Law enforcement is notorious for not taking online harassment—of which women are often the targets—seriously. The frightening futility of bringing reams of threatening evidence to the police or even the FBI has been painstakingly documented by numerous female writers, but even women who don’t make their living online log on at their own risk.
Isolated cases involving sexual photos have been successful by making copyright violations the central issue, but the Supreme Court made prosecuting verbal threats even more difficult last year when it reversed the conviction of a man who had posted violent threats against his ex-wife, a female FBI agent, and even a local kindergarten.
Elsewhere, though, there are signs that these crimes—the seriousness of which wouldn’t be at issue if the mails or telephones were being used to issue the threats—are being taken increasingly seriously.
In Australia, 25-year-old Zane Alchin pleaded guilty to “using a carriage service to menace” today after posting dozens of threatening comments on Facebook. He had originally posted the Tinder profile photo of Olivia Melville alongside an derogatory caption. When her friend, Paloma Brierley Newton, requested that he remove the picture, Alchin attacked her, according to The Guardian:
Among the comments Alchin made were: “You know the best thing about a feminist they don’t get any action so when you rape them it feels 100 times tighter”; “You’ll be eating my cock till you puke”; and “I’d rape you if you were better looking”.
When Brierley Newton threatened to report him to police, Alchin replied: “What law am I breaking? I’m not the one out of the fucking kitchen.”
Alchin posted 55 comments in a two-hour period. Brierley Newton reported him to police, gave them a USB drive containing screenshots of his comments and blocked him on Facebook.
Alchin didn’t seem especially remorseful at first—he claimed he was drunk when he wrote the inflammatory comments, originally entered a not-guilty plea, and did this at a court appearance last year—but last Monday he reversed that plea. At his sentencing, scheduled for next month, he’ll face up to three years in prison. Whether law enforcement elsewhere will start treating threats made online as they would any other remains to be seen.