Today, September 24, 2015, the United Nations released a report on the current status of, and possible mitigations to, internet harassment against women and girls. According to the report, roughly 73% of women have experienced some form of internet persecution, and relatively young women (18 to 24) are particularly apt to become targets.
The law has been slow to adapt to many of the changes wrought by the internet, and it is not uncommon for legal authorities to be ill-equipped to handle cyber forms of abuse and violence. Moreover, hosting sites have often be criticized for not being proactive enough in banning abusive users, or creating features that enable users to protect themselves. Blocking functions are becoming more common, and the issue has seen some address by the law of late, but the problem is still endemic.
While anyone who uses the internet socially is a potential victim, women have radically disproportionate odds of being singled out for it, all the more so if they profess any kind of publicly feminist stance on anything whatsoever. Being a woman alone makes you a bigger target, but being a woman who stands up for other women often garners you a particularly big bulls-eye. Anita Sarkeesian is quite famously proof of that.
While this type of harassment can be glimpsed in all corners of the internet, fandom spaces have their own tragically common iterations of this phenomenon. The history of (straight white) male entitlement in geek spaces can still make certain fandom environments very hostile to women, with further minoritized groups – WOC, queer women, disabled women – likely disproportionate victims. And sadly, women also have a notable history of harassing each other in fandoms, as well.
Gendering of harassment in fandom is a complex issue that is frankly not even reducible to its internet forms. However, the internet is still the most accessed domain for the day-to-day practice of fandom and there is no doubt the forthcoming debates and policy changes designed to address cyber harassment will be immensely consequential for fan communities , hopefully garnering more protections to those most vulnerable to such abuse moving forward.