Online Misogyny, Harassment and Hate Crimes

  • Anastasia Powell
  • Nicola Henry
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Cybercrime and Cybersecurity book series (PSCYBER)


Online sexual harassment is a persistent and pervasive problem that inhibits online equality and freedom. It includes offensive, humiliating or intimidating conduct that is unwanted or unwelcome and of a sexual nature. Given the more recent growth in digital technologies and the ways in which motivated individuals use those technologies as a tool of oppression and abuse, increasing media and scholarly attention has been given more recently to online sexual harassment, including unwanted sexual attention, gender-based hate speech, cyberstalking, image-based harassment and rape threats. This chapter explores the nature, extent and scope of online sexual harassment. We argue that the sheer nature and scope of online sexual harassment is strongly indicative of a broader pattern of gender inequality, misogyny and sex discrimination, and the persistent acceptance and tolerance of rape-supportive attitudes and beliefs. These behaviours are embedded in problematic gendered stereotypes that are in turn enacted and performed in online spaces. We thus argue that online sexual harassment is a manifestation of gender power relations and hegemonic masculine entitlement, constituting a form of social control and regulation that inhibits the exercise of digital citizenship, equality and freedom, and in turn serves to reinforce heterosexual and patriarchal norms.


Online Sexual Harassment Rape Threats Hate Speech Unwanted Sex Online Abuse 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Alexy, E. M., Burgess, A. W., Baker, T., & Smoyak, S. A. (2005). Perceptions of cyberstalking among college students. Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention, 5(3), 279–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arvey, R. D., & Cavanaugh, M. A. (1995). Using surveys to assess the prevalence of sexual harassment: Some methodological problems. Journal of Social Issues, 51(1), 39–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Australian Human Rights Commission. (2012). Working without fear: Results of the Sexual Harassment National Telephone Survey. Sydney: Australian Human Rights Commission.Google Scholar
  4. Ballard, M. E., & Welch, K. M. (2015). Virtual warfare cyberbullying and cyber-victimization in MMOG Play. Games and Culture. doi: 10.1177/1555412015592473.
  5. Barak, A. (2005). Sexual harassment on the Internet. Social Science Computer Review, 23(1), 77–92.Google Scholar
  6. Bartlett, J., Norrie, R., Patel, S. Rumpel, R., & Wibberley, S. (2014). Misogyny on Twitter. Demos. Retrieved from
  7. Bartow, A. (2009). Internet defamation as profit center: The monetization of online harassment. Harvard Journal of Law and Gender, 32(2), 383–429.Google Scholar
  8. Baumgartner, S. E., Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2010). Unwanted online sexual solicitation and risky sexual online behavior across the lifespan. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 31(6), 439–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bell, S. (2015, August 13). Police investigate ‘first cyber-flashing’ case. BBC News. Retrieved from
  10. Bennett, D. C., Guran, E. L., Ramos, M. C., & Margolin, G. (2011). College students’ electronic victimization in friendships and dating relationships: Anticipated distress and associations with risky behaviors. Violence and Victims, 26(4), 410–429.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Borrajo, E., Gámez-Guadix, M., & Calvete, E. (2015). Cyber dating abuse: Prevalence, context, and relationship with offline dating aggression. Psychological Reports, 116(2), 565–585.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bossler, A. M., Holt, T. J., & May, D. C. (2012). Predicting online harassment victimization among a juvenile population. Youth & Society, 44(4), 500–523.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Burke, S. C., Wallen, M., Vail-Smith, K., & Knox, D. (2011). Using technology to control intimate partners: An exploratory study of college undergraduates. Computers in Human Behavior, 27(3), 1162–1167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Butler, J. (2011). Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.Google Scholar
  15. Cavezza, C., & McEwan, T. E. (2014). Cyberstalking versus off-line stalking in a forensic sample. Psychology, Crime & Law, 20(10), 955–970.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Chess, S., & Shaw, A. (2015). A conspiracy of fishes, or, how we learned to stop worrying about #GamerGate and embrace hegemonic masculinity. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 59(1), 208–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Citron, D. K. (2009). Cyber civil rights. Boston University Law Review, 89(1), 61–125.Google Scholar
  18. Citron, D. K. (2014). Hate crimes in cyberspace. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Cole, K. K. (2015). ‘It’s like she’s eager to be verbally abused’: Twitter, trolls, and (en)gendering disciplinary rhetoric. Feminist Media Studies, 15(2), 356–358.Google Scholar
  20. Connell, R. W. (1987). Gender and power: Society, the person and sexual politics. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  21. Connell, R. W., & Messerschmidt, J. W. (2005). Hegemonic masculinity rethinking the concept. Gender & Society, 19(6), 829–859.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Cook, H. (2016, July 20). Brighton Grammar expels students who created vile Instagram account. The Age. Retrieved from
  23. Coyne, I., Chesney, T., Logan, B., & Madden, N. (2009). Griefing in a virtual community: An exploratory survey of second life residents. Journal of Psychology, 217(4), 214–221.Google Scholar
  24. Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford Law Review, 1241–1299.Google Scholar
  25. Darvell, M. J., Walsh, S. P., & White, K. M. (2011). Facebook tells me so: Applying the theory of planned behavior to understand partner-monitoring behavior on Facebook. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 14(12), 717–722.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. DeKeseredy, W. S., & Olsson, P. (2011). Adult pornography, male peer support, and violence against women: The contribution of the ‘dark side’ of the Internet. In M. Vargas Martin, M. Garcia-Ruiz, & A. Edwards (Eds.), Technology for facilitating humanity and combating social deviations: Interdisciplinary perspectives (pp. 34–50). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.Google Scholar
  27. Delgado, R. (1982). Words that wound: A tort action for racial insults, epithets, and name-calling. Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, 17(1), 133.Google Scholar
  28. Dreßing, H., Bailer, J., Anders, A., Wagner, H., & Gallas, C. (2014). Cyberstalking in a large sample of social network users: Prevalence, characteristics, and impact upon victims. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 17(2), 61–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Drouin, M., Ross, J., & Tobin, E. (2015). Sexting: A new digital vehicle for intimate partner aggression? Computers in Human Behavior, 50, 197–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Drouin, M., & Tobin, E. (2014). Unwanted but consensual sexting among young adults. Computers in Human Behavior, 31, 412–418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Duggan, M. (2014). Online harassment: Summary of findings. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from
  32. Elder, J. (2016, April 17). Psychologists and women ask why men send ‘dick pics.’ The Canberra Times. Retrieved from
  33. Ellison, N., Heino, R., & Gibbs, J. (2006). Managing impressions online: Self-presentation processes in the online dating environment. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(2), 415–441.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Englander, E. (2015). Coerced sexting and revenge porn among teens. Bullying, Teen Aggression & Social Media, 1(2), 19–21.Google Scholar
  35. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (2016). Facts about sexual harassment. Retrieved from
  36. Equality and Human Rights Commission. (2016). What is harassment? Equality and human rights commission. Retrieved from
  37. Esposito, B. (2016, April 16). Facebook is struggling to control groups of men sharing revenge porn. BuzzFeed. Retrieved from
  38. Finn, J. (2004). A survey of online harassment at a university campus. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 19(4), 468.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Fitzgerald, L. F. (1996). Sexual harassment: The definition and measurement of a construct. Ivory Power: Sexual Harassment on Campus, 21(22), 24–30.Google Scholar
  40. Fox, J., & Tang, W. Y. (2014). Sexism in online video games: The role of conformity to masculine norms and social dominance orientation. Computers in Human Behavior, 33, 314–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Fox, J., & Tang, W. Y. (2016). Women’s experiences with general and sexual harassment in online video games: Rumination, organizational responsiveness, withdrawal, and coping strategies. New Media & Society. doi: 10.1177/1461444816635778.
  42. Franke, K. M. (1997). What’s wrong with sexual harassment? Stanford Law Review, 49(4), 691–772.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Franks, M. A. (2012). Sexual harassment 2.0. Maryland Law Review, 71(3), 655–704.Google Scholar
  44. Gámez-Guadix, M., Almendros, C., Borrajo, E., & Calvete, E. (2015). Prevalence and association of sexting and online sexual victimization among Spanish adults. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 12(2), 145–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Gleeson H. (2016, July 9). Why do men send unsolicited dick pics? ABC News. Retrieved from
  46. Goodson, P., McCormick, D., & Evans, A. (2001). Searching for sexually explicit materials on the Internet: An exploratory study of college students’ behavior and attitudes. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 30(2), 101–118.Google Scholar
  47. Gray, K. L. (2012). Intersecting oppressions and online communities: Examining the experiences of women of colour in Xbox live. Information, Communication & Society, 15(3), 411–428.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Green, M., Bobrowicz, A., & Ang, C. S. (2015). The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community online: Discussions of bullying and self-disclosure in YouTube videos. Behaviour & Information Technology, 34(7), 704–712.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Heberele, R., & Grace, V. (2009). Theorizing sexual violence. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.Google Scholar
  50. Heise, L. L. (1998). Violence against women an integrated, ecological framework. Violence Against Women, 4(3), 262–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Henry, N. (2016). Theorizing wartime rape: Deconstructing gender, sexuality, and violence. Gender & Society, 30(1), 44–56.Google Scholar
  52. Henry, N., & Powell, A. (2016a). Sexual violence in the digital age: The scope and limits of criminal law. Social & Legal Studies, 25(4), 397–418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Henry, N., & Powell, A. (2016b). Technology-facilitated sexual violence: A literature review of empirical research. Trauma, Violence, and Abuse. doi: 10.1177/1524838016650189.
  54. Heron, M., Belford, P., & Goker, A. (2014). Sexism in the circuitry: Female participation in male-dominated popular computer culture. ACM SIGCAS Computers and Society, 44(4), 18–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Jane, E. A. (2015). Flaming? What flaming? The pitfalls and potentials of researching online hostility. Ethics and Information Technology, 17(1), 65–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Jane, E. (2016). Online misogyny and feminist digilantism. Continuum, 30(3), 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Khazan, O. (2014, October 27). The rise of the feminist tinder-creep busting web vigilante. The Atlantic. Retrieved from
  58. Kuznekoff, J. H., & Rose, L. M. (2013). Communication in multiplayer gaming: Examining player responses to gender cues. New Media & Society, 15(4), 541–556.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Lea, M., O’Shea, T., Fung, P., & Spears, R. (1992). ‘Flaming’ in computer-mediated communication: Observations, explanations, implications. Harvester: Wheatsheaf.Google Scholar
  60. Lindsay, M., Booth, J. M., Messing, J. T., & Thaller, J. (2015). Experiences of online harassment among emerging adults emotional reactions and the mediating role of fear. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. doi: 10.1177/0886260515584344.
  61. Lindsay, M., & Krysik, J. (2012). Online harassment among college students: A replication incorporating new Internet trends. Information, Communication & Society, 15(5), 703–719.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. MacKinnon, R. (1997). Virtual rape. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 2(4). Retrieved from
  63. Mantilla, K. (2015). How mysogny went viral. Santa Barbara: Praeger Press.Google Scholar
  64. Massanari, A. (2015). #Gamergate and the Fappening: How Reddit’s algorithm, governance, and culture support toxic technocultures. New Media & Society. doi: 10.1177/1461444815608807.
  65. Masters, S. (2013, July 29). Twitter threats: Man arrested over rape-threat tweets against campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez. Independent. Retrieved from
  66. McDonald, P. (2012). Workplace sexual harassment 30 years on: A review of the literature. International Journal of Management Reviews, 14(1), 1–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. McKenzie-Murray, M. (2014, November 8). Web of abuse grows as online bullies spread malice. The Saturday Paper. Retrieved from
  68. Meachim, L., & Agius, K. (2016, July 29). Blokes advice: Facebook refuses to remove group despite members threats’ against women. ABC News. Retrieved from
  69. Megarry, J. (2014). Online incivility or sexual harassment? Conceptualising women’s experiences in the digital age. Women’s Studies International Forum, 47, 44–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Meyer, R., & Cukier, M. (2006). Assessing the attack threat due to IRC channels. Proceedings of the International Conference on Dependable Systems and Networks, 2006. Google Scholar
  71. Mitchell, K., Ybarra, M., & Korchmaros, J. (2014). Sexual harassment among adolescents of different sexual orientations and gender identities. Child Abuse and Neglect, 38(2), 280–295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Morahan-Martin, J. (2000). Women and the Internet: Promise and perils. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 3(5), 683–691.Google Scholar
  73. Norton. (2016a). Norton study shows online harassment nears epidemic proportions for young Australian women. Retrieved from
  74. Norton. (2016b). Is online harassment nearing epidemic proportions for young New Zealand women? Google Scholar
  75. Nussbaum, M. C. (2010). Objectification and Internet misogyny. In S. Levmore & M. C. Nussbaum (Eds.), The offensive Internet: Speech, privacy, and reputation (pp. 68–90). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  76. Oppenheim, M. (2016, March 22). Indian acress Jyothi Krishna hits back after photoshopped pornograpic photo goes viral. Independent. Retrieved from
  77. Parkin, S. (2014, October 17). Gamergate: A scandal erupts in the video-game community. The New Yorker. Retrieved from
  78. Patchin, J. W., & Hinduja, S. (2010). Traditional and nontraditional bullying among youth: A test of general strain theory. Youth & Society, 43(2), 727–751.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Powell, A., & Henry, N. (2016a). Policing technology-facilitated sexual violence against adult victims: Police and service sector perspectives. Policing & Society. doi: 10.1080/10439463.2016.1154964.
  80. Powell, A., & Henry, N. (2016b). Technology-facilitated sexual violence victimization: Results from an online survey of Australian adults. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. doi: 10.1177/0886260516672055.
  81. Reyns, B. W., Henson, B., & Fisher, B. S. (2012). Stalking in the twilight zone: Extent of cyberstalking victimization and offending among college students. Deviant Behavior, 33(1), 1–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Sarkeesian, A. (2012, July 1). Image based harassment and visual misogyny. Feminist Frequency. Retrieved from
  83. Sheridan, L. P., & Grant, T. (2007). Is cyberstalking different? Psychology Crime & Law, 13(6), 627–640.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Smith, A. (2016, February 11). 15% of American adults have used online dating sites of mobile dating apps. Report. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from
  85. Spitzberg, B., & Hoobler, G. (2002). Cyberstalking and technologies of interpersonal terrorism. New Media & Society, 4(1), 71–92.Google Scholar
  86. Staude-Müller, F., Hansen, B., & Voss, M. (2012). How stressful is online victimisation? Effects of victim’s personality and properties of the incident. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 9(2), 260–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Tennant, J. E., Demaray, K., Coyle, S., & Malecki, C. (2015). The dangers of the web cybervictimization, depression, and social support in college students. Computers in Human Behavior, 50, 348–357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Thompson, L. (2016, February 3). #Dickpics are no joke: Cyber-flashing, misogyny and online dating. The Conversation. Retrieved from
  89. Thompson, M. P., & Morrison, D. J. (2013). Prospective predictors of technology-based sexual coercion by college males. Psychology of Violence, 3(3), 233–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Timmerman, G., & Bajema, C. (1999). Incidence and methodology in sexual harassment research in northwest Europe. Women’s Studies International Forum, 22(6), 673–681.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Tokunaga, R. S., & Aune, K. S. (2015). Cyber-defense: A taxonomy of tactics for managing cyberstalking. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. doi: 10.1177/0886260515589564.
  92. Trades Union Congress (TUC). (2016). Still just a bit of banter? Sexual harassment report. Report. Trades Union Congress. Retrieved from
  93. Tran, C. (2016, July 24). ‘My brother and mates gangbanged her…she cried, I won’: Outrage at shocking Facebook group where men share explicit photos and stories about women. Daily Mail. Retrieved from
  94. Vitis, L., & Gilmour, F. (2016). Dick pics on blast: A woman’s resistance to online sexual harassment using humour, art and Instagram. Crime, Media, Culture. doi: 10.1177/1741659016652445.
  95. Waldron, J. (2012). The harm in hate speech. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Walker, C. (2015). An analysis of cyberbullying among sexual minority university students. Journal of Higher Education Theory and Practice, 15(7), 44–50.Google Scholar
  97. Weston-Scheuber, K. (2012). Gender and the prohibition of hate speech. QUT Law & Justice Journal, 12(2), 132–150.Google Scholar
  98. Woodlock, D. (2016). The abuse of technology in domestic violence and stalking. Violence Against Women. doi: 10.1177/1077801216646277.
  99. Ybarra, M. L., Espelage, D. L., & Mitchell, K. J. (2007). The co-occurrence of Internet harassment and unwanted sexual solicitation victimization and perpetration: Associations with psychosocial indicators. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41(6), S31–S41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  100. Ybarra, M., & Mitchell, K. (2015). A national study of lesbian, gay, bisexual (LGB), and non-lgb youth sexual behaviour online and in-person. Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 45(6), 1375–1372.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anastasia Powell
    • 1
  • Nicola Henry
    • 2
  1. 1.Justice and Legal StudiesRMIT UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Global ResearchRMIT UniversityMelbourneAustralia

Personalised recommendations