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“Stand up like a man, You better learn to shake hands, You better look me in the eye now, Treat me like your mother.  Come on look me in the eye, You wanna try to tell a lie?  You can’t, you know why?  I’m dressed like your mother.”

-The Dead Weather, Treat Me Like Your Mother

When women are being called names, something’s not right. When women are being harassed, something’s wrong. When women are being threatened with rape and death, something’s got to change. Right? Most of us can agree on that. But what if these things are happening online?

Is the fallout any different because the words showed up on a screen rather than in the mailbox or on a voicemail?

Is the emotional toll and the fear any less because it was done electronically?

Does the vehicle by which a threat was issued even matter?

Is a threat not a threat?

Journalist Amanda Hess wrote an article titled,“Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet”. She goes into great detail about the vile comments she has received over the years. She has an active presence online as a writer and has endured angry rants, threats of rape and threats of death. She has had one individual in particular stalk her online.

Lauren Mayberry of the indie band Chvrches wrote an op-ed that appeared in The Guardian. She wanted to shed light on the misogyny that she has been subjected to on-line. Her band gained notoriety and acclaim after posting some of their songs on a music blog. The internet has been a crucial part of their success. For this reason they find it important to keep communication going between their fans online. Among the gushing fan postings were some hostile comments. Name calling. Threats of rape. Details of lewd acts that men promised to do to her.

These two women are not alone. They unfortunately are in good company.

There are writers, singers, actors, business women, students, executives, and kids who have all experienced the same thing. They are mostly women.

And they are considered targets by some simply because they have the audacity to log on to the internet.

They are told to shrug it off, laugh it off, don’t engage, move on.  In other words, suck it up.   Good girls stay quiet. Don’t make a fuss.  Just smile. Don’t make anyone uncomfortable.

It’s a response that women have heard for ages. Don’t make a fuss about voting, just try to sweetly influence your husband’s vote. Don’t complain about your boss grabbing your ass, just be grateful you have a job. Don’t bother reporting that rape, everyone will just think that you did something to encourage it.

There has been talk of taking the anonymity out of sites like Twitter. Sure. Being anonymous makes it easier for these perpetrators to be more brazen. There have been questions asked concerning who should be tasked with investigating these threats….  the police? The companies that own these websites like Twitter, Facebook and AskFM? Sure.  An avenue for women to report these assaults could give them a way to fight back. While these things could be helpful, they are merely the tourniquet on a bleeding wound. The only way to truly change the dynamic that is festering online is to find the source of the bleeding.

Where is all of this coming from? Is it the continual and persistent objectification of women in all parts of the media? Is it the rampant disregard for other’s feelings? Is it a culture that views women as easy targets, the weaker sex? All of the above?

One issue is lack of empathy.  Recent studies have shown a decline in empathy in our youth.  This disturbing trend is not just some factoid for psychologists and behavioral specialists to be concerned with.  We should all be worried.  As parents, it’s our job to teach these skills to our children.  I believe it is the most important thing we teach them.  Socialize them at a young age.  Set an example of compassion.  Talk to your children about social issues that demonstrate the need for caring and understanding.  If kids don’t learn these lessons, they may be more likely to bully.  They could see a sexual assault of a drunk girl at a party and take a video of it instead of trying to stop the crime.  They may be the person who sees such a video and posts it to social media.  Without any apparent remorse or concern for the victim.  These kids will laugh.  They will ridicule .  They obviously don’t view the girl who has been violated as a living, breathing, feeling, real person.

There’s the detachment that is part of the online world.  Typing a message on Twitter is a little easier to do than screaming it in the person’s face.  Harassing someone on Facebook takes a little less nerve than doing it in person.  Behind the  keyboard, a person is likely to feel more bold.  Some people feel that the lack of physicality gives them a license to be a little meaner, a little more cruel, a little more threatening.  They are able to act out from the safety of their home, they can say things they may never say in person.  The scary fact that for the person on the receiving end of these kinds of messages is that they have no way of knowing when or if the perpetrator is going to take it to the next level.

Does it matter that these threats are online?  No.  The threat is no less real.  The only difference is it is easier to hurl a lewd comment or convey violent intentions over the internet.  It takes less effort than the more traditional means of harassment or stalking.     But the result is the same.  A woman is belittled.  A girl is shamed.  Their safety is threatened.  They feel violated.

The world we live in has changed dramatically over the last 20 years.  The internet is an integral part of all of our lives.  It is a part of our work, our education, our entertainment, our socializing.  We have more access to more information.  We can reach more people with a keystroke.  While all of this access to information and people affords us all kinds of benefits, we can’t ignore the risks.  We can’t enjoy the fruits of the digital world and turn a blind eye to the uglier side of what is taking place.  Social media has become a way for journalists and artists and business people to promote their craft. But it has also become a breeding ground for abuse.

It’s time for us to come to a collective reckoning.  These things need to be addressed, scrutinized, understood.  We need to understand that the person we see on the computer, tablet or phone screen is a real person.  A living, breathing, feeling, real person.  They are not a character in a video game.  They are not a “virtual” anything.  They are women, they are girls.  They are Amanda Hess and Lauren Mayberry.  They are your mother, your sister, your friend, your daughter.  And they deserve to be treated as such.  They are trying to bring this issue to light, they are starting the conversation.  It’s our job to continue it.

“I will light the match this morning, so I won’t be alone.  Watch as she lies silent, for soon night will be gone…”

A young girl, too young, has her innocence stolen.  Intoxicated.  Raped.  Videotaped.  Dumped, barely conscious, on a cold doorstep.  Betrayed by boys she thought were her friends.  She reports it to the Sheriff of her small town. An investigation, confession, evidence, arrests.  The sheriff says they have a strong case.  Then, outrage.  Not at the alleged rapist and his accomplice.  But at the girl.  At her family.  Threats are issued, harassment ensues.  Her mother is fired from her job because of the negative attention of the case.  Unable to take the abuse from the community any longer, they move to another town.

“I will stand arms outstretched, pretend I’m fee to roam.  Oh I will make my way through one more day in hell.”

A young girl, too young, is dead.  Tormented by other girls, over a boy.  Relentlessly needled.  Belittled.  Broken.  Her family tries to help her.  They report it to the school.  They beg the school to intervene.  They eventually pull her out of the school.  Things seem to get better.  The girl smiles again.  Seems happy again.  She doesn’t mention the bullying any more.  But it hasn’t stopped.  It continues on-line.  She leaves for school one morning.  Walks to an abandoned cement plant.  Climbs a tower.  At the top of the three story structure, she makes the most important decision of her life.   She takes her final step.

“How much difference does it make?  How much difference does it make?”

A young girl, too young, is mocked.  Teased.  Ridiculed.  Called ugly.  Called a slut.  Shamed for her Croation accent.  The kids at school throw food at her.  A girl smacks her in the face with a water bottle.  Kids call late at night threatening her.  A boy pushes her down the stairs.  Eventually she is pushed too far.  The parents beg the school to help.  They decide to homeschool.  They try to protect her.  But the girl who loves to dance will not make it to her prom.  She writes a note.  She describes her torment and anguish.  She ties a rope to her bed.  Ties the other side around her neck.  Jumps from her two story bedroom window. She is later found by her brother, hanging outside the house.

I will hold the candle, ’til it burns up my arm.  Oh I’ll keep taking punches, until their will grows tired…”

A young girl, too young, leaves a party with some boys.  She’s been drinking.  She gets in a car with them.  They sexually assault her in the car.  They take pictures.  They send the pictures to their friends.  They undress her.  They carry her naked body by the wrists and ankles.  Inside a house, they continue to assault her.  Many of them.  One of them urinates on her unconscious body.  They take more pictures.  They take video.  They post them on line.  On  Facebook, on You Tube.  They brag and joke about it on Twitter. They ridicule her.  Their friends laugh, the pictures and videos get shared and passed along.  Two boys are arrested.  They are convicted.

Oh I will stare the sun down, until my eyes go blind.  Oh I won’t change direction and I won’t change my mind…”

Numbness.  Apathy.  Indifference.  Sometimes this is the reaction we have when faced with the continuing stream of disturbing, horrifying, gut wrenching stories like these.  We become desensitized.  What used to spark shock, horror, now is met with sad resignation.  Not again.  All these stories, all these incidences of kids doing these things to other kids, it’s wearing us down.  The heart and mind can only process so much.  So we turn off.  We let the white noise of every day life envelope us like a warm blanket.  We go on with our lives.

“I’ll swallow poison until I grow immune.  I will scream my lungs out ’til it fills this room.  How much difference….”

We should go on with our lives.  We have to.  But we should not become indifferent.  We can’t become de-sensitized.  We have to stay shocked.  Appalled.  Baffled.  We have to in order to ask questions.  We have to stay engaged.  It should make all the difference in the world.  It should piss us off.  How many of these girls are out there?  How many boys suffering similarly?   Too many.  Why do kids, these kids who act in hatred and violence, say and do these things?  What has them so emboldened?  So brazen?  So lacking in compassion?  So cold that they can laugh at a girl’s funeral.  So lacking in empathy that they can video tape a girl being raped.  These aren’t rhetorical questions.  These questions need to be contemplated, discussed, dissected until someone somewhere comes up with some answers that make sense.

Something has shifted.  Rapes occurred before.  Bullying and suicide existed.  But what is happening now is something beyond what was there before, as horrific as it was.  It is amplified.  It is worn like a badge of honor to be the perpetrator.  It is not vilified in the community.  It is broadcast across the fibers that connect all of us.  It is, in a sense, shouted from the rooftops.

I think of the pain these girls have been through.  They and countless others just like them.  A pain so deep it makes you want to take your life.  Despair so intense that you walk to an old cement plant, climb three stories and then decide to jump and end it all.  These girls feeling emotions and pain in the most intense way.  Yet the people who inflicted this on them laugh, mock, go about their lives.  And others chime in, add to the chorus in their head of unworthiness.  How can one feel so much and others seem to not feel at all?

It’s easy to blame technology.  It’s a convenient culprit.  And of course technology plays a role.  It enables certain behaviors, it can be a conduit for abuse.  But at the very core of these offenses are people.   Are kids.  That’s where we need to dig in, explore and try to figure some things out.  The motives aren’t that hard to flush out.  It’s not the how, the when, the where or the why.  It’s something else.  It’s the “what’s missing”.  What is lacking in another person, a kid, to inflict this kind of torment on another kid?  Is it lack of empathy?  Lack of attention?  Lack of power?  Lack of love?  Lack of discipline?  Lack of self worth?  It could be any of these.  It could be all of these.  But I think these things need to be figured out and dealt with before it escalates to the point of a child taking their own life or a child being raped.  I don’t have answers.  I don’t have solutions.  But I know we all have to wake up.  Participate.  Do something.

How much difference…. How much difference does it make?  How much difference does it make?”

-Pearl Jam,  Indifference