This Legislation Could Actually Protect Women From Online Harassment


According to Glamour, women are 27 times more likely to be harassed online than men. Donald Trump's attack on MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski early Thursday was one example. But a couple of days before Trump's comments about Brzezinski, Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark introduced legislation addressing online harassment that largely impacts women, girls, LGBTQ people, and people of color.

Clark was one of many lawmakers to slam Trump for his comments about Brzezinski, saying that the president "reinforces a message of misogyny" and normalizes such behavior. Clark's latest legislative efforts, however, go well beyond just the president. H.R. 3067 is a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by Republican Reps. Susan Brooks and Patrick Meehan. The bill — which is also known as the Online Safety Modernization Act — aims to "establish certain criminal violations for various aspects of harassment," according to a copy of the bill posted by Clark's office. The bill specifically tackles sextortion — and by extension, revenge porn — doxxing, and swatting.

Sextortion is the extortion of money or sex from a victim by threatening them with the publication of explicit or graphic photos. Revenge porn is similar; it entails publishing such photos for the sake of revenge. Doxxing refers to the practice of publishing a victim's personal information — such as their address or contact information — and encouraging others to harass them. And swatting entails calling 911 from a doxxed address to invent an emergency, in order to bring a heavy police presence to the address.

Clark told Glamour that she introduced this legislation to protect women on the internet and to preserve the internet as an open space for everyone:

We want to make sure that the Internet remains open and that the women, people of color, and LGBTQ community members who experience the worst types of online abuse at a far greater rate know that their cases will be taken as seriously and be treated as the victims they are.

Cosmopolitan reported that Clark decided to tackle online harassment after Brianna Wu — a video game developer and one of Clark's constituents — was severely harassed online during the 2014 GamerGate movement. But Clark came to better understand just how drastic the problem was when she came face to face with it herself.

In January 2016, she told Cosmopolitan, Clark became the victim of swatting when police officers turned up at her home. They told her that an anonymous caller had reported an active shooter there, which was not the case. Clark realized that police took her seriously because she was an elected official, but she was concerned that not all threats were handled to the same degree — and that not every officer is equipped to handle such threats.

This is one of the many reasons for which Clark is pushing this last piece of legislation. She wants law enforcement agencies to have more resources to handle instances of online harassment, and she also wants the FBI and the Department of Justice to publish statistics about the rates at which online crimes take place.

“[T]his legislation is not about criminalizing core speech or political dialogue that we may not like, but there is a line to be drawn to protect people’s safety,” Clark told ThinkProgress. “And that line does come when we are talking about extortion, threats of murder, threats of rape. And this [bill] will really help give some tools to victims who don’t have any other places to turn.”

“Like so much other crime that is primarily directed at women, it has a very corrosive effect on our economy, on people’s feelings of safety,” Clark added. “And I’m very committed that we keep the internet open to all voices.”