Not just ‘safe sext’: Victorian parliamentary Law Reform Committee calls for change

“Sexting” (also known as “selfies” or “noodz”) refers to the sending of sexually explicit text and/or picture messages, often via mobile phone and increasingly via social media.

Of course, there is nothing “new” about taking sexual or intimate pictures. But mobile and online technologies have raised new concerns and new legal challenges. These are in part due to the ease of taking and widely distributing these images – sometimes without the consent of the individual pictured – and sometimes where that individual is aged under 18 years.

This is why the Victorian state government directed the parliamentary Law Reform Committee to conduct an inquiry into sexting. The final report of that inquiry was released on May 29.

Among the key recommendations are changes to outdated child pornography laws, (often used in response to underage sexting), as well as a new tribunal to address the harm that unauthorised sexual images cause to youth and adults alike.

To date, public debate – as well as legal and education-based responses to sexting – have been problematic in three key ways that the committee’s recommendations (if enacted) would start to address.

Read more at The Conversation…

Is Trolling Gendered?

Tuesday night, in classic style, Jenny Brockie hosted a discussion on internet trolling on SBS’ Insight program.  From poking fun, to social commentary, to political activism, to downright abuse and bullying: the full spectrum of behaviours broadly defined as ‘trolling’ were explored.

But contrary to the high moral ground of ‘Weev’ who described trolling as a way of “expressing working class discontent”, some research suggests that trolls often have a more privileged background. According to researcher and guest on the program Whitney Phillips many are male, white, and have the time and economic resources to spend hours baiting people online.

At the same time, women and women’s webspaces and forums appear often to be the targets of trolls. This raises the question: Is trolling gendered? And is it possible or useful to examine the cross-overs between trolling and gender-based harassment or hate speech online?

The motivations of the ‘trolls’
On Insight, ‘Jamie’ defines her trolling as: “basically evoking an emotional reaction out of someone…anyone who takes the bait.”  ‘Steven’ says it “is just a wind-up…it’s just about leading somebody up the garden path…”. ‘Weev’ describes it as ‘a dialogue’.

But all three Trolls agreed that threats of violence crossed the line.

“I don’t think that throwing out a threat of violence can in any way be construed as trolling – that’s just simple bullying. Threats of violence are against the law….that’s not trolling…. Trolling is about a debate. It is a style of confrontational rhetoric…” [Weev].

I tend to agree. Trolling can be sarcastic, annoying, frustrating, cause mass eye-rolling: sometimes it is even harmless fun that becomes a collective cultural phenomenon.  But as soon as the behaviours become targeted abuse at individuals and especially where there are threats of violence – that’s bullying. It is also often in violation of Australian Commonwealth law criminalising the use of a carrier service to menace, harass or cause offence.  But Police appear under-resourced or often unable to act on much of the harassment that occurs online. And who decides what is ‘menacing, harassing and offensive’ anyway?

Gender-based harassment and hate-speech
Facebook has already famously demonstrated that what is considered offensive is highly open to interpretation.  Yet surely there are a few things that as a society we can agree on? We already condemn any form of racial vilification or hate speech; and websites, forums and social media often ban such behaviours in their code of conduct.

So what about sex-based hate speech? Threatening to rape women; publicly posting sexual images or contact details of women without their consent; targeting individual women and women’s websites with pornographic imagery or insults such as ‘dirty whore’ – Should these behaviours be taken more seriously as hate speech?

Others have commented on what appears to be a rise in misogynistic trolling towards women.  Unfortunately, what women consider to be ‘menacing, harassing and offensive’ is not always taken seriously – and often met with the advice to:

“shut your Facebook page, make your Twitter private, don’t engage in a public discussion and you’ll never run into a conversation where I can say something that will hurt your feelings.” [‘Weev’].

Freedom of online speech?
Trolling, including those behaviours that could more accurately be described as online misogyny, is sometimes described as a freedom of speech issue – the practice of democracy – it is people exercising their right to say whatever they like. And any attempt to restrict that freedom is a civil rights infringement and unnecessary censorship. But is that the limit of our understanding of freedom of speech?

In fact, we widely recognise that in the public domain speech is ‘free’ to the extent that it does not impinge on the rights of others: including the right to be free from violence; discrimination on the basis of sex, sexuality, race or ability; and the right to full and equal civic participation.

But harassment, threats and hate speech directed towards anyone of the basis of sex (or sexuality, race, and ability for that matter) are the opposite of freedom of speech, as Professor Michael Fraser describes:

“This in fact is a direct attack on freedom of expression. To bully other people out of the forum so that they are intimidated, and threatened and in fear; so that they can’t express themselves, and if we agree to that only the bullies will be left…”

Indeed. And while there is no doubt that both men and women engage in offensive and inappropriate behaviours online – some research at least, suggests that the bullies that will be left online will be mostly male and privileged – unless we as a society take action to ensure that the freedom of their speech is not prioritised over everyone elses’ equal participation online.

Have you experienced sexist trolling or sex-based hate speech online?

Sex, power, and the real problem with ‘raunch’

It has been called the ‘Age of Raunch’, ‘Generation Sex’, the age of the S.L.U.T (Sexually Liberated Urban Teen); so-called ‘raunch culture’ is a recurring theme of recent media and public debate.

Raunch culture, or the sexualisation of culture, is of course one part of a whole range of social changes that we’ve seen post the 1970s ‘sexual revolution’, and certainly many of those changes have been positive.

They’ve been associated with greater access to information about sexual health for example, and a somewhat greater acceptance of diverse sexualities. We can certainly talk more openly about sexual issues now than perhaps we could several decades ago.

Indeed, many claim raunch culture is itself representative of women’s newfound sexual freedom; evidence that the equality feminism fought for has been achieved.

In our current culture, everything about raunch – we’re told – is empowering for women. Stripping is empowering for women; pornography is empowering; exposing one’s naked body in public à la Lady Gaga is empowering; female elite athletes’ posing nude for FHM and Sports Illustrated magazine is, again, empowering.  All of these examples, we’re told, show women that they can be comfortable in their bodies and with their sexuality.

Engaging in raunch is taken to prove that you are liberated. After all, isn’t enjoying this new sexual freedom what women’s equality has been all about?

There is however another interpretation of raunch culture as a kind of ‘faux empowerment’ or ‘the new sexism’, and the emphasis on so-called liberation, on ‘free choice’, is part of its allure.

Read more at The Scavenger…

Book Release- ‘Sex Power and Consent’

Sex Power and Consent

Sex, Power and Consent

Youth Culture and the Unwritten Rules

BUY NOW FROM CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS

Contents

1. Introduction: rewriting the rules?
2. Generation y: problematic representations of ‘youth’ and ‘sex’
3. Sex: the ‘new’ rules of engagement
4. Power: framing sexual violence in young people’s everyday encounters
5. Consent: negotiating consensual sex
6. Technology: unauthorised sexual images and sexual violence
7. Education: sex, power and consent in schools
8. Prevention: policy, programs and practical strategies
9. Conclusion: rewriting the rules, preventing sexual violence

Reviews of ‘Sex Power and Consent’

‘ … this is a terrific book: really well-written and very engaging, full of useful, cogently expressed ideas about what is going on with young people and sex right now and how things might be improved. It has the capacity to make an important intervention and a strong impact, in part because it moves so well across fields and therefore has a wide readership, and in part because it addresses so many pressing current issues … The strongest aspects of the book are its topic and the freshness, openness and interdisciplinarity in its approach, its fantastic readability, and its careful attention to the discursive regimes within which young people operate as sexual actors.’

-Anita Harris, Associate Professor and Deputy Director, Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies, University of Queensland

‘Post-Feminist’ or ‘Pro-Rape’ Culture?

We have been described as living in a post-feminist age: a time of “girl power” where young women are empowered to negotiate sex on their own terms. Today’s young women (like many young men) are free to actively embrace their sexuality, and to put their bodies on display without fear of sullying their reputation or experiencing sexual taunts and violence. They aim to determine their own reality and reject constructs imposed by society’s expectations.

The F-word has long been described as irrelevant to today’s young woman, who avidly exclaims “I’m not a feminist, but …”

“But …” is right. In last Monday’s edition of The Age (November 9, 2009) it was reported that a group of past and present students of the University of Sydney had set up a “pro-rape” page on Facebook describing themselves as “anti-consent”. Yet the public Facebook site (which has since been closed down) is apparently just one part of a larger counter-culture that is associated with the sexual assaults of several young women.

Read more at Online Opinion…