In February this year, I made the mistake of writing two columns about the murder of Hannah Clarke and her children. A few days later, I made a worse mistake. I allowed myself to have a conversation about male violence against women and what we could do about it on Channel Ten's national panel show The Project. I love The Project, but it is not a place you'd ever expect nuance or slow deliberation.
That night, after the brief prerecorded appearance, the messages started. Mostly they just used the usual terms of gendered abuse directed at women who have opinions about anything; body parts, sexual preferences (not that there's anything wrong with that), promiscuity (not that there's anything wrong with that either). But one was so terrible, so frightening, so threatening, that I resolved to take a brief break from writing about violence against women.
So it's zero surprise to me that a new survey run by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) shows that nearly three-quarters of the women journalists and media workers surveyed said they had experienced online abuse, harassment, threats and attacks. And it is not just the violence directed at the women themselves. It extends to women journalists' families, sources and audience, says the report. "Online attacks against women journalists are often accompanied by threats of harm to others connected to them, or those they interact with, as a means of extending the 'chilling effect' on their journalism."
Because yeah, we've all been there.
ICFJ global director of research Julie Posetti argues online violence against women journalists is fuelled by rampant misogyny and "the failure of social media companies to deal effectively with rising online toxicity". Yep, utterly useless social media companies which think it is perfectly OK for accounts to go on the rampage and rarely, if ever, close down those abusive accounts. Posetti says this escalation is a consequence of the demonisation of journalists by political leaders around the world - from Trump to Duterte to Bolsonaro - and the rise of orchestrated disinformation campaigns using hate speech tactics designed to chill critical reporting.
It is not just the violence directed at the women themselves. It extends to women journalists' families, sources and audience.
"But more alarming to me than the very high incidence of online abuse and attacks is our finding that 20 per cent of the women surveyed had been attacked or abused in the 'real world' in incidents that they believed were linked to online violence they'd experienced," Posetti says.
"This vicious pattern of abuse doesn't just inflict psychological injury, it spills offline with potentially deadly consequences."
Wednesday marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and the begining of what the UN calls 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence - and mostly what we think about is physical violence against women and children at the hands of someone they know, someone they think they love.
But so many of us, not just journalists or media workers, are experiencing a different kind of violence, in our homes but the work of strangers. Five years ago, the UN Broadband Commission said about three-quarters of women and girls had experienced online abuse, and young women were particularly at risk. That's all women, not only women journalists and media workers.
The commission issued a warning which is particularly resonant now - that online abuse of women risked becoming "a 21st-century global pandemic with significant negative consequences for all societies in general and irreparable damage for girls and women in particular".
This kind of behaviour is a function of gender inequality. University of Sydney Business School gender, work and employment relations professor Rae Cooper says we tend to look at disadvantage and difference. We talk about the glass ceiling which prevents women from ever being promoted.
"But we should also talk about the glass walls of industry and occupational segregation where highly paid male-dominated jobs have better career paths than highly feminised work," Professor Cooper says.
"And we should also talk about the sticky floor which is crucial to understanding women's labour market disadvantage.
"Women are undervalued, underpaid and are in roles which are precarious and often dangerous."
New figures this week show the gender pay gap is stubborn. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), using Australian Bureau of Statistics data, revealed the national gender pay gap has remained stable at just under 14 per cent, a teensy drop of just 0.1 percentage points over the last six months, but still a difference of $242.90 per week. WGEA director Libby Lyons said she would have liked to see a much larger fall. Wouldn't we all?
And it's not only pay that concerns Australians. Mission Australia's new research shows equity and discrimination is now the number one concern for young Australians, its chief executive James Toomey told ProBono.
"Dismissing young people's concerns as gender politics is to miss the point; the message loud and clear is that young females and young males are concerned about gender inequality in Australia," he said.
So, we know there is only one way out of a pandemic and that's a vaccine. So what's the vaccine in this case?
"Broadly the vaccine is to value women's experiences, contributions and voices better across all aspects of private and public life," says Cooper.
That's a whole big battle. Because right now, when women speak, they risk online abuse, offline abuse and an attempt to silence them. The only thing we can do is to get louder and get organised.
- Jenna Price is an academic at the University of Technology Sydney and a regular columnist. She is also a member of the UNESCO-ICFJ team which conducted this research.