‘Just ignore them; they are only joking.’
‘Boys will be boys.’
Countless times women have been targets of trolling, whether online, in person or catcalled by a random passerby. Solution? Ignore?! And the odds that you are asked to do the same are high.
Where the internet is expected to be positively progressive, we’ve unlocked a hideous version of it, online harassment.
There has been a rapid increase in cases reported overall, after the much anticipated #Metoo movement. Including those of online harassment.
It is safe to say that this form of harassment is brushed under the rug for the longest time when after multiple cases, authorities still didn’t take it seriously as there was no physical harm to the victim.
Numerous countries play their part in creating awareness for cyberbullying; some still struggle to address the issue in an orderly manner.
While both genders have been under the radar of cyberbullies, cases for women lead the poll
A statistical report by Pew Research Centre stated that 53% of women from age 18-29 had received explicit images without permission.
Women may have acknowledged this type of harassment, but they still lack the proper know-how to deal with it and protect themselves from the predators.
With that, this guide’s sole purpose is not only to enlighten women on ways to protect themselves online but also to give a brief memo on how to contain harassment while working remotely. Along with a little knowledge of how the law works in extreme situations. (We hope it does not come to that).
It’s better to be safe and prepared than sorry.
Disclaimer: In times where every activity has shifted online, we encourage you to protect your data and identity from being illegally sold or scammed. Secure yourself with a VPN now!
Harassment in Remote Working Conditions
COVID’19 has called for big corporations to disperse their employees in remote working conditions immediately.
Despite the changes in work environments, harassment has remained constant. The mode might have changed from workplace harassment to online harassment in remote working conditions.
While the index for sexual misconduct at the place of employment has decreased, it links to the rising numbers in unemployment. Or because a sparse number of jobs due to the pandemic has created an aura of fear amongst female employees. Fear of retaliation or losing their job is preventing them from reporting any misconduct while working remotely.
But it can also be justified by the lack of physical human contact amongst employees, resulting in almost no physical-sexual misconduct.
Despite the relief of working from home, predators manage to seep through and misuse the tools required to work remotely, including emails, instant messaging applications, and video conferencing.
These applications manage to give a glimpse of a person’s personal life. Images, clothing of choice, or the events happening behind during a video conference, can be a subject of discrimination and harassment.
You need to be vigilant when encountering harassment while under remote working conditions to identify and deal with it accordingly.
Types of Workplace Harassment
While physical and verbal abuse is typically apparent, women tend to overlook other harassment types camouflaged under jokes and funny comments, leaving the person pretty uncomfortable or self-conscious. These types classify under the following headings;
Personal Harassments are where a person encounters offensive jokes, crude remarks, personal humiliation, and comments that create a hostile work environment.
It can occur during a video conference, where you are exposing your home life to your co-workers. While it is normal for others, some might try to comment on your lifestyle, home life, etc.
While many of us know how to handle it, this can become a sticky situation for those who have a hard time letting their guard down.
Psychological harassment is close to messing with the victim’s mind by creating a negative impact on their account, either by targeting them personally or creating gossip or rumors that are false and would pose a threat to the victim’s mental well-being.
These can come in the form of sarcastic comments and deter one’s work or the person. Employs are encouraged to get a thick skin and ignore such remarks, but it only promotes a toxic work environment.
These things tend to increase while working remotely, precisely due to a significant communication gap building up with each passing day. A difference in tone during emails and misunderstood skype messages is enough to create an awkward situation due to an absolute misunderstanding.
All these things become a cause of stress and anxiety. And if you feel this way when you receive an email from your boss or your co-worker, it is a significant sign that the person is taking a toll on your mental health, which might have lasting effects and deteriorate your work quality.
Sexual harassment doesn’t always have to be about specific sexual encounters. It’s more about control and power. From sharing sexual and pornographic images to, joking about someone’s sexuality or objectifying their body through explicit messages and emails.
It’s at times mistook as sexual attraction, but it’s not. Not if it makes you uneasy and disturbed. Unwanted sexual advances are inappropriate, let alone occurring at your workplace.
Your personal choices (or not) held against you based on the difference of opinion are called discrimination.
Being verbally abusive about it, or creating problems for your colleague or employee based on these characteristics would be highly unethical and be labeled as harassment.
Anne* is a graphic designer by profession and graduated less than a year ago. She classifies her experience at her current workplace as torturous. And due to the pandemic, the remote working conditions have only made it worse.
Verbal intimidation and passing sarcastic comments were a norm for her head, despite Anne’s visible discomfort. Yet she tries not to let that get under her skin and ignores most of it as she needs the job now more than ever.
Her working conditions deteriorate as she encounters a daily dose of, “You don’t know anything” and “You can’t do anything.” From altering her final designs for hours only to approve the one, she made initially, making her work with a screen sharing app, monitoring her every move as it happens.
All this creates a sense of fear, intimidation, and the feeling of not being appreciated for her hard work and creativity that she puts in her final designs. And the recent slash in her monthly income has further disheartened her, as her workload increases daily.
Sadly, she is stuck in this toxic remote working environment while she looks for another job, but due to COVID, her options are minimal.
What Anne experienced is a form of power harassment. Power Harassment is exercising your power by bullying staff who work under you in the workplace hierarchy. It can range from verbal to physical violence or elaborately intimidating your subordinates.
Misuse of authority occurs when an employer demands work that an employee is not skilled enough to do or makes them do the impossible while holding their job at stake just because they can do so.
Not only that, interference in the employee’s life and personal decisions also classify under this.
Although in economic distress, companies are still hiring rapidly to meet the customer’s demands in the field of shipping and deliveries, grocery stores, and online education.
It can become fertile grounds for behavioral misconduct. It can occur during your interview or after the company hires you.
To increase the workforce and get rid of the backlog, companies can hire without thorough investigations and background checks. Or start without a proper introduction to company policies and code of conduct. Leaving room for misconduct.
But despite the decrease in reporting cases, companies should re-evaluate their policies and structure them around recent global changes. Preventing any mishaps and ensuring the employees’ safety and privacy.
Despite being in need, you must conduct a background check on the company that is hiring you. A platform like Glassdoor has an accurate rating system with anonymous reviews of thousands of employees, providing an authentic insight into the company and their work ethics.
Living in lockdown during a pandemic is already an extremely stressful task, topping it off with working full-time AND managing household chores. These living situations are proving to be a mental strain for some.
While harassment in this situation is adding fuel to the fire, it is preventable.
There are many sets of rules that can be applied and followed, which will help counter harassment of all sorts.
First, companies need to re-evaluate their code of conduct and policies to accommodate their employees during COVID’19 and remote working. Since it’s here and will stay for quite some time, we might adapt ourselves accordingly.
The renewal of these policies should occur while being considerate of all the employees and their home conditions. Leaving no room for any discrimination amongst them. Like some employees may live on their own, some may have families living with them, making the situation slightly different for them in terms of privacy.
It should also cover the kind of behavior that is encouraged amongst colleagues, and cover the base on all types of harassment, While stating effective ways to report them positively from the company’s end.
The first thing you should do is report it to the HR department. A formally filed complaint will help you get the justice you deserve, document everything, and present a proper case. Do not wait for the abuse to escalate.
If your company fails to assist you, you can file a case as federal law offers protection against harassment at work, which may cause disturbance and a hostile work environment.
A generalized yet straightforward dress code should be the norm for video conferencing with the team or other employees. To create a sense of formality in the meeting, making no room for any casual comments passed around on anyone’s visual appearance.
The Rules revolving around communication modes, i.e., Emails, Video Meetings, Screen sharing, and instant messaging, should emerge.
While the idea to record a one-on-one video-meeting is still being tossed around the table, if you do it with consent and as per your company’s guideline, it is possible. Or try to include your colleagues and turn it into a group chat, preventing the harasser from acting.
Block the potential harasser when office hours are over, and on weekends, it is essential to not engage in any conversation outside of working hours.
Share your experience with a friend or fellow you can confide in and trust. It will help your mental state and keep you focused while at work.
Having good friends and a reliable support system while working in an organization is necessary. Not only for your peace of mind but during times like these where your safety and privacy is at risk.
Often in cases, victims confide in their co-workers, now it is your job to hear them out when they reach out to you.
It takes a lot of courage for a victim to come out, support them on their bravery, and stand by their side. Listen to their side of the story and act accordingly. Do not victim blame. Call out the wrongdoer and be vocal about it. Your actions may encourage others to come forward with their own stories of being harassed within the organizations.
Be a witness and document all the events taking place in front of you or the ones your friend shares; they may not be in the right state of mind to remember the details, so take responsibility for that. These documentations will help your friend in her case once reported to HR.
Harassment on Social Media
Social Media has had the highest cases reported for Online Harassment. It’s more related to the fact that people spend almost all their time here. And the privilege of being anonymous whenever you want might have been abused by millions of people out there.
To prevent this from happening to you, we have curated a way for you to protect yourself and your online identity on major social media platforms; and handle it.
Some of the most common tips given to women to protect herself from online bullying are;
Never give your harasser the satisfaction by responding in any manner. They are usually anticipating one, and it would just drown you in a pool of abuses and threats once the conversation begins.
By not responding, you keep yourself safe from any further problems and prevent the situation from escalating.
Always handle the situation with a mature approach, which requires minimum effort and damage to the overall condition.
It should always be your best interest to protect yourself at all times, without being intimidated by the abuser. No clarification is necessary, nor any equally disturbing response. The idea is to raise yourself above this, rather than go on the same level as the harasser. Revenge is never the best way for this.
Keep a Record!
It has to be the most crucial tip ever! We can’t stress more on how important it is to keep track of every encounter you have had of an abuser proving to be a threat to you and your well-being.
It is natural for a woman to delete any link or message that the harasser sends for her sanity and keep her profile or account’ clean.’ But it is vital to keep a copy of whatever you have received, either as a printout or a screenshot.
All this saved data would help you report the person to the right authorities. It would increase your credibility and word against the abuser. And this data might even protect other victims who might come under the abuser’s attack in the mere future.
When we talk about reporting, there are two methods to do so;
The first is reporting online. Whatever social media platform the abuser uses, go through the security features, and report any content or message you received and the abuser’s profile.
It may not seem to be an immediate solution, but on a broader aspect, you are playing your part in deterring cyber-attacks from happening to anyone in the future.
Secondly, if the attacks have taken an extreme turn, start gathering all the evidence and report them to the law enforcement authorities. These proofs make your case strong, but the police will also consider your word against the abuser and will take action to stop him.
The abuser might be enlisted as an offender and have a record with the police, bringing him under their radar.
Blocking the user out is another crucial thing to do. You are in no way obliged to be treated like this. Be confident and shut the door on all the toxicity and negativity that comes your way.
Your mental health and peace should always be your priority. This step would give you the satisfaction you need to move ahead with your life without disruptions.
Online abuse is as real as the one done in-person; it will take a toll on one’s mental and physical health. It usually happens when the person has no way of dealing with it or is dealing with this all by themselves.
At an hour like this, it is okay to be afraid and want solace. The best therapy for that is to reach out to your friends or family that you can talk to and share your experience. Be open and vent out all that you were holding back. You’ll be surprised to find yourself at ease.
This encounter will help you get the best support and advice on dealing with the situation with your well-wishers by your side.
Women are told to ‘be careful’ with what they share and post online. Even the most basic picture can be taken as a ‘provocative’ one by strangers and used against them.
I had a similar encounter while using Facebook. Despite taking all the necessary security measures on Facebook and restricting my friend list to only those I had personally met and knew, an intruder still managed to peak through and get hold of my pictures from my profile.
The pictures were not explicit, and they were taken during a college event while I was still in my uniform. Nothing provocative, not that it matters anyway.
A new account was made in my name, where edited fake explicit images were posted. The abuser threatened me to either have a video chat with him; or have the phony profile made public to my friends and family. I refused and went on reporting all the made-up profiles.
Even after doing a thorough sweep of his profile, I had no idea who he was, what he wanted, and how he got my images. I later found out that the photos he had gotten hold off were not entirely restricted to my account. I had tagged a friend in those pictures, and that friend was pretty careless in managing her privacy.
It was long after I had changed all my passwords and reviewed my privacy for the umpteenth time while having bouts of panic and anxiety attacks and having no one by my side to deal with it.
This event disrupted not only my day to day activities but also mental health. Blocking and reporting the accounts was my only way to end this. And I did after the harasser felt entitled enough to warn me that “I shouldn’t post my images online.”
It did put an end to it, but this event scared me for life. And I ended up deactivating my account permanently. It’s been a year or so to this event, and I have never felt the need to return. I feel safe and much mentally stable without it.
Despite the trauma, I consider myself lucky that the event didn’t escalate outside the internet, and died down as soon as I hit the block. But for some, this might just trigger the abuser more.
Online abuse does not have to be huge to create a lasting impact. Even the slightest thing can trigger or scar a person.
It is necessary to keep your account clean of all the abusers and harassers, while continually updating your privacy, as Facebook comes up with new rules and policies quite often.
How to block and report someone on Facebook?
When coming across strangers online, the best way to get them out of your account is to Block
And Report them.
The following are the instructions shown on how to block someone from messaging you on Facebook.
And in times when only blocking the person out is not the solution, you can also report the conversation to Facebook using this method.
How to adjust your Facebook privacy settings?
Your Facebook privacy is entirely under your control, letting you choose according to your preference. Besides your profile picture thumbnail and your cover photo, any information you post restricts you and your friend list.
To activate this setting, you would have to follow the steps mentioned below.
Add unwanted ‘Friends’ in a Restricted List
Facebook gives you the option to narrow down your friend list further. Whether it’s an old relative, you don’t get along with an office colleague, with whom you didn’t want to be rude.
You are entitled to your privacy. Whatever you choose to post online and with whom you want to share. For this sole purpose, Facebook curated an option to restrict anyone you don’t wish to have full access to your posts and pictures.
These profiles will have limited access, and you won’t have to worry about what you share online based on your friend list.
Twitter is one of the biggest social media platforms, from breaking news to political havoc, and all the news and debates happen here.
You can find all the High-profile politicians, journalists, actors, human-rights activists, and many more, in addition to those who are here just to enlighten themselves with topics trending globally using their feature of a hashtag.
Despite being popular amongst our society’s cream, Twitter has come under fire for having online harassment cases against women who chose to express themselves and their views freely.
It is the company’s responsibility to deal with complaints like these. Yet, the only solutions provided are to limit your posts, reduce information posted online, post anonymously, or just wrap everything up and leave the platform once and for all.
Women worldwide are working hard to create empowerment, but the world wants to keep them bound in the culture of silence. And little to nothing is being done about that.
Since twitter is a public platform, the following are rules that might help you stay secure from any potential hacker or harasser.
It might negate the whole point of having a twitter account where it is supposed to be public by default, but if you are a professional, it is encouraged that you maintain two sets of accounts. One should be public; the other one strictly private.
While the default account setting for Twitter is public, you need to explicitly opt-out for your profile, which needs to be highly secure.
You need to ‘protect’ your tweets and responses where only followers you allow can see them. Which pretty much loses the actual essence of this platform.
Apart from this, you need to be careful about your online activity on your public account. You might not want to post anything that could reveal your location or personal information and be better off being categorized as an anonymous profile.
How to Block and Report someone on Twitter?
Just like Facebook, Twitter, too, gives an option to either block or report an account. Besides that, you can also report the tweet or any DM a person manages to send you, ensuring its quick removal from the platform..
Following are ways you can;
Block an account; by doing so, you have ceased this account from having any kind of contact with you. They can’t follow you nor see anything related to you and your profile, including your tweets.
Report an account that is being abusive and can be a cause of probable harm.
Report a tweet that is offensive and does not sit well with the community standards.
Report a DM that contains derogatory terms and is disturbing for you.
Some of us may not be aware of this terminology but would be pretty familiar with it once mentioned. Doxing is when any user’s personal information and the location are posted online by harassers and hackers for public abuse.
It can be dangerous and life-threatening. One has to be extremely careful in this situation.
To know how you are safe from this;
Search Yourself Online
By Googling yourself, you will get to know what kind of information has been posted online related to your name and is any of your private data visible for online viewing or not.
Necessary information like your social media accounts and profiles on professional portals would be visible, which is normal. Anything apart from that would be considered a privacy breach and needs reporting.
These websites run your email through their database and notify you if your information is at risk of being used illegally. Apart from that, they also provide information on the data breaches that have happened over the years on sites worldwide.
Use a VPN
VPN or a virtual private network is a software that helps keep your online activity anonymous by hiding your IP address.
Anything you do online would be completely secure, and all your information would be away from hackers and abusers. Even your location is hidden with the help of this software. We recommend the use of PureVPN for your online activities.
Avoid clicking on any sort of suspicious or shortened URLs on Twitter. These can usually turn out to be malicious and can corrupt your software. Or a virus that can break in and take all your personal information stored in your history or web pages ranges from account details, passwords, and location.
Instagram is a popular photo-sharing application that emerged in 2010, since then, it has become a popular forum for sharing photos, and stories of your daily activities.
While Instagram is the most popular social media, an open profile means having to tolerate trolls, body shammers, and harassers, which is problematic. It would make you think why people are so negative, and why would they want to hurt someone intentionally.
While there were personal accounts where users had to leave the platform when things got extremely intense and dangerous, and Instagram’s policies did little for them.
But the case may be different for them, what didn’t work for them might work for you and help you, by this;
How do you block and restrict someone on Instagram?
The following is a guide on how you can block and restrict someone from Instagram.
If blocking seems to be an extreme move for you, you can restrict the person’s activity on your account.
How to report someone on Instagram?
How to report a DM on Instagram?
Report any offensive message that you find inappropriate.
How to Protect yourself while using Online Dating Apps?
Online Dating is a tricky game. It is a hit or miss situation in most cases. While 30% of US adults who use the app had a positive encounter, 12% of them have even gotten married to the person they met through these apps, but what about the rest?
There are numerous cases where young women have reported being harassed by the other party.
While the ‘Hook-up culture’ may be a new and trendy thing, making sure it is 100% consensual, and the outcome doesn’t lead to a negative one is also very important.
Take it slow
Take the time to get to know each other on the app. Be open about your boundaries and don’t rush into things if you are not ready, likewise try to understand if the other person is taking time to open up.
It may not be a red flag, and the person may be shy or protective about themselves. Or they may have doubts of their own about you that they want to get rid of before taking it to the next level.
Trust your instincts here. It might work out, and it might not.
Keep your phone protected
Since the base of these communications begins from an app in your phone, and the encounters after that. It is not uncommon for your phone to get hacked.
It is essential not to use your personal information, number, and location for these applications.
Make sure all your accounts and folders containing your intimate images are password protected with a two-way verification.
Evaluate the other person
Always be vigilant when you’re starting a conversation with a new person. Carefully assess all his actions and check for any red flags.
If you come across something fishy, i.e., him not showing his face, asking for explicit images, etc. walk out immediately and report the person for suspicious activity.
Do all kinds of background checks on this individual, ensuring that they are an actual person and are not catfishing you with a fake identity.
Run his name through online portals to assure he is not a registered sex offender or a fraud.
Avoid things you are not comfortable around
When agreeing on things, make sure that you are on the same page. Set your limits and boundaries, and share it with your date.
Be vocal about what sits well with you and what doesn’t. Don’t do things that you will later regret. Don’t share images if you are not comfortable.
Do not sext if you don’t like to. No one can force you to do that, and you need to be aware of this fact.
Legal aid is usually the last resort when harassment reaches new heights, and hard to deal with on its own.Harassments become threats, and threats become an attempt to harm physically; that is where the authorities need to step in, and you should report the incident.
Your priority should be to research and study the law. Figure out the kind of harassment you are going through and consider your state law. Find out where your case lies and with the right evidence report and file a lawsuit.
Get a restraining order against the abuser for the time being, while you prepare a case against them. It will ensure your safety and will be a plus with your case when presented in court.
Everyone talks about harassment and ways to deal with it online, how to protect yourself from it. While some may not be bothered and are good at ignoring, others may be severely affected.
Despite being virtual, the effects can be severe on one’s health and could cause significant mental illness or, worse, suicide.
It is not just about receiving messages and comments online; it’s about your safety, family, reputation, and personality; you have spent all your life building. The concept of ‘honor’ in the society, and the fear that someone is out there to tarnish it all.
While this may be exhausting, it is crucial to stand up to all this. And empower yourself to put this all behind you and continue your life with the same enthusiasm.
It may seem like a chore, but closure is necessary. You need all the support you can get to cope up with this.
Having a reliable support system is necessary. You can get that in the form of family, friends, or through support groups like HeartMob, that are out there to ensure that you have someone to talk to if family and friends aren’t an option.
Isolating yourself is never the option, nor is self-torment. Take care of your physical well-being; a filled stomach will help you make rational decisions.
Seek proper medical guidance if you feel the need for professional help, there is no harm in visiting the therapist.
Evaluate your situation wisely, and classify if your harasser is a severe threat or not. If yes, report them to the right authorities with all the evidence. If not, pure indifference will do the deed and drive your harasser away.
In The End
Harassment can be a very consuming thing and can strain a personality easily. But not for once should a person feel that it is their fault, and they brought this upon themselves.
Being trolled is never the victim’s fault. It is a result of widespread misconceptions about freedom of speech. People find it okay to express their hatred and jealousy from behind the screen, and it is easy for them, as we lack the proper system where people should be held accountable for all the mental and physical strain they put on a person’s health.
Hopefully, this guide helped you with information that you can use to protect yourself online and help others.
*names have been changed to maintain anonymity.