Study Finds Sexual Harassment is More Damaging than Other Types of Online Abuse

A Pew Research study indicates than 6% of people on the Internet report being sexually harassed while gaming with others. While men are subjected to more name-calling online, women experience far higher rates of sexual harassment. Several recent high profile cases have illustrated the severity of the sexual harassment that women experience online. In 2014, during “Gamergate,” female game developers on Twitter and other social media platforms were targeted and sexually harassed. Some were even subjected to death and rape threats while the harassers gained the support and assistance of thousands online.

Women’s Experiences as Video Game Players

The recent study published by New Media and Society surveyed 293 female video game players. The participants in the study had an average age of 26 and they played about 13 hours of video games a week. The researchers asked the participants about a variety of types of harassment that they may have experienced during game play. These ranged from general harassment in the form of name-calling or “trash talking” to sexual harassment. While participants indicated that they were able to easily dismiss the generalized harassment, the sexual harassment affected them for longer periods of time.  Not only was the sexual harassment more upsetting, it lingered with the participants after the games were over.

How Women Try to Prevent Sexual Harassment Online

As a result of sexual harassment, women gamers have developed strategies to attempt to avoid being sexually harassed online. Many women pretend to be a different gender or use a gender-neutral character. Women also report seeking support from a friend offline as a way to cope with sexual harassment. The participants in the study did not blame the video game makers for the sexual harassment, but did believe that inadequate efforts have been made to end sexual harassment. The study found that women who believed the video game makers were not doing enough were more likely to quit playing video games entirely.

The study’s lead author, professor Jesse Fox believes that women video game players understand that the culture of gaming leads to insults, but being targeted specially because of their gender leaves many women frustrated with the gaming industry and gaming culture.