MADRID – One bad day, Maria Tikas receives four or five abusive online messages suggesting that she only got her job as a journalist because she offered sexual favors to her bosses.
Some messages contain graphic sexual images. Others suggest that a woman knows nothing about the coverage of football for sport, a Spanish sports daily.
“You have no idea (about football), go back to the kitchen,” read one of the messages Tikas showed to VOA.
Tikas and other women journalists in Spain publicized the daily vitriol.
“¡Basta! Women journalists say enough!” That was the title of a two-page article in Sport last week, which detailed the experiences of 15 women covering sport in a country where soccer is like an alternative religion.
The article came out as a new law was under consideration in Spain’s parliament that promises to tackle online sexual abuse for the first time.
Due to come into force next year, the legislation will classify online abuse as sexual violence. Convicted offenders will face fines or even house arrest.
For Tikas and millions of other women, the law offers hope that people will think twice before sending offensive messages.
“It’s not that bad when I report about women’s football, but it’s worse when I write about men’s football. The typical thing is to say that I only got my job because I “slept with the boss. Or they say I should scrub the kitchen,” she told VOA.
Most of the abuse is online, but Tikas says she also receives sexist comments while she is working. Some male sports agents – a crucial source of stories – make sexually charged “innuendos”, she said.
However, the 24-year-old journalist insists the abuse does not deter her.
“No, that doesn’t make me think of giving up journalism. I block these messages. It generally bothers me more that women are still treated like that,” she said.
When the Sport article came out, it caused a new dose of abuse, Tikas said.
“Some have said that we always say that we are victims, that we complain too much, that we should not have equality because we are not good enough.”
Spain’s sexual freedom bill has been dubbed the “only yes means yes” law because of how it will change the criminal code regarding rape. Unless a person gives their express consent to have sex, it will be considered rape. Previously, Spanish prosecutors had to prove that there had been intimidation or violence.
“I hope this (law) will mean that Spain has left behind its long history of sexual violence against women,” Spain’s Equality Minister Irene Montero Gil told parliament when she introduced the law in June.
The law will also consider as a criminal offense “addressing another person with expressions, behavior or propositions of a sexual nature which create an objectively humiliating, hostile or intimidating situation for the victim”.
Montero pointed out that harassment is not defined as a man complimenting a woman on her appearance, but making obscene sexual remarks.
Digital domestic violence – pornographic revenge or sextortion, where someone threatens to post private images or material if the person does not comply with requests for sexual favors or money – will also be considered a punishable offense. or community service.
The government is urging social media platforms to adapt their strategies against domestic violence and is trying to involve social media influencers in this policy.
Laia Bonals, a 23-year-old sports journalist in Ara, a regional newspaper in Catalonia, northeastern Spain, says the law is welcome but not sufficient.
Like Tikas, Bonals regularly receives messages suggesting that she uses sexual favors or that she doesn’t know anything about sports.
“On other occasions, men – athletes or agents – try to flirt with me and treat me like an object instead of someone trying to do my job. This law can help, but it will take much more to change people’s view of women journalists, ”said Bonals, who also put her name on the article in Sport.
Encarni Iglesias, of the Stop Digital Gender Violence campaign group, supported the new law but said that in practice it could be impractical.
“It’s a way forward, of course, but I think it will be easy for a judge or defense attorneys to dismiss these cases because how do you prove someone made the tweet? It’s easy to manipulate digital images, ”she told VOA. .
Tikas believes education – not the new law – will end the abuse.
“I don’t have much hope that a law will change things. It will take education to change attitudes towards women in Spain. We have to change the mentalities of children,” she said.
Julie Posetti, global research director at the International Center of Journalists, has studied the effects of online violence on journalism.
“Our research has shown that it is not possible to solve this crisis with one measure,” she told VOA.
“Legal and legislative protections against online violence are an essential part of any effective response,” Posetti said. “And they need to target not only the perpetrators, but also the facilitators and amplifiers of the essence of online gender-based violence: social media platforms.”
Posetti is the lead author of a recent study by UNESCO and the International Center of Journalists which interviewed 901 journalists around the world. They found that 73% of those surveyed had experienced online violence.
Online harassment can seriously affect journalists, Posetti said, adding that she was aware of several cases of journalists being treated for PTSD due to harassment.
“Psychological damage must be recognized as a serious consequence of the online violence faced by women journalists,” Posetti said.