Sexual harassment runs rampant online; this, we know. People suddenly become very brave while safely tucked away behind their computers and smartphones; and while men can certainly be on the receiving end, it's no secret that women are the far more common victims. To demonstrate how out of control it is, one woman created two fake profiles in chat rooms — one of an 18-year-old boy and one of an 18-year-old girl — to see how the responses to them would differ.
Sexual violence researcher Jessica Eaton ran the little experiment with her husband. They found a random chat room online that was not sexual in any way, and created a profile for him as a teenage boy, with a generic username. Not much happened. Then they made one small change: they switched the account to that of a teenage girl; that's when things took a concerning turn.
Within seconds, there were eight messages in his inbox from men, one of which was an explicit picture. Another user sent porn GIFs. Some men wanted to confirm that the person behind the account was truly 18, and were asking him to do sexual things. Minutes into their experiment, he had hundreds of messages — all after creating the account as an 18-year-old girl.
What makes this even more sad is that this wasn't Eaton's first time conducting this little experiment; and her husband went on to do it again for his friends: with the same result.
The Pew Research Center confirms that not only is sexual harassment online a problem for women, but it's a far bigger problem for women than men: around 21 percent of women ages 18 to 29 report experiencing sexual harassment online, compared to nine percent of men in the same age group. Furthermore, more than 50 percent of women in this age group say someone has sent them unsolicited and explicit images. It happens so often and so easily that we're getting used to it, which is yet another part of the problem. It's become a cultural norm — men sending inappropriate messages because "that's just how men are." You know what they say: boys will be boys, and whatnot.
It's tough, to say the least, to control what happens in the wide open expanse of the internet, a realm that seems to know no bounds. Teach people what harassment is and the many reasons they shouldn't do it, and we won't have to control the online world. The stark differences between the two fake profiles Eaton created exposes a huge problem in the way we view men and women differently, once again reminding us that some still look at us as objects to entertain and amuse them.