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Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee
07/03/2018
Adequacy of existing cyberbullying laws

BADHAM, Ms Van (Vanessa), Media Section Vice President, Victorian Branch, Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance

PORTELLI, Mr Adam, Director, Victorian Branch, Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance

[09:49]

CHAIR: Welcome to both of you. Do you have any comments to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Mr Portelli : I am the Victorian and Tasmanian regional director for the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance.

CHAIR: I'd now like to invite one of you to make an opening statement—or do you both have opening statements?

Mr Portelli : If it pleases the committee, I'd be intending to make a brief statement to complement our submissions. But I think the point of the evidence today is for the committee to hear about the lived experience of some of our members—

CHAIR: I'm just asking for time management purposes so I can manage time for questions. But, yes, I'm very keen to hear from Ms Badham as well.

Mr Portelli : I intend to be pretty brief.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Mr Portelli : Senators, as you would have realised from our submission, the MEAA, the union that represents journalists, performers and entertainment professionals, is extremely concerned at the rise of hate speech in Australia. Hate speech is readily communicated in the digital age and is not just a problem for children, but is a problem for many adult workers including journalists and other workers who we represent. As we state in our submission, the lived experience of many of our members working in the media industry is one of being regularly subjected to harassment, abuse and threats on social media, where existing laws are not enforced and where there are gaps in the current legislative regime. It is the nature of social media that heated discussion takes place often without reference to facts or objectivity, often with too great a willingness to allow debate to become personal and, in many cases, abusive and threatening.

It is clear from our perspective and our members' experiences that the current Criminal Code, which does offer penalties for cyberbullying, is not readily available or widely known. In our experience, it simply does not work. As the situation stands, from our perspective, we not only have communications laws that have not kept pace with the digital transformation of society, but we have online abuse and harassment laws that, according to the Australian Law Reform Commission and enforcement authorities, are insufficiently trained or reluctant to progress. We also believe that social media platform providers must take responsibility to ensure their services are not used in such a way as to breach the Criminal Code. We make reference to that in our submissions. We also note the comments of Mr Bornstein in relation to an expanded duty of care for those social media platforms. We certainly think those comments and ideas are worthy of further consideration.

Finally, in developing your report, we think it's important to keep an eye on international developments. Mr Bornstein mentioned some of those. But there are others to be aware of, including the relatively recent adoption in New Zealand of the Harmful Digital Communications Act, which introduces a civil regime as well as criminal offences in relation to cyber abuse, and the numerous US state jurisdictions that have introduced cyber abuse laws. I will now hand over to Van Badham, who is the MEAA's Victorian media section vice president as well as being a writer, commentator and contributor to The Guardian, to provide an insight into how cyberbullying works at the coalface and the challenges to seek any redress or enforcement of the existing laws.

Ms Badham : As you can imagine, given the fact that I am an opinion columnist, my role is to express an opinion and that's always going to be contentious. As I devote myself to my work in keeping the political system honest and transparent, I don't expect that to come without a degree of contestation or argy-bargy. But the things that I have experienced on the internet go far beyond any reasonable comment and far beyond anything that anyone would consider merely offensive.

To contextualise my experience, and as a worker in the media industry, I actually want to begin with before I started working for The Guardian to give you a sense of the kinds of things that happen beyond the official public discussion. My father, who was my closest friend and champion, died a very painful death from lung cancer on 19 March 2013. It was the most devastating event of my adult life. This was when I was still employed at the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne. When I was on bereavement leave, I sought some kind of company from the internet, mainly tweeting the results of Scrabble games between my devastated widowed mother and myself. Imagine my surprise when, on the day of my father's funeral, I received a series of abusive, pornographic messages depicting women in sexually humiliating circumstances with the troll's caption, 'This is what your father thought of you.' It was the day of my father's funeral.

I made complaints to the police at the time, whose recommendation was merely, 'Get off the internet.' Unfortunately, in the five years since, and certainly as my profile has grown as a columnist for The Guardian, I have found myself subject to some of the most insane behaviour that I could possibly imagine. I've brought a selection of Facebook comments that I'll leave to you to discuss as they are of a level of obscenity that is quite confronting. But I thought I'd list some of the things that have happened to me.

Obviously I have been deluged with rape and murder threats. I have been told that a man would be waiting for me at an event that I was attending with the intention of splitting my throat. Somebody on the internet who developed an obsession with me managed to convince somebody to follow me home from work when I was still at the Malthouse and then started to work at The Guardian. This person took up some kind of residence outside my home and live-tweeted to the internet my activities on that evening in question. When I sought an intervention order to protect myself from this kind of attempted involvement in my personal life, I found myself dragged into a court process where the intervention order was contested by the obsessed gentleman. Despite a series of court decisions that were found consistently in my favour, a person who I had never met who lived in Western Australia and who I had no personal relationship or contact with did such things as lodging a 1,000-page deposition detailing my imaginary crimes. I want the senators present to be aware that apparently I'm officially 'the most evil person in the 21st century'. He also made appeals to the court to have my passport cancelled, have my bank account frozen and gain access to my email. Even though these are ridiculous claims, an entire year of my life was spent defending myself in court against these bizarre attacks from a person with whom I had no relationship at all.

Since then, I have found myself subject to a very broad experience of internet harassment, such as fake news stories which are manufactured and sent to media. The Daily Stormer, which is the neo-Nazi publication in the United States that was responsible for harassing Josh Bornstein, also harassed me and made public calls for my death to its followers. There is a dedicated Facebook group that bullies me online and mutilates pictures of my face and makes comments on my sex life.

But, beyond the online harassment, two incidents have changed the course of my life. When I was living in central Melbourne I received a package of material depicting gang rape and genital mutilation. That was delivered to my house. At that point I had to cease being an accessible citizen and I moved from the premises knowing somebody who wished me harm or wished to make a threat against me knew where I lived. Then about 18 months ago, after participating in an Anti-Poverty Week event, which I would consider a fairly benign and morally unquestionable use of one's time, and sharing details of my participation in that on social media, I was shoulder charged and bashed on Bourke Street at about 9.30 in the morning on my way back to The Guardian office.

I put these in the context of what it means to be a modern media employee. For those of you who haven't kept pace with what's happened in the media environment, I don't usually work—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: We are politicians. We understand.

Ms Badham : Then you would understand that the collapse of jobs in the media due to digital disruption means that full-time jobs that are office based are disappearing. People like me work on repeated freelance contracts. We don't work in an office. We don't have the physical protection of that place of work. We have these contractual but not physical or visible relationships to our employers. In the case of The Guardian Australia newspaper, which exist entirely in the digital realm in its local imprint, there is a necessity for me to participate on the internet. It is the means to me doing my job. It is not that simple just to walk away.

I'm very fortunate that The Guardian take my safety very seriously and have put in place a number of protections—such things as turning off comment sections when I publish something that is considered to provoke a certain kind of person. I'd say that's specifically if I write anything about sexism, sex discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual abuse or sexual assault. The Guardian have made counsellors available to me for me to debrief about my experiences on the internet and receive some kind of support. They are very vigilant when it comes to protecting my online identity.

But after five years of constant harassment I now have the confidence of TheGuardian that I can step away from the internet and not participate in its debates as much as I have previously done. What people need to understand is that, if you sign publication contract in this country now—for example, if you are publishing a book—or are engaging in any kind of official publicity exercise on behalf of a product, you are compelled through that contract to participate in digital life.

I may be an opinion columnist and I may be paid to express overt opinions in public, but this kind of behaviour is not limited to people with my views or with my job. I have seen the most horrendous abuse of women, specifically women online—although I do understand that men can also be victims of this kind of behaviour. Certainly an internal Guardian inquiry that tabulated the experience of Guardian staff members when it comes to harassment and abuse found that, of the top 10 most abused columnists at the publication, eight were women and the other two were men of colour. Certainly the more socially marginalised your identity the more it intersects. For example, if you have a trans identity, if you are from an LGBTQI background or if you are a person of colour, all of these intersect in the way that you are marginalised in that kind of debate.

I have learnt a lot about the demographics of my abusers. I think that the committee needs to be very well aware of the fact they are overwhelmingly male, they are overwhelmingly white and there seems to be a context for very gendered behaviour. I'd like to make an example of the comparison of my experience as a media employee to one of my male colleagues. I've been at The Guardian for five years, as has a cartoonist known as First Dog on the Moon. First Dog on the Moon is a white man. First Dog and I have very similar political positions. We exist on very similar contracts at The Guardian. We participate in the same activities. We have the same sized followings on social media. About a year ago, he and I both participated in a telethon for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne and shot one-minute long videos in order to promote the charity event. The two of us were at the venue for the same amount of time. Within 24 hours I had received 400 rape and death threats. He had received absolutely none. His experience is completely different to mine.

When you speak to women who are media workers, you hear the most extraordinary tales of harassment. Female columnists I know have found themselves subject to bomb threats at comedy gigs. Another writer I know has discovered that an internet group is mobilising people to make false claims of mistreatment against her child as part of a campaign for the child to be taken away. There is a level of obsession particularly with female media workers that's resulting in work situations that are beyond anything you could expect even from a contentious position.

If I may, I would like to read some of the comments that I got in that 24-hour period just so everyone has some context for understanding that we are not talking about mild—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Are you actually giving us these? I thought you were giving us a series of these.

Ms Badham : Yes. I'm going to read these letters to you so you can understand the difference.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Well—

CHAIR: I am the chair, sorry. I am happy for Van Badham to read those on the record. I think the volume of them would dictate we can accept some others.

Ms Badham : I have nine here from that particular event. They are: 'You are a dumb bitch. You're gonna get gang raped by a group of refugees then get decapitated. LOL.' 'She can't get a dog to please her.' 'You belong in an oven.' 'Dumb as fuck. Kill yourself.' 'I'm so looking forward to seeing her in her next video and demonstrating on herself how female genital mutilation works.' 'Bend over for some diseased anal before your throat is cut, dumb shit self-loathing hater of your parents.' 'That fucking makeover sure went south. Fuck, at least that sheila with the teatowel and glasses, Abdel Magilla Magoo, is a better sort. I believe in nothing she says but I'd give her one just to spread a few more Christian tadpoles.' 'She eats cut clit cereal.' 'Why doesn't she put them in her house where they can trash it and rape her then stone that whore to death.' That's just a selection of 400 very similar ones that I received in a 24-hour period.

CHAIR: We wouldn't normally have such language on our Hansard or broadcast, but it is important in the context of this hearing to be able to see that on the public record. So thank you for that.

Ms Badham : I think it's also important that you realise that these communications came from men who were identifying themselves with their own names. Their confidence in being able to portray themselves to me in that way is something that belies what I think is a really deep problem that hopefully your committee can consider. Based on my research and my understanding and several contemporary debates about the gender difference in the treatment of women online and the fact that overwhelmingly the perpetrators are men, I believe that our community is failing boys in a fundamental way. In line with recent research that identifies that boys, when they are very, very young are denied the access to a vocabulary that allows them to express their feelings, we are seeing the results of young men who have grown up to believe that this is the way that you communicate anger or frustration or upset or disappointment.

In no way do I think that anything I have done as an individual has provoked this kind of behaviour, even if my public political opinions are quite contentious or controversial. There is absolutely no way anything I've done justifies the threat to my health, my body, my sexual freedom or myself that has come from this kind of behaviour, nor has anything I've done warranted street abuse, the other kind of threats that I've been subjected to, or parcels of material being delivered to my house, obliging me to move somewhere else in order to guarantee my own safety. There is a cultural conversation we have to have about the way that younger men are behaving and their relation with the internet that is putting women who work in the media at risk.

CHAIR: Thank you for putting those issues on the record for us today. It doesn't sound like the legal avenues that you've been forced to pursue have been particularly helpful to addressing and resolving the situations you've confronted.

Ms Badham : No.

CHAIR: What would you look at to improve things? Some of that's detailed in the submission that you and the MEAA have put forward. In terms of blocking the kinds of posts and having those people no longer have a right to expression online, how would you like to see companies like Facebook and Twitter go about preventing that?

Ms Badham : I agree with Josh Bornstein's position, that there has to be a duty of care. Coming from professional media anyway, if a publication, The Guardian, The Australian, Fairfax, if any of the major media organisations in this country were facilitating the harassment and abuse of individuals, they would be held accountable. Social media are media corporations. Facebook is effectively a modern newspaper. So is Twitter. It has a pretty loose content policy, but those platforms exist as publication vehicles, and they must take responsibility for the care of participants within that.

There are other considerations. Obviously, when anyone approaches me that threatens my safety or my life—the comment was made earlier that one person's harassment is another person's joke, but I'm sorry, I can't tell the difference between harassment and jokes, not when I'm getting hit in the street, not when I'm getting parcels of things delivered to my house, not when I'm getting followed home.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Getting hit in the street is a matter for the police. That's assault.

Ms Badham : Absolutely.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Surely that's easily prosecuted and convicted.

Ms Badham : As it was. I did take that complaint to the police and the attitude of the police was—a statement was taken. But these things are creating a context where violence and harassment is spilling over into real life. Effectively, I have been dehumanised on the internet and represented by these groups of people, sometimes quite deliberately, in a way where they are incited by others towards violence against my person.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I know what you mean. The media often incite that sort of hatred against politicians.

CHAIR: It's not a one-off incident to be treated that way on the street.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: But the media incite the hatred against politicians.

Ms Badham : But if somebody makes a threat against me online, how am I to know if that person is joking or if they are actually going to punch me in the street?

Senator IAN MACDONALD: We'll come to that later. We're talking about the physical abuse. Mr Portelli, I had to smile when the media is complaining about hate speech, when many of us are the recipients of hate speech from the media all the time, which generates online abuse.

CHAIR: I don't think it's of the same scale as we've discussed this morning.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You took the words out of my mouth. I was going to say that for me it has not been quite to that extent. Ms Badham, I'm not sure what sort of material you write. I don't subscribe to The Guardian, although I have been the recipient of some vicious comment from The Guardian in times gone by as a result of my work in committees.

Ms Badham : How would you know, if you don't read the publication?

Senator IAN MACDONALD: It was brought up at a number of Senate hearings into the Human Rights Commission and illegal maritime arrivals. That's how it all became known. Did The Guardian suggest you get off social media? I think you said that.

Ms Badham : The Guardian have now recommended that I'm not obliged to be on social media. The Guardian does oblige some digital reporting through social media. I can't discuss the contents of anybody else's contract. I can tell you that my workplace has been extremely supportive of trying to keep me safe.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: That was not quite the question.

Ms Badham : But there are contracts that exist in other publications that do oblige people to be on social media. I can tell you that from my experience as somebody with a professional book contract.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: So what The Guardian suggested, and you've done, is what the police originally told you to do, but you didn't take the police advice to get off social media.

Ms Badham : Maybe you don't understand, Senator, that it's actually complex and nuanced and quite intersectional. Social media is not just one thing. Social media is the place where people look for jobs. Social media is the place where people communicate with their social communities. Social media is a place where people communicate with their family. I've from a family that's half Irish, half Polish. I have rather a lot of cousins. I have to say that social media is a very important place for us for maintaining relationships. In fact, a study was done recently that said—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Can't you restrict who your friends are, and just deal with them in a group? Just keep in touch with Poland and Ireland?

Ms Badham : In some elements you can. But I also can't turn off my email. Often I get harassed through email as well. Do you consider that a form of social media. It becomes a conduit for harassment.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You're expanding the thing. It's like someone meeting you outside and shouting at you.

Ms Badham : Do you think it's acceptable for men to threaten to rape me and slit my throat?

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I'm not here to answer questions. What I'm just wanting to clarify is, you mentioned some instances of physical abuse, for which there are remedies. But you haven't taken them or they haven't been successful.

Ms Badham : I have reported every single incident to the police, including the threats on social media. Consistently, the police will—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I'm just talking about physical abuse.

CHAIR: Just let the witness finish her answer.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Chair, am I here to ask questions and get answers to my questions, or am I here to provide a platform for anyone to talk about whatever they like? You're the chair. I thought I asked the questions and got an answer to my question, not to some other question, not to some other—

CHAIR: You did interrupt the witness.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I was particularly asking about physical abuse, and the fact that apparently there seems to be no remedy, according to what you're telling us.

Ms Badham : There has been no remedy to things that have happened to me. They exist in a broader context.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: By making some of the comments you're talking about illegal, how will the remedies occur there if they don't happen in the case of physical abuse and assault, for which there are currently penalties, both civil and criminal? They don't work.

Ms Badham : I can tell you very clearly.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: How do you think we can manage?

Ms Badham : If I may answer the question, there's a process of registration when one sets up a social media account which can absolutely be governed by legislation. Proof of identify can be recorded on Facebook, on Twitter, on LinkedIn and on all of the social media platforms in such a way that communications can be traced. When that man hit me on the street, I didn't know who he was. I couldn't recognise him. He was a stranger. When somebody attacks me online, the social media platform does have the capacity to record who they are so prosecutions can be made. That's how laws against this kind of harassment—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Not according to the previous witness, who had an experience where he couldn't track down who it was. Someone else did, but he didn't. We're trying to get some answers to what is clearly a very, very bad situation. It's one that this committee and other committees of parliament have looked at before, particularly with children's bullying. One of the results of that was setting up the eSafety Commissioner, which works, I understand—although I'm told that it's grossly underresourced. I'm just trying to find a way we can address that. Whilst we're addressing hate speech, we might also try to find a way we can address hate speech from the media. But that—

CHAIR: Will you come to your question, Senator Macdonald.

Mr Portelli : If I may respond to your comments around hate speech in the media—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Sure.

Mr Portelli : As the head of the union in Victoria and Tasmania that represents journalists, I know that freedom of speech is something that we take very seriously. I differentiate between the commentary that you're talking about and the commentary that Ms Badham was talking about. To begin with, the commentary that involves politicians may be politically charged. It may be things that people, most of all politicians, don't want to hear. But it's rarely of the level of abuse and vitriol that Ms Badham has been subjected to. Aside from that, there are already codes of conduct governing media speech. For example, complaints can be taken to the Press Council and, if those journalists are MEAA members, there are code-of-ethics complaints. None of those restrictions are currently involved in the speech conducted by people who are trolling mainly women and often journalists on the internet. In our view, they're two completely incomparable forms of speech.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: I'd like to thank you, Ms Badham, for bringing those pieces of material to our attention and taking us through your lived experience today. I, personally, found it very valuable to have the opportunity to hear that. When we were doing our hearings on this issue in Canberra, we had the opportunity to hear from Women in Media. One of their panellists made the observation that, when we look at law enforcement awareness and training and general understanding in this area, there is an equivalency between where they're at now in terms of these online facilitated abuse issues and where they were 30 years ago with regard to domestic violence. Would you agree with that characterisation?

Ms Badham : Yes, absolutely. I know for a fact—because, obviously, I do seek to protect myself, I do make complaints to police and I have engaged legal representation in order to protect myself in the past—that there are five laws in the state of Victoria that theoretically should protect victims from this kind of abuse and that mean this abuse should be legally actionable. However, there is a reluctance from the police, whether it's due to lack of knowledge, lack of confidence around the issue, lack of insight or lack of willingness—I like to think it is the first three, not the last one—that means there have been no prosecutions or convictions around this stuff in the state of Victoria. That was the case as of four months ago when I had a meeting on this subject. Certainly, I think that lack of confidence within the police is a problem. There needs to be internal activism to empower police to create adequate response mechanisms to deal with this.

I should say, all of my conversations with police have been extremely supportive. I have found kindness from the police. I have found that they have taken my fear very seriously, especially when identifying the relationship between the external behaviour and internal behaviour. That being said, it hasn't actually made me any safer. My attitude towards the police has become that I'm leaving a paper trail so, if I am subject to a much more extreme act of violence, that the police will have some kind of record that they may be able to use to investigate what's happened to me. That's a genuinely terrifying prospect for someone who is just trying to do their job and whose visibility has provoked this kind of anonymous harassment. It's the anonymous element of it which, I think, enables action—in that registration, governance and duty of care with the platforms are things that we have to take really seriously so people like me don't have to live their lives in a perpetual defence mode.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: You mentioned something which I don't think we've heard before, which is that contracts are common nowadays that obligate you to be involved in the online space.

Ms Badham : Absolutely.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: We've heard previously that it is necessary to do your job effectively to be involved in the online space and, therefore, the 'Get off the internet, love' approach is ridiculous. But could you take us through some of the contracts that do exist and the kind of obligations that are involved in that.

Ms Badham : It's like any kind of publicity contract—and these exist across different professions. It's that you will maintain a social media presence and that you will promote your work through various accounts, whether it's on Twitter, Facebook or something else. Depending on what industry it is, you might be obliged to participate in another online forum. That's what contracts are signed, for example, in publishing, in particular. For people who lack nous around the internet, it can be very dangerous and very threatening.

You can go online and look at parts of the internet that are unremarkable. For example, when I was doing some research for a show I was looking up YouTube travelogues. I saw women who were effectively private citizens who were shooting self-made ads and sharing them on YouTube subjected to the most foul, sexist and sexualised harassment and abuse. These are not people with public platforms beyond having a YouTube account. It is prevalent everywhere. The obligation on women, in particular, to be exposed to that in the way that men just aren't is a really serious consideration in looking at how we police these spaces and what, more importantly, is going on underneath in terms of our broader gender discussion.

Mr Portelli : I will just briefly supplement that answer. It simply isn't just a case of freelancing digital publications where it is an absolute requirement of a job to have a social media presence; it's also equally true of the so-called legacy media—The Age, the Herald Sun and their interstate equivalents. And, lest the committee think this is an issue that is confined to those purely in the digital space or commentators with a lot of social media followers such as Van Badham, a report commissioned by Women in Media two years ago, the Mates Over Merit report, found that 41 per cent of in-house female journalists suffered cyberbullying and abuse. So this is really far wider than just a small group of people purely in the digital space. It's across the digital landscape and within and including some of the legacy media, too.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you very much for your testimony today. It's very helpful. I wonder if there's a parallel between domestic violence and what you experience in terms of people who would blame the wife when they got beaten up. Is that something you're confronting?

Ms Badham : Absolutely, yes, of course. The narratives are exactly the same. There's a sad, inevitable despair that I feel that I bring, because I write so much about violence against women and about sexual violence and sexual abuse and because of my involvement in various women's organisations. Obviously, having that kind of understanding of the context of family violence in particular, one of my concerns about some of the material I see is that if I who am a complete stranger am being subjected to this level of hate, vitriol, threat and quite explicitly visualised violent circumstances, I would be very concerned about the women in immediate proximity to the men who are making comments like this. I don't think that we can possibly see them as being on a separate continuum. There is a victim-blaming and slut-shaming mentality that informs violence against women, and it exists absolutely in the way that the discourse around the cyberharassment of women takes place. Like I said, there are broader social issues, here, but accountability, visibility, duties of care, legal redress, police activism are actually the way, perhaps, we can identify not only individuals who are vulnerable to violence but individuals who are vulnerable to becoming perpetrators without serious intervention. I think that's a broader question about the kind of society we want to live in, one which is safe and in which everybody gets to participate equally or one in which indications towards violence, lack of emotional control and a propensity to dehumanise women in particular is something that we prefer to address.

Senator PATRICK: So you don't appreciate it when someone questions your actions in response to being a victim.

Ms Badham : This is the thing: I'm an opinion columnist. I'm more than happy for people to question my actions politically—anything that I put in print. But the idea that anything I have said within the context of my work deserves a comment or contextualises the fairness of a comment that suggests that I should have my throat slit and be anally raped—

Senator PATRICK: I know. In some sense I was dealing with the situation where clearly there's an abuse that's not warranted and is totally unacceptable, and then people might question your approach in trying to seek a remedy and, saying, 'Have you done enough?'

Ms Badham : "Have you done enough?' Yes, you're completely right. This happens all the time. 'Have you gone to the police? Well, the police should have done something.' This idea that, because the police action hasn't resulted in any convictions, somehow the claims are light or fraudulent or nonserious, that perception all the time absolutely harks back to the way that sexual harassment, sexual violence and family violence claims have been treated in the past to minimise the experience of what it means to be targeted like this. I'm not going to lie. These episodes come in waves. I usually get a lot of nasty stuff from the internet every day, but if I make a public appearance—if I dared to put my face on Q&A—I would be subjected to harassment of that level for days. Those comments that I read out before that were about me doing that charity fundraiser—I received so many of these and could not block them fast enough to stop them from coming on my phone. I was interstate doing a gig. I was trying to work and answer phone calls. I actually passed out in a hotel room because it was overwhelming. The conduit that I had to communicate to the world was saturated with threats of violence and harm, and I just passed out. Apparently, that's a normal response to that level of stress and intimidation. It's a workplace safety issue that affects women disproportionately, and the idea that that's not serious, or not worthy of regard, is really concerning. It compounds the trauma of going through that kind of experience.

Senator PATRICK: Sure; I get you. Just as we have a situation where if someone speeds on a regular basis we take them off the road, in contrast to you having to get off the internet, is there a case to argue that if someone is repeating the sorts of remarks that you've talked about today they should be taken off the internet?

Ms Badham : Absolutely, I think that there is a case for that. I believe in a society where we are allowed to go about our business with the surety that we have social systems in place that allow care. I look at it in two directions. With some of the people who harass me, despite the fear that they bring into my life, I genuinely feel sorry for anybody who feels so powerless or terrified of whatever I represent to them that's clearly not receiving enough support or inclusion or encouragement to communicate their frustration in a more positive way. Certainly, I think that the internet can be dangerous for victims but also very dangerous for perpetrators, because if there isn't a punishment, and if there isn't a limit to this kind of behaviour, where does it end? Where does it end for the people around the perpetrator and where does it end for them?

There is a guy on the internet who creates new accounts to harass me every day. Every single day I put in the same report to Twitter identifying this individual. Should that person be fuelling whatever's going on with them with access to that medium, or should they be identified and restricted from engagement in that way? I think in his case he really should.

Senator PATRICK: You're saying there's a case for, in your circumstances, perhaps when a judicial officer makes some finding for someone to be prohibited from being connected via an ISP, to remove them completely from access to the internet, is that the remedy?

Ms Badham : There are ways to limit people's functionality in regard to what they can and can't do online. In the way that we would restrict somebody from getting a gun licence if we believed they were dangerous, I think, that kind of prohibition at the discretion of judicial process is certainly warranted.

CHAIR: Thank you. Unfortunately, we have run out of time. I'd like to thank you for giving evidence today and for being so forthright in sharing your experiences.