License article

Sunrise 'strippergate' sparking rape threats: where's the outrage?

Telling a woman to modify her online behaviour to avoid abuse is akin to suggesting she not wear short skirts to avoid rape, writes Michael Lallo.

Predictably, the whole thing culminated in threats of rape and death.

The catalyst? An online fashion segment for Channel Seven's Sunrise in which presenter Samantha Armytage referred to her "stripper shoes", prompting co-host David Koch to bring out a strippers' pole.

Jamila Rizvi, editor of the popular women's website Mamamia, criticised Koch the next day. He bit back. Within hours, Rizvi and her publisher, Mia Freedman, were being menaced by violent threats on Twitter.

Yet a curious thing happened. On news websites and social media, most people shrugged off this disturbing development to ask: Had Freedman and Rizvi brought this upon themselves? Are they in need of being brought down a peg or two? Just another example of women being "their own worst enemies"? Those "feminazis" having gone "too far" again?

Picking up on Rizvi's point that Sunrise co-host Samantha Armytage is "a journalist, not eye candy", many debated her "hotness". Her breasts, hair and legs each received special scrutiny.

Unfortunately, only a handful of commenters focused on the glaringly obvious issue.


"Are we missing the point here?" wrote a Fairfax reader. "This woman got rape and death threats for expressing an opinion. I wonder how many rape threats Kochie got ... I would hazard a guess and say zero."

Graphic threats of violence against women, it appears, now seem to be an accepted part of our online discourse. Don't like it? Then stop causing trouble, Missy. Don't be so provocative. Quit trying to get a rise out of people. And if you do find your life being threatened, "don't feed the trolls".

In other words, it's a woman's responsibility to not to "invite" these attacks by moderating and censoring her opinions. And when they do happen, it's her job not to "inflame" the trolls.

Imagine, for a moment, that a woman is in a bar with her male partner. A man comes up and threatens to rape and kill the woman. They get this guy thrown out and perhaps go to another venue or report him to the police. But would we tell this couple they have no right to feel angry or violated? That it is their responsibility to not to provoke this man into attacking her?

Of course not.

So why do we expect the same of women who are harassed online?

I know more than one woman who's been physically stalked by an online troll. It was terrifying for them. Sadly, they had to wait until the situation escalated beyond internet harassment before authorities took them seriously.

Telling a woman to modify her online behaviour to avoid abuse is akin to suggesting she not wear short skirts to avoid rape. Just as no one "invites" sexual assault, no one invites internet harassment. It is entirely the result of a troll making the choice to harass someone.

I'm also wary of advice to ignore trolls on the grounds that not doing so "gives them a platform".

Recently, my housemate received a vile, threatening message from a middle-aged man on Facebook after publishing an opinion piece on a news website. She clicked on his profile, looked up his wife and sent her this message: "I thought you might like to know what your husband does in his spare time." Followed, of course, by a full copy of the man's disgusting, sexually-threatening rant. She never heard from him again.

Sometimes, shining a spotlight on a troll is like throwing water on the Wicked Witch of the West. This is not to suggest, however, that all women should embark on a name-and-shame campaign. Far too many men already feel it's their right to "tell" women how to behave online.

But we should take threats of online violence seriously. And we should condemn it – loudly – when it occurs.

Yesterday's reports about the dispute between Sunrise and Mamamia generated plenty of heat. Precious little of this was expended upon the resulting threats of rape and death. Such threats might be increasingly common – against women, at least – but we don't have to accept them.



Comment are now closed