Another level

Here’s another branch of the Harassing Women on Twitter industry – people threatening a woman with rape because blah blah blah blah.

TV presenter Richard Madeley has said people who sent “sick rape threats” to his daughter are in “deep trouble”.

Chloe Madeley received threats on Twitter after defending her mother, Judy Finnigan, who caused controversy when she described a rape committed by footballer Ched Evans as “non-violent”.

Well that’s ironic. I wish people wouldn’t declare the rapes of other people “non-violent” – I wish people would just get out of the business of minimizing the rapes of other people altogether – but I don’t think the right response is to threaten such people’s daughters with rape.

Mr Madeley tweeted “prosecution awaits” for the culprits but refused to comment on whether he had contacted police.

The Met Police said they were not aware of any complaint about the matter.

However, a spokesman added it could have been reported to any police force.

In an email to BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat Miss Madeley said she wanted to stand up to “vicious attention seekers.”

She added: “I always ignore the disgusting troll tweets I get because I honestly do not want to give them any attention, but the tweet in question took it to another level.”

Aw, it’s just people having a little harmless fun. There’s no need to politicize it. </irony>

Now the Tory Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is saying sentences for internet harassment should be longer.

He told the Mail on Sunday quadrupling the current maximum six-month term showed his determination to “take a stand against a baying cyber-mob”.

The plan has been announced days after TV presenter Chloe Madeley suffered online abuse, which Mr Grayling described as “crude and degrading”.

Magistrates could pass serious cases on to crown courts under the new measures.

But, free speech.

Yes, free speech, but the state isn’t the only force that can suppress free speech. Harassers on social media can do that very effectively.

Miss Madeley told the Mail on Sunday she agreed with the new proposals to update the 10-year-old law.

“It needs to be accepted that physical threats should not fall under the ‘freedom of speech’ umbrella,” she said.

“It should be seen as online terrorism and it should be illegal.”

Those who subject others to sexually offensive, verbally abusive or threatening material online are currently prosecuted in magistrates’ courts under the Malicious Communications Act, with a maximum prison sentence of six months.

More serious cases could go to crown court under the proposals, where the maximum sentence would be extended.


  1. chrislawson says

    I can’t say that increasing the maximum penalty is going to make much difference if there’s no will to prosecute. Frankly, I think most online abuse would stop overnight if the abusers thought there was a high probability that they would spend 6 months in prison for it. Even 1 month. Even a recorded conviction without imprisonment would screw up a lot of abusers’ future employment opportunities. The real problem is not the level of punishment in the legislation but the complete lack of effort to pursue cases. Even Dennis Markuze, with his obsessive number of horrifying death/rape threats, wasn’t taken seriously until he started turning up to conventions where there were people he had threatened. And if that’s the standard one has to meet to trigger police interest, then the rest of the abusers will continue undeterred.

    In fact, as my cynicism grow over time, it occurs to me that this is just another excuse for the Tories to push a Hard On Crime agenda in a manner that will make no difference to the average victim of the crime but will allow them to pick and choose who to punish, often excessively. I mean, it says a lot to me that the first person they’ve responded to in a demonstrative fashion is a rich, white male in a prominent media position. And according to the article, this law has been in action for ten years. If it was failing because the penalty was too small then they should have examples of people prosecuted for online abuse who were not deterred by their penalty and returned to abusive behaviour soon after release from prison. I assume, then, that there are many such examples, right?

  2. screechymonkey says

    I agree with Chris. Even a criminal record with probation or a suspended sentence only would be a big deterrent for a lot of idiots.

  3. says

    Even a criminal record with probation or a suspended sentence only would be a big deterrent for a lot of idiots.

    Just a big enough public outing will do. Most HR departments google prospective employees before making an offer. I doubt Michael Shermer could get a job at a corporation, anymore, for example. People posting online racism have also clearly limited their careers, and harassers, too. Personally, I think that’s one of the reason that some of the harassers are anteing up so hard: they’ve already painted themselves into a corner. The internet never forgets.

  4. mildlymagnificent says


    I can’t say that increasing the maximum penalty is going to make much difference if there’s no will to prosecute.

    Though I’d go further. Lots of these harassers working from their comfy chairs would get a big kick to their egos and their sense of security if the police merely investigated most of these campaigns and the individuals involved. I know that a few of them will turn out to be silly kids who’re going to be in real trouble with their folks and will lose their internet privileges for a few weeks or months.

    Most of them, however, will be seemingly responsible adults with jobs and partners/ families who will face a lot of embarrassment / criticism merely for bringing the cops to the door. That alone would be enough to shut most of them up.

  5. chrislawson says

    I should add that I’m not criticising Richard Madeley or his daughter Chloe for standing up to the abuse. I think they’ve done the right thing*. My line about being a rich, white, prominent media figure was meant as a criticism of the Tory agenda on this.

    *(The mother, not so much: she should understand that while there are degrees of violence in rape, nevertheless all rape is a form of violence; her mistake is in assuming that violence=tissue damage or threats thereof.)

  6. says

    Peggy Sanday has done a lot of study about rape, both in US feats and cross-culturally among the matrilineal Minangkabua (which I know a bit about since my late wife was one of the main anthropologists who studied them). Her research shows shows that it isn’t the harshness of the potential punishment that matters, but the certainty of punishment, whether legal or “just” societal disapproval and shunning. The incidence of rape among the Minangkabua is so low Sanday refers to the culture as rape free (my late wife studied Minangkabua legal systems and found the same). In the USA we tend toward the oppsite: harsh potential sentences but low likelihood of imposing same.

    BTW, the Minangkabua are both matrilineal and Islamic, and they make both systems work. Food for thought for those who see Islam as a monolithic enterprise.

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