On Wednesday morning, prominent feminist writer and founder of Feministing.com Jessica Valenti announced she was taking a break from social media after receiving rape threats against her five-year-old daughter. “That this is part of my work life is unacceptable,” she wrote in a series of tweets announcing her hiatus. “I should not have to fear for my kid’s safety because I write about feminism.”
This morning I woke up to a rape and death threat directed at my 5 year old daughter. That this is part of my work life is unacceptable.— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) July 27, 2016
I am sick of this shit. Sick of saying over and over how scary this is, sick of being told to suck it up.— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) July 27, 2016
I should not have to fear for my kid's safety because I write about feminism.— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) July 27, 2016
I should not have to wade through horror to get through the day. None of should have to.— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) July 27, 2016
I can deal with a lot of things, I've taken a lot of abuse over the years. But my child? No.— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) July 27, 2016
Law enforcement needs to get their shit together on online threats. Social media companies need to fucking do something.— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) July 27, 2016
In the meantime, I'm taking a break from social media. I don't know how long. I just know that I can't live like this. It's too much.— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) July 27, 2016
The people who need to know how to reach me. Thanks for all the support. x— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) July 27, 2016
Just a year ago, in a Washington Post interview with Slate’s Michelle Goldberg, Valenti said that if she were starting over as a feminist writer, she would consider doing it anonymously. And who could blame her? Even before the direct threat against her child, she experienced massive waves of online abuse for her ideas. (Not to mention real-life harassment, as detailed in her new memoir Sex Object.) Threats against women on the Internet—especially women who write about feminist issues—are the norm. In a still-relevant 2014 article called “Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet,” Amanda Hess persuasively makes the case that a disproportionate number of women are harassed or stalked on the Internet. The shocking thing isn’t the vile nature of many of the comments made against women, it’s how common they are.
In her tweets, Valenti calls on social media companies and law enforcement to “get their shit together on online threats.” The proliferation of trolls making violent threats has been a recurring problem for Twitter, most recently arising when Ghostbusters’ actress and hilarious SNL cast member Leslie Jones quit Twitter after enduring racist abuse. Twitter responded to Jones’ public departure from the platform by suspending several accounts responsible for harassing her. In a conference call with investors this week, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey acknowledged his company’s failings when it comes to eradicating abuse, saying, “No one deserves to be the target of abuse on Twitter. We haven’t been good enough at ensuring that’s the case, and we need to do better.”
Of course, we should recognize that misogyny is not just a problem on Twitter, and the ultimate responsibility for abuse on social media lies with the people doing the abusing. But Twitter can be part of the solution by cutting off trolls’ ability to broadcast their violent views. Valenti’s social media break is a reminder that plenty of women live in fear for their and their families’ safety as they wait for Twitter to do better in this regard.