WMC Press Releases

Ashley Judd, Soraya Chemaly Launch WMC Speech Project: Initiative Spotlights The Effects of Toxic Online Harassment on Women


WASHINGTON, DC  — The Women’s Media Center launched the WMC Speech Project today to spotlight and document online abuse and its effects on women’s rights, civic participation, and free speech.  The project uses WMC’s journalism and activism platforms to raise public awareness of the scope and effects of toxic online abuse.

Ashley Judd, who has been the target of extreme online harassment, serves as Chair of the WMC Speech Project.  In announcing this new project, Judd said, “I tolerated, ignored, or internalized hate speech, gender bullying, and mob attacks until I stood up for myself. And once I stood up for myself, my courage was amplified knowing my experience is shared by so many others. I am part of an international community of girls and women who routinely experience harassment whose purpose is to constrain our speech, control our movement, and limit our social and political presence and effectiveness. Girls and women not in the public eye are significantly more likely to be the targets of sustained abuse and it’s these women’s experiences and stories about which we need to hear more.”

Soraya Chemaly, a WMC board member and writer who has been on the forefront of discussions about the prevalence and impact of online harassment, serves as Director of the WMC Speech Project.  Chemaly explained, “What’s different today is the scope and amplification that the Internet makes possible. While many people think the online harassment women face is embarrassing name calling, what women actually face on a 24/7 basis is a broad spectrum of tactics that leverage existing violence: rape threats, doxing, racist hatred, nonconsensual and unsolicited pornography, slut-shaming, stalking, damages to reputation, emotional harm, deadnaming.  For women, harassment can be particularly acute because it’s more likely to be intersectional -- it profoundly affects a person’s personal, professional, financial and public life.”

The new project launched with an infographic that illustrates the extent of the challenges and provides broader context for commonly employed harassment tactics and crimes.   The WMC Speech Project Harassment Wheel can be found here.

Articles exploring the intersections of free speech and safe speech will be published weekly.  Covering both domestic and global online harassment, the stories will highlight digital divides and everyday online discrimination. Stories will examine the political, psychological, physical, and economic costs associated with online harassment, and shine a light on the inequalities caused by systemic obstacles to women’s freedom of expression.

The WMC Speech Project launched with three articles, including one by writer and activist Feminista Jones, about the effects of cross-platform harassment; a piece by Kaofeng Lee, Deputy Director of the Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence about the relationship between online and offline domestic violence; and a third by Jacqueline Weirnmont, founding co-director of the Human Security Collaboratory at Arizona State University, discussing social norms and why “violence” is an appropriate word in a digital environment.

The WMC Speech Project website can be found here.

The WMC Wheel of Harassment can be found here.

Soraya Chemaly will discuss the WMC Speech Project and online harassment at SxSW on March 12.

The Women’s Media Center, co-founded by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan, and Gloria Steinem, works to make women visible and powerful in media. The Women’s Media Center trains women leaders to be in the media; promotes women experts to the media through WMC SheSource; conducts groundbreaking research and reporting on media inclusion and accuracy; features women’s voices and stories on our radio program “Women’s Media Center Live with Robin Morgan” and through WMC Features, WMC FBomb, WMC Speech Project, and WMC Women Under Siege.

For more information, contact Cristal Williams Chancellor, director of communications, at cristal@womensmediacenter.com or 202-587-1636.


More articles by Category: Free Speech, Media, Online harassment
More articles by Tag: Equality, Internet policy, Sexism, Social media