In my current job, I have a big online presence, Facebook is where almost all of our sales are generated as we connect with the international students and create events for them. As I’m the admin of the groups and always posting about the events, the spotlight is on me and I get 100s of messages a day. Mostly they are from people asking about events, wanting more tickets, or asking for advice about the city they’re studying in.
But I have had several messages from men which have asked me for other things. Some have asked me to send them photos (not the type you’d find on a postcard) and others have been even more direct and asked me if I am working for the local escort service (which unfortunately has a similar name to our company’s) and continue to ask me about such services, even when I tell them that is not what I do.
Sometimes it’s funny, seeing these guys message ‘me’ (for work purposes I have separate facebook accounts) asking such ridiculous requests, but it’s actually not funny that I and other women are subject to messages like this… I don’t even know these guys, I’ve never met them before. Last night when I received another such message, I felt quite intimidated as he told me to ‘never play games with [him]’.
Before I have just blocked messages from these men (yes it’s always men), but from now on I will not accept this online behaviour, because it IS harassment and I feel that if they are messaging me, they are probably messaging other women too. As I work with international students, I fear some of them are far away from home, out of their comfort zone and therefore vulnerable. I feel it’s my responsibility to report these messages to both Facebook and the police so that it’s on record should anything else happen. It needs to be dealt with immediately so it does not escalate.
It starts with a few messages, but who knows what they are capable of and what they will do? Some of these male students come from cultures where they can’t freely talk to women they meet, so when they come to the UK and are out of that cultural environment and away from the watchful eyes of their peers and families, they are unleashed. Suddenly women are walking around in short skirts and crop tops, they’re friendly and talkative, there are dating apps where men can connect with these women and ask them questions like they have been asking me.
Some women just accept the threatening, intimidating and offensive messages as something that happens, it’s just part of being a woman, we have to put up with stuff like this. We just block them and try to forget the things they’ve said to us, but I urge you reading this… if you’re a woman, report these incidents to the police, report their online messages and tell your friends and classmates who these people are..believe it or not, not all men are pigs and some are truly disgusted when you tell them what other men have messaged you asking such things.
And if you’re a man, set a good example, don’t dismiss it as ‘banter’ when you hear about guys sending these messages to women and girls. It is happening every day and it needs to change.