The decision to convict Zane Alchin for ‘vile’ online rape threats towards a young woman is a small step towards making the internet a safer place for women, says Our Watch and Plan International Australia.
Today, Mr Alchin was sentenced to a 12-month good behaviour bond after he made graphic and sexually explicit threats via Facebook toward a young woman in 2015.
“To many people this will seem like a slap on the wrist, but this judgment still shows trolls and bullies they cannot hide behind a screen. Violence and abuse is never ok, whether it be online or offline,” Our Watch Chief Executive Officer Mary Barry said.
“Young Australian women are regularly exposed to harassment, violence and intimidation online, so although this is a light sentence, it’s still a relief to see the court acknowledge this kind of behaviour not only won’t be tolerated, but it is also a crime.”
Ms Barry commended the woman and her friends for their campaign, Sexual Violence Won’t Be Silenced, which was developed in response to Alchin’s harassment, and has petitioned to tighten laws around online sexual violence.
“The single biggest risk factor for being a victim of sexual assault or domestic violence is being female. You only need to look at news from the past few months to see how violence and rape culture flourish online,” Ms Barry said.
“Sickeningly, only yesterday we hear that a five-year-old girl was the target of online rape threats, all because these trolls didn’t like what her mother – a prominent columnist – had to say.”
The ‘Blokes Advice’ Facebook page, and the Australian National University students’ creepshot-sharing page are more sexist, disrespectful, and aggressive incidents made public recently, she said.
The frequency of these reports demonstrates the prevalence of online harassment, and is supported by recent research from Plan International Australia and Our Watch.
According to this research, 70 per cent of Australian girls aged 15-19 believe online harassment and bullying is endemic, and receiving unwanted and uninvited sexually explicit content online is now common.
“The majority of the girls and young women we surveyed cop online abuse every single day. Yet only one in three said they would report the abuse. We wonder if this is because young women don’t feel supported by the legal system,” Siobhan McCann, Policy and Engagement Manager at Plan International, said.
“We had hoped today’s ruling would send a message that abusing women in the digital space is just as legitimate a crime as abuse on the street or at home. But we hope trolls will take note that they can be charged and tried for it.
“But clearly, there is more work to be done".
Ms Barry said she was disappointed that such sexist and violent attitudes are still expressed, but was encouraged to see so many people speak out against this.
“As long as women and girls are seen as less equal than men and boys, violence against women will continue,” she said.
“We need to ensure young people grow into adults whose relationships are safe, respectful and equal, on and offline. This is why Our Watch’s work on respectful relationships education in schools, which addresses online bullying and harassment, is so vital.”
“Through Respectful Relationships Education, and Our Watch’s digital youth program The Line, we can give children and young people the skills to reject aggressive behaviour and discrimination”, Ms Barry said.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000. For more information about a service in your state or local area download the DAISY App in the App Store or Google Play.