Clementine Ford: There's A Reason I Take My Vilest Troll Attacks Public


“Go and get gang raped ya f**king dumb slut. Soldiers fought in the war for us to live in this mad f**king country and c**ts like you deserve to head-butt a knife will get raped and watch the whole family die you dirty dog.”

The message had been sent late on a Sunday night, well past the bedtime of the adolescent boy who appeared to have sent it. Its content wasn’t exactly new territory for me. Sadly, I’ve been sent a lot worse. But I did what I sometimes do when messages of this kind make their way to my email or DMs -- I took a screenshot and shared it on all my social media accounts.

Roughly six hours later, the boy had written again to apologise. Perhaps he hadn’t enjoyed having strangers bombard him with abusive messages. Few people do, funnily enough.

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I’ve been naming and shaming online abusers for a long time, yet it still comes as a shock to some people when they find their messages and public comments broadcast to an audience much larger than they anticipated. All that courage that rushes through them as they take to their computers and phones to tell me (as one man did today) that I am an “ugly buck tooth coin slot” who looks like “Nigel Thornbury (sic) from my all-time favourite television show rug rats” (OK, that’s funny) immediately dissipates the moment their words move from being private to public.

Stranger, though, is the response some members of the public have to women who name and shame the men who abuse us online. I’m often told that my choice to platform the violent messages I receive is “just as bad, if not worse” than the men who’ve chosen to send me screeds describing how I should be raped, mutilated, killed or even just defiled in some way.

Popular methods include a d**k shoved between the gap in my teeth (haha, great joke, guys!) or for me to be drenched in semen. Someone once commented on a photo of me smiling, saying, “I’d love to take a s**t in that mouth”. Simple and to the point.

"Well, Clementine,” the naysayers write. “I’m not saying that what this guy’s said is OK. But aren’t you just as bad as him, if not worse, because you’re sharing what was meant to be a private message? Don’t you have more power in this situation? Why are you doxxing him?????”

‘Doxxing’ is internet slang for releasing private information about individuals in order to mobilise harassment against them (literally, releasing documents or ‘docs’). It’s typically used to target activists, most of them women, whose work upsets the kind of people who think rape and death threats should be a form of protected free speech. Feminists like Anita Sarkeesian and Jessica Valenti are just two women who’ve been forced to leave their homes in recent years after their residential addresses were deliberately shared online.

A prominent anti-feminist has tried to do the same to me, telling members of his admin group that the best way to stop me is to make me believe my family is in danger. (For the record, none of the possible addresses he listed were mine, but the inaccuracy still puts other people in danger.)

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Doxxing is NOT screenshotting a violent comment made privately (and sometimes publicly!) and then sharing it for the world to see. That’s called ‘forcing accountability’.

It’s a function of sexism to shield men, both young and old, from the consequences of their words and actions. Very few people seem to have a problem with forcing shame on the young women whose nude photographs are stolen and shared without their permission. When this happens, it’s the girls who are obnoxiously slut-shamed, told they should have known better and instructed to modify their online behaviour. The boys who’ve exploited and violated them are defended as having behaved in accordance with their gender. What else do we expect? Boys will be boys.

But boys who use their online presence to send explicit rape and death threats to women, or to just bombard with a tirade of misogynist abuse, are rarely expected to be accountable for their choices. Once again, they’re defended as having just ‘made a mistake’. Exposing their behaviour is seen as an attack against them -- just another way to ruin the names and lives of otherwise ‘good men’.

Women are constantly directed to ‘just relax’ about the violent, putrid language used to diminish and frighten us. Stop getting so upset by words! He obviously didn’t mean it! It’s just a joke!

Listen. Women are not obliged to stay silent on the odious things men say to them in private just so those men can maintain their reputations in public.

Why, on top of having to deal with the trauma of reading fantasies about how we should be stabbed, raped and shat on, should we also be expected to engage in the tiring labour of gently educating those men quietly and away from where anyone else might benefit in the lesson, just so they can save face and go on as normal?

This story has a positive outcome. After receiving the boy’s apology, I did engage in a conversation with him. He said that in addition to speaking with me, he’d talked with a few people about why his actions were wrong. I choose to believe that his apology was genuine, so I deleted the post. Others told me they had used the incident to discuss this kind of behaviour and language with their own sons, and that this had resulted in productive dialogues about sexism and misogyny.

Society has traditionally forced young women to be accountable for the things men do and say. But if we want to raise good men -- actually good men, and not just the kind of good that otherwise indifferent men claim to be -- then we need to shift this accountability back onto them.