Last Wednesday night I went to the gym, cooked some bolognese and settled down to watch Bones. I’d been pulling double shifts and it was my night off. Between episodes I switched tabs and checked my Twitter notifications.
It isn’t my address, but it is a previous one. I’d never seen this user before and, besides my profile as a minor league internet feminist, I had no idea why he would want to intimidate me. My first thought was to shrug it off, dismiss it as just a little more bullshit I have to deal with as part of my job.
But I just kept staring at it. Seeing my previous home address on Twitter, I felt like he had invaded my home. And how did he know the details? I’m not even in the White Pages. I googled my name and the address and after several pages of results I found my domain registration details. He had found me because, as a freelancer, my business address is my home address. Thank heavens I moved.
I took a screenshot and blocked the guy. I tweeted the picture and many of my followers reported the tweet as abusive. At the time of writing, it’s still there and Twitter has done nothing to take it down. (Women’s Agenda notes that since receiving this article, the ‘GoodOlPeachy’ Twitter account has been suspended.)
As a Crikey reader recently said, a ‘troll’ is someone who posts on a Star Wars forum that Star Trek is better. Still, I think the word troll can be applied here. This form of abuse is being done by people who think a woman’s safety is no more important than the fictional struggle against the Galactic Empire. It is done by people who think of women only in the abstract, individuals who merely exist on screen.
My partner, who wasn’t home with me when it happened, comforted me on the phone by saying that the guy who threatened me is deranged and ultimately harmless. But that’s too easy. There are people who sit behind a cloak of anonymity, find outspoken women online and try to intimidate them into silence. There are men who seek out vulnerable women, or women they can make feel vulnerable, and abuse them, sometimes only after being in relationships with them.
It didn’t occur to me to call the police immediately. I didn’t feel any immediate danger and I was highly skeptical about what the police could do that would make me feel safer. But when I realised there could well be a woman sitting in my old flat in immediate peril, I picked up the phone and called my local police station.
The first constable I spoke to reassured me instantly. His voice was calm as he asked me all the obvious questions. He told me officers would come around to take a statement. I sat with my housemate and drank tea for an hour until they came. Rather than a knock at the door, their arrival was signalled by the sound of laughing and scuffling. They sounded like two Year 9 boys on their way home from footy practice. When I opened the door with raised eyebrows they told me they were laughing because they’d seen a spider and one of them was scared.
What followed only got more farcical.
One of the first questions I was asked was about “what I’d done to bring this on”. Nothing, I explained. He was targeting me because I’m a woman with an online presence. After fending off more questions about myself and my work, trying to direct them back to the threat and its perpetra-tor, I had to give them a lesson on the basics of how Twitter works. When I asked if a car had been sent around to check on the residents of my old flat the officers shrugged and told me they don’t know where Chippendale is.
I got impatient. When I made a quip about how I know how Twitter works and I’m not afraid of spiders, I was told that if I continued to be “abusive” they’d leave and a sergeant would come over instead. This same officer told me that that night he’d been to six violent domestics, three traffic incidents and hadn’t had time for his dinner. He said he did not enjoy having his time wasted.
I told them that if they thought that investigating threats against women was a waste of time then they were ignorant. The sergeant, I was told, would be just as ignorant but would be happy to speak to me anyway. One officer was aggressive, at times shouting and leaning toward me as he sat on my couch. The other was disinterested, noticeably looking at our DVD collection while I was giving my statement.
Perhaps I should have played the damsel. It was clear that they didn’t know how to treat a female victim of crime who wasn’t behaving how they think a female victim should behave.
It was incredibly difficult to explain to the police that, although this threat was not unexpected, that that doesn’t make it any better. I was fully entitled to curl up and quiver under my bed. The fact that I didn’t is testament not just to my own resilience, but to how deep rape culture permeates the lives of women. I knew it was only a matter of time before someone threatened to rape or kill me online. I have seen it happen to so many of my friends and colleagues that it has become a darkly ironic badge of honour inside our circle of feminist writers.
It is a badge we can wear with pride because, in a sick way, it proves we are doing something right. By annoying an ignorant person enough to make them want to intimidate me, I know that my colleagues and I are slowly chipping away at the sense of power some men feel entitled to hold. So no, Good Ol’ Peachy, you may well have managed to escape prosecution this time, but you did not succeed in shutting me up. No man, however threatening, could do that.