interviewer is nice enough to excuse any stuttering I might do. Afterwards, I will go into town and have a picnic; one of my friends just passed her driving test. We will sit in a park and laugh.
I will do all of these things because I’m 17, and because I am, as far as most things are concerned, overwhelmingly average.
But as I do these things tomorrow, I will inevitably remember what was said to me tonight.
I will wake up tomorrow and I will complain that I want more sleep. But then I will remember the Twitter account called @/sexameliarape and then I’ll force myself to get out of bed so I stop thinking about it. Perhaps, in my interview, I will be asked about the Formula 1 writing role that I put on my CV, and I will say that I love this sport, and that I love writing. But then I will remember how graphically they described what they wanted to do to me, and I will falter before carrying on. I will go out with my friends, and I laugh with them, it will be genuine. When they ask how I am, though, I will show them screenshots I can barely look at myself.
I’ll remember, then, that someone sat down after a Grand Prix and decided to dedicate a Twitter account to threatening to rape me.
Please know - I am alright. I will be alright. I am made of strong stuff when it comes to what people have to say about me; years of being laughed at for being loudmouthed and awkward gave me thick skin. But I will be upset. I will be angry. And I will probably listen more closely if I walk home alone in the afternoon.
I will check behind my shoulder and I will stick by a woman that looks trustworthy and I will know that somewhere, out there, someone wants to rape me, specifically.
Statistically, I am nowhere near this person. It is almost certain that I will never meet them in my life. I am rational enough to avoid unreasonable fear but this does not change the fact that there is someone out there who wants to do these things to me. I am unlikely to meet anyone who wants to hurt me, and my best friend is tall and fairly intimidating and could probably scare anyone off if she had to, but it remains that one day I might need her to.
People often say that this is the fault of the social media platform, that Twitter is to blame for this harassment. Of course, these sites can do so much more to protect people from targeted abuse. A lot of attention has been drawn this year to the reluctance of platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to crack down on racist abuse. They have a lot to answer for.
Something we must not forget, however, is that every one of these tweets is posted by a human being that thought those words and decided to put them on the internet. The fact that these tweets exist is not the fault of any algorithm or reporting system, but of prejudice itself. I didn’t receive those threats because of the type of site Twitter is, but because someone decided that they wanted to do those things to me. Those words are not just pixels - they are a genuine threat from someone.
That is what I have to process. That is the part that takes time. That is what I fear.
Part of the reason that I am relatively okay after this is that I’m devastatingly familiar with these scenarios.
On Boxing Day last year I opened my Twitter DM requests and someone had sent me screenshots from a group chat they’d been added to. There were multiple messages between men, where they discussed how they hoped I’d be raped by Nikita Mazepin. Multiple others in the group chat simply laughed and continued insulting me. A few months ago an account with a graphic account name put me in it’s display name and posted sexual tweets about having non-consensual sex with me, and other members of the F1 Twitter community. (I have had to refer back to a conversation with someone else to recount the details of that last story, because I have forgotten them. Perhaps my subconscious did that on purpose).
I am so remarkably used to sexual harassment, threats and bullying on Twitter. I am so unaffected by the things that people I do not know or follow say about me.
I am starting to realise that is not a good thing. My ability to process and forget the horrific things said to me is not just a testament to my resilience, but a sorry, sorry picture of how much those things have been said.
One of the most confusing things is how disproportionate these things are to the size of my account. I know that my follower count isn’t exactly reflective of how many people know of me, but I have plenty of friends that run more obvious ‘stan accounts’ with more followers than me, and I don’t feel that they receive the same messages as me in this quantity.
There are reasons for that I’m aware of, but it does force painful questions that I don’t have answers to. Why to me, why in this proportion? Should I have posted that tweet? Others were saying similar things but the bigots will always scrutinise me harder. Was that not professional enough? Did it not make it clear enough that I wasn’t implying a certain thing, or are they deliberately misinterpreting me?
What is it about my social media presence that demands strangers making graphic threats? Or say horrible, hurtful things? Or make Instagram posts of my tweets because they refuse to apply reading comprehension to something I’ve said? (It was about Alex Albon’s cats, of all things. I promise Horsey isn’t a reason to harass me)
I am not overwhelmingly good but I am also not overwhelmingly bad. Sometimes the criticism of me may be unfair but sometimes it may also be valid. Sometimes I might say something badly-worded, and it might get 300 quote tweets, and sometimes, I might write the most incredible article of my life and 15 people will read it.
These are all things that are true, and that I must accept. What I refuse to accept is that I should simply put up with what was said tonight.
So, tomorrow morning, I will wake up at about 8 am. I will go for my job interview and then I will go into town and have a picnic with my friends and I will exist as someone who is, at the end of it, just a teenage girl who is relatively normal.
As I do these things tomorrow, I will inevitably remember what was said to me tonight. I will know that someone said those things about me and that they wanted to go through with them.
Tomorrow, though, I will check Twitter, and I will see messages from people who love me and value my contribution to this online space. I will remember that there are drivers at the top of this sport determined to make Formula 1 a better place for people like me. I will remember that there are people who value me and want me to be safe. Tomorrow, someone will say my name and it will be with love, not with a threat.
Tomorrow, I will continue trying to make the world, and this sport, a better place.