Only read the article if you've got the stomach for it. Note that the examples Amanda Hess gives of messages she has received are not simply abusive or harrassing - they are actual threats against her body and her life. Threats that, for the most part, were ignored by the police. And she's not the only one. She writes:
Last year, the American atheist blogger Rebecca Watson wrote about her experience calling a series of local and national law enforcement agencies after a man launched a website threatening to kill her. “Because I knew what town [he] lived in, I called his local police department. They told me there was nothing they could do and that I’d have to make a report with my local police department,” Watson wrote later. “[I] finally got through to someone who told me that there was nothing they could do but take a report in case one day [he] followed through on his threats, at which point they’d have a pretty good lead.”
Hess writes of her own experiences:
The first time I reported an online rape threat to police, in 2009, the officer dispatched to my home asked, “Why would anyone bother to do something like that?” and declined to file a report.
...When I called the FBI over (Tweeter) headlessfemalepig’s threats, a representative told me an agent would get in touch if the bureau was interested in pursuing the case; nobody did. And when Rebecca Watson reported the threats targeted at her to the FBI, she initially connected with a sympathetic agent—but the agent later expressed trouble opening Watson’s file of screenshots of the threats, and soon stopped replying to her emails. The Broadwell investigation was an uncommon, and possibly unprecedented, exercise for the agency. As University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire criminal justice professor Justin Patchin told Wired at the time: “I’m not aware of any case when the FBI has gotten involved in a case of online harassment.”
She quotes Danielle Citron, a University of Maryland law professor who focuses on Internet threats, who has proposed "a new way of framing the legal problem of harassment on the Internet":
She argued that online abuse constitutes “discrimination in women’s employment opportunities” that ought to be better addressed by the U.S. government itself. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race, religion, or gender, was swiftly applied to members of the Ku Klux Klan, who hid behind hoods to harass and intimidate black Louisianans from voting and pursuing work. Anonymous online harassment, Citron argued, similarly discourages women from “writing and earning a living online” on the basis of their gender.
However, Citron also acknowledges that “We have the tools already...Do we use them? Not really.” And that, I think, gets more to the heart of the issue - not only the issue of online harrassment, but of crime and victimization more broadly. We live in a nation overflowing with laws, with new ones being written and passed every day. It doesn't make us any safer, in fact many of them make us less safe. The problem is not that we don't have enough laws, or that existing laws aren't being applied where they could be. The problem is that our justice system is fundamentally flawed, fundamentally broken. It does not serve the people it is supposed to serve.
Our system of justice and law enforcement are part of the monopoly state, which means that those implementing and enforcing the laws face no competition, and are guaranteed to "stay in business" no matter how badly they perform. Sure, if things get bad enough there may be a scapegoat or two who will be sacrificed in order to maintain some sort of public image of accoutability, but in reality there is none. The entity itself, the police department, the court, etc. will keep on running, and those who are in charge will usually emerge unscathed.
What this means is that a) there is no real incentive for these entities to serve the people they are supposed to be serving (you and me). They are going to get paid anyway. Why should they bother? And b) there is no real accountability when they go beyond "not serving" to actual abuse, assault and even murder of those they are meant to serve. Not only are police officers rarely held to account for the crimes they commit against ordinary people, they are frequently rewarded for them. And that should surprise no-one: What agency exists to hold monopoly police departments accountable? (And please don't say "the courts.")
Much has been written about how law enforcement in the US is descending into something other than what it was intended to be. Radley Balko has been doing fantastic reporting on this for years, and has written two books on the subject. William Grigg also covers the abuses of the American police state, in gruesome and sometimes heartbreaking detail. That our current system is grotesquely dysfunctional is hard to deny - the US has the highest prison population in the world by a wide margin, made up largely of people who have harmed or violated no-one.
Meanwhile, women like Amanda Hess continue to recieve death threats from psychopathic strangers and the police mostly do nothing. (Perhaps if those strangers were offering instead to sell her a prohibited substance she would like to have, she could then get them locked away.) So what is the solution? One thing should be clear: Monopoly systems do not serve the people they are intended to serve. That is a gross understatement. Monopoly systems are actually toxic to the people they are intended to serve. So if we're going to make things better, that is the first thing that needs to be addressed. Maybe, as more and more people like Amanda Hess start to realize that the people she thinks are there to protect her aren't, this will start to happen.