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Defending against online sexual harassment


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Working at home does not provide immunity from workplace problems. Online sexual harassment can occur at the office and at home. But there are ways to help fight it.

According to a 2017 Pew Research Center study, over 40 percent of Americans were subject to all kinds of online abuse. Over 60 percent of Americans witnessed it.

Women are twice as likely as men to suffer online sexual harassment. People of color and LGBTQ plus people are also disproportionally victimized online.

Identifying the online abuse is the first thing you should do. You may not want to act upon criticism or insults. But online abuse is defined as repeated or severe targeting, through harmful behavior, of a person or group. Usual tactics include sexual harassment, threats of physical and sexual violence, nonconsensual pornography and doxing.

It is also essential to document the abuse before reporting it. Preserve emails, texts, voicemails and other communications. Screenshots of social media and copies of direct links are also helpful. You may want to develop a log which can help reveal patterns.

This documentation helps preserve evidence. It also makes it easier to communicate abusive and traumatizing comments to your lawyer, employer, law enforcement or the service provider.

Next, think about your safety. Consider whether you know the abuser, the abuser has a history of erratic or violent behavior, threats include specific information about you or where an attack will occur, the abuser is irrational by using information that identifies them, or whether the abuse migrated across platforms or continued offline.

You may also block the accounts to prevent abusers from communicating with you, mute accounts or words so you do not have to see them or report accounts that violate terms of service. But blocking can heighten abuse, muting can hide threats that need monitored and reporting is not always effective.

Other techniques include increasing cybersecurity by using effective and long passwords, never repeating passwords and inventing answers to security questions. Set up two-factor authentication of important personal and professional accounts and consider getting a password manager.

Seek support from friends, families and co-workers and your employer. Consider seeking mental health assistance if you feel traumatized. An attorney can also protect your rights and give you legal options.

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