Some people say the only way to stop online harassment is to stop going online. Well, we aren't going anywhere. Reclaim Your Domain is Refinery29's campaign to make the internet (and the world of outside it) a safer space for everyone — especially women.
A new bill is aiming to outlaw online behavior that's considered abusive, such as sextortion, revenge porn, doxxing, and swatting. On Tuesday, Reps. Katherine Clark, Susan Brooks, and Patrick Meehan introduced the Online Safety Modernization Act, a bipartisan effort to curb online harassment, which disproportionally affects women, LGBTQ folks, and people of color.
The main focus of the bill is to prohibit the following behaviors at the federal level: doxxing, the act of posting private information about someone online as a form of revenge; sextortion, a type of blackmail where a person threatens to post sexually explicit photos of someone in order to coerce them into doing what they want (typically sending sexual explicit material); swatting, when a person reports a false emergency to the police with the objective of sending armed officers to someone's house; and revenge porn, the act of sharing of intimate photographs or videos of someone without their consent.
The legislation would also create a grant program to provide local and federal law enforcement with resources and training to deal with cybercrimes, increase the number of FBI agents assigned to these cases, and require U.S. district attorneys to put a prosecutor in charge of investigating and prosecuting cybercrime.
As of now, 38 states have laws banning revenge porn, but there's no clear legislation to deal with the other types of cybercrime.
Clark, a Democrat, has introduced several bills aimed at protecting women's rights online, although none of them have passed yet. Among them are the Interstate Sextortion Prevention Act, the Cybercrime Statistics Act, the Interstate Swatting Hoax Act, and the Prioritizing Online Threat Enforcement Act of 2015.
Back in March, she told Refinery29 victims of online abuse face several challenges when trying to obtain justice, which drives her to keep proposing legislation that could combat this trend.
"What we're finding is that many of the local law enforcement are very well intentioned and want to be helpful, but simply don't have the tools, training, or understanding that something that is happening online can have very real effects in person," she said. "It can be such a devastating occurrence to be swatted or to have your personal information released through doxxing online."
Brooks and Meehan, both Republicans, co-sponsored the bill with the hope that it would help protect victims of online abuse and give law enforcement tools to crack down on these behaviors.
"As our world grows increasingly more connected and mobile, sexual abuse, harassment, and extortion are also moving online, and unfortunately, our laws have failed to effectively protect victims of these crimes, leaving them feeling trapped, ashamed, and desperate,” Brooks said in a statement on her website.
She added, "The fact of the matter is, the laws governing sextortion, doxxing, and swatting were written when computers didn’t fit in our pockets, phones were plugged into walls, and texting required a stamp. In order to punish and prosecute these predators to the fullest extent of the law, we must bring our laws into the age of smartphones and SnapChat."
If you want your representatives to support this bill, you should give them a call. Click here to find out how you can contact them.