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Taking Steps Towards Online Safety This International Women's Day

A major new survey titled reveals that 76 percent of Australian women under the age of 30 have experienced online harassment. This International Women’s Day, let’s make the online world a safer one.

In 2015, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull invested $100 million in a Women’s Safety Package. At the launch of the package, Michaelia Cash, Minister for Women and Employment, said ‘all women in Australia and their children should be safe at home, should be safe on the streets and should be safe online’.

As a senior leader at an online security company and mother of a teenage girl, I have a unique insight into the threats to safety that exist online. Like many other women, I am spending more and more time on the internet myself. What I have noticed over the past year or so is the increased incidence of abusive comments and attacks online, as well as reports in the local media of women experiencing more serious forms of online harassment.

In February 2016, I was privileged to be part of efforts to make a safer online world when Norton conducted a major survey dedicated to uncovering Australian women’s experiences of online harassment.

Our survey found that in Australia almost half of all women and a staggering 76 percent of women aged under 30 have been harassed online. Let that sink in…just over three out of four young women in Australia have experienced some form of harassment online.

These experiences can have devastating impacts. Of those surveyed, 20 percent felt violated or abused and 16 percent felt frightened. Online harassment also negatively affected mental health, with 9 percent seeking professional help for depression or anxiety.

Yet our survey found that despite 70 percent of Australian women identifying online harassment as a serious problem, more than one-third of women who had experienced online harassment chose to ignore it. Given the prevalence of this problem, particularly with younger women, I hope the survey’s findings create more awareness and encourage women to report threats to their safety.  

One person who wants to inspire everyone to be a part of making the online word safer is Tara Moss. Tara partnered with Norton in helping design the survey and is playing a pivotal role in drawing attention to online harassment targeted at women. ‘While International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of all women, it’s also a day to focus on issues that need to be addressed,’ she says. Tara also believes that it is our community’s responsibility to speak up against all forms of violence, including online harassment.

If you witness online harassment, you can help by recognising the problem and moving quickly. Offer support to the person affected. Don’t respond to the perpetrator but keep a record of the event and immediately report it to the relevant authorities and website operators, with a request for inappropriate content or individuals to be removed or blocked immediately. You can also try to prevent online harassment by checking your security and privacy settings, protecting your mobile device and regularly changing passwords.

Norton’s long-term partner, beyondblue, has given extensive support to individuals who have had negative experiences online. beyondblue’s CEO, Georgie Harman, thinks collaboration between groups such as hers and the IT industry is crucial. ‘beyondblue’s work is increasingly being carried out in the digital world, which makes our partnership with Norton more important than ever.’

Georgie believes it is vital we look out for each other, both in the physical and online world, and try to tackle online harassment to help improve and potentially save lives. As I see my daughter and her generation spend more and more time online, I couldn’t agree more.

This International Women’s Day we all have the opportunity to create a safer online world. Let’s all start taking steps to make the future safer for everyone, both online and offline.

In Australia:  If you or someone you know has experienced online harassment, Norton’s partner, beyondblue, is here to help. Just call 1300 224 636. 

For tips on how to deal with online harassment, click here


I have done a PhD in Science


I have done a PhD in Science and worked in that field for 15 years, and have recently changed fields to data science. So in both respects I have first hand knowledge in how science works, and how data should be collected and presented for users. I can't help but feel that this study is, at best, misguided or undertaken by people who do not understand science at all, or at worst, trying to earn some free 'web security' points. 

The way I see it you are trying to test the hypotheses that there is significantly more abuse towards woman online. But there are two major problems with your approach. Firstly, you have no control group in which to compare your results, even though one clearly exists. This leads me to the second problem - if you cannot compare it with anything you are unable to then test anything. I would love to know the statistical analysis you used if any (I suspect none)? How can you say with any confidence that woman are suffering more than anyone else online? And if you can't then why are you making claims that this is a woman's issue?

If you were genuinely interested in finding out whether woman suffer more online abuse then why did you not also survey men, an obvious (and only) control group? By doing so you get a baseline of abuse that males suffer at which to compare with the woman's data. Now you actually have a test of whether woman significantly suffer more abuse. By only surveying woman it seems you have an agenda. By doing this it won't matter what result you will find because you will obviously find a result of something. It doesn't quite have the same ring when you say woman suffer abuse x% of the time in their life, but so do men. So you have angled it so any result looks like the result you were after. 

I don't believe this is true. My experience, and others, have shown that popular males who run blogs or you tube channels also suffer a significant amount of bullying, harassment and online abuse. You will be trolled for whatever is an obvious target that will get a reaction. This is mostly just stupid young people (I suspect) getting a laugh at your expense. A woman will be attacked for been a woman, a fat person for been fat etc. They will target the most obvious point. But this isn't sexism, this is trolling. This is common amongst all people on the internet. I really do believe that you had a narrative on this and made sure that your data fit it, rather than been genuinely interested in answering a question worthy of answering, but honestly.   

This is a shame because you could have had some interesting results. For example, I suspect that woman do not suffer more online abuse than men, but what that abuse is could be quite different. Rape threats ARE more likely to be targeted at woman, whereas men are more likely to get violence threatened. These are interesting questions, but won't be answered unless you are interested in actually doing some science rather than advertising. I would love to see this data done right because I am sure that woman do have a different experience online than men, and also react differently to that abuse. But this study doesn't even show that. 

I can imagine one argument will be you are only interested in woman's unique experiences online and are not interested in comparison's with men. But my answer to that is how can you tell what is unique to woman online without having those comparison groups? You simply cannot say that a woman's situation is unique because she is a woman, unless you show what happens to something that isn't a woman, but is online. And if woman are not unique and suffer the same online abuse as anyone else, why are they getting special safety and why is this presented in International Woman's Day as a woman's issue? Are you saying that woman are somehow weak and fragile and need protection even when they are not suffering more?  In any case this study answers none of these questions and would be something I wouldn't even accept as passable from a first year student.