We take the best academic papers and summarize them in plain English so you can improve your idating site, and help your users make better connections.
Summary, In Plain English:
Summarized by Stacy Jurgens, Marketing Manager, Courtland Brooks
Azy Barak has completed a review of multiple publications on the topic of sexual harassment online. Some of the recommendations were based on strategies that have proven effective in an offline setting.
Barak distinguished the three major types of sexual harassment that occur outside of the Internet are gender harassment, unwanted sexual attention, and sexual coercion. Barak found that these are the same three types that occur online with the former two the most prevalent. He differentiated further between verbal and graphic forms as well as both active and passive forms of gender harassment and unwanted sexual attention as they relate to online activities.
The active forms of online sexual harassment are typically directed at an individual or group specifically with the intention that the individual or group will see or read the offensive image or message. This occurs usually in the form of direct e-mails, messages in a chat room, or a picture posted in a private message for example. The passive forms tend to be words or images that are not directed at anyone in particular but can still be viewed by people who do not wish to see this material such as disrespectful usernames and taglines, insulting messages posted in a user profile, or distasteful images or videos in a pop-up advertisement.
Sexual coercion is distinctly different online as it is offline in that tactile force is not possible, however the prevalence of verbal uses of threats, rewards, intimidation or some other form of pressure can be perceived as just as forceful as if it were in person. A unique feature of online interactions is that a perpetrator may possess technical skills which allow hacking into the victim's computer and/or "cyberstalking" to follow a victim from digital place to place which is often perceived as quite threatening to the victim.
The online environment may promote sexual harassment behavior:
The first model of behavior addressed is "disinhibition" whereby the internet provides "the Penta-A Engine ... composed of anonymity, availability, affordability, acceptability, and aloneness." These features promote risky behaviors without much, or any, accountability to the users behind them. In fact, in certain online communities, this type of behavior is actively encouraged which relates to the second model, SIDE. This stands for "Social Identity explanation of Deindividuation Effects" which, in a nutshell, is the hivemind or groupthink mentality of blending in with the group rather than behaving according to your own personal principles.
Barak argues that these two models either individually occurring or concurrent create an environment in which online sexual harassment occurs. Those who already have an inclination toward sexual harassment may lose their social inhibitions when interacting online much more readily than in person. Additionally, the features of online interaction that are not present with in person interaction make for a smaller risk to the sexual aggressor as "a harasser can take advantage of being unidentifiable, anonymous, and invisible, in addition to having immediate, easy-to-execute, almost untraceable escape route mechanisms."
Preventing online sexual harassment:
Barak lists the three effective methods to counteract sexual harassment in person as: "legislation and law enforcement, changing of the organizational-social culture, and education and training of potential victims as well as of potential harassers."
The logistics of legal intervention in online sexual harassment is difficult, at best, as the different locations, even different countries, in which a server, website owner, and it's users reside may subject each to vastly different interventions. It is further noted that the efficacy of law enforcement in dealing with these issues in an online setting is poor.
Instead, Barak focuses on changing the culture of the online communities away from the aggressive and harassing behaviors and education of those who would use the online communities.
This article appears to have the scope of a global solution with suggestions including educating at the school level as well as posting reinforcing information in prominent locations all about the Internet. The scope of your dating website is not likely intending to take on the public and private educational systems in virtually every continent so I will make recommendations based on things that you can do at the scope of your website with Internet daters as your target audience.
Based on this article's information, you should:
1. Present a clear and consistent anti-sexual harassment policy in your terms of service and anywhere else on your site that seems pertinent.
2. Have staff (or dependable volunteers) in a leadership role who can reinforce your anti-sexual harassment policy consistently and without a policy of leniency.
3. Clearly label any area on your dating site that may expose a user to any sexual content and allow users who would be offended by such content or interaction between users to opt out.
4. Consider having verbal content (text) and graphical content (photos and videos) be viewed by human staff and reviewed for compliance with the terms of service related to sexual content prior to visibility on the site.
5. If you offer users the ability to upload sexual content and that is not the primary goal of your site, consider tagging each sexual photo/video/profile text with an "adult content" marker so that users who do not wish to see such content have to opt-in to view it on a profile-by-profile basis.
6. Provide users with the ability to "report" a profile, photo, forum post, or any other piece of user-uploaded content that they find to be harassing or offensive. Have staff that can quickly review and take corrective actions as needed for any user reported content.
7. Provide users with the ability to "block" a user from being able to contact them and from showing up in search results or suggested dating matches.