Megan Barton-Hanson: I Want To Be Honest About How Much Online Abuse Affects Me

Photo Courtesy of Megan Barton-Hanson.
For a long time I tried to put a brave face on the abuse I get online. I felt it would be best if I just tell people that it doesn’t get to me, to not appear weak. I wanted to come across as a 'strong woman' in interviews but, truth be told, of course abuse gets to me – I am only human. Now, I want to be honest about how much it affects me because I believe things need to change. 
I dealt with online abuse even before I went on Love Island but since then my platform has grown and so has the amount of abuse I receive. I have had messages from people telling me to kill myself, I deal with constant slut shaming and random people have said horrendous things about my family.
This isn’t just about me, though. Research recently conducted by the domestic violence charity Refuge found that more than one in three women living in the UK – that’s around 11 million women – have been subjected to online abuse or harassment on social media or another online platform. Among younger women, this went up to a jaw-dropping 62%. 
I want to speak up about the issue because I think that social media should be a safe place for everyone, particularly young women and sex workers. I don’t believe social media companies are doing enough to protect us from abuse. 
I am an OnlyFans creator and, honestly, that’s one of the only platforms where I feel safe. It is far more positive than any other place on the internet. I have never received any abuse there and I believe it is because every user’s profile is linked to a real person – all identities are verified. We joke about Rinstas and Finstas but, honestly, I think that they just enable abuse because if it’s not your real name and email address, you feel like you can say and do anything. 
I feel like it is my duty to be a voice for women who don’t really have one. This is a key ethos of mine and I share my thoughts regularly on my podcast, You Come First. Sex workers have to deal with a lot of stigma as it is so when they try to talk about the harassment they get online there is a sense that people think they're 'asking for it' or that they 'deserve it' but nobody deserves to be harassed or abused. 
To list just a few of the things I have had to deal with: unsolicited dick pictures, people trying to find my address, constant slut shaming. 
It’s easy to dismiss people who post abuse – even if they do it anonymously – as 'losers' but behind every nasty message or comment is a person and, of course, if you’re receiving message after message full of abuse, it takes a toll on you. 

There are some days where I don't even look at my DMs on Instagram because mentally I know I'm not feeling my strongest and I can't handle the abuse that will be there.

There are some days where I don’t even look at my DMs on Instagram because mentally I know I’m not feeling my strongest and I can’t handle the abuse that will be there. I don’t want to see it as it stays with you. 
If one of the men I was on Love Island alongside posts a picture of themselves with no top on and their abs out, they do not get the same level of abuse that I – or other women – get.
We have a huge problem with sexist online abuse and it speaks to the embedded misogyny in our culture more broadly. It isn’t just sex workers who have to deal with online abuse, it’s any woman who posts a sexy picture or a picture of herself in a bikini. We should feel confident and safe to be able to post whatever we like and not have to deal with abuse. 
There need to be more laws to protect women and girls online because the people who hurl abuse think they’re getting away scot-free and it will only get worse. 
At the moment the government is looking at new legislation to deal with online abuse, called the Online Safety Bill. This is a step in the right direction and will result in new criminal offences for cyberflashing and rape threats but it doesn’t go far enough. 
You can criminalise individuals but focusing on individuals lets tech platforms off the hook. They’re profiting from the abuse we receive and refusing to clamp down on anonymous users. 
The government has said that they want to force the largest and most popular social media sites to give users the ability to block people who have not verified their identity on the platform but it shouldn’t just be on us to block abusers, the tech companies should be more proactive in evolving their technology to protect users.
Making users verify their identities should be a top priority for all social media platforms in my view. I really think it would remove the anonymity that so many online abusers hide behind once and for all and make the internet a better place for everyone to be. 
I’m also worried that the Online Safety Bill isn’t inclusive enough for sex workers. One recent amendment lays out "inciting or controlling prostitution for gain" as a priority offence that tech companies must crack down on. 
While it’s true that young people can be groomed for trafficking online, evidence shows that the vast majority of people working in the sex industry in the UK are not trafficked. Campaigners believe this amendment wouldn’t do much in the way of supporting actual victims but would push online platforms to take down sex workers’ legitimate ads in order to avoid fines.
Independent sex work, which is most often arranged through online ads, is legal in the UK. If these ads are removed, sex workers could end up being pushed into already criminalised routes of work on the streets or in brothels. Others could be treated by the police as traffickers themselves for helping a friend with their ad, for example.
There is nothing wrong with choosing to make money from your body – whether that’s by posting photos or other forms of sex work – and sex workers need as much protection online as anyone. It’s time to sort out online abuse and harassment once and for all because I don’t want any young women in the future to have to put up with the messages and comments that I’ve had to deal with.

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