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What is wrong with New Zealand? Cyber harassment against women has reached epidemic levels

Three quarters of women under the age of 30 and more than half of all Kiwi women have experienced some form of online harassment and it paints a grim picture of the seriousness of online bullying, a new survey from Norton by Symantec has found.

The study, Online Harassment: The New Zealand Woman's Experience, shows the devastating impact bulling has on women, through unwanted contact, trolling, character assassinations, cyberbullying, right through to sexual harassment and threats of physical violence, rape and death.

More than one third of all Kiwi women will choose to ignore online harassment. Only 9% report it to police.

One in seven women have been threatened with physical violence, rape and death. For women under 30, the figure quickly rises to one in four women.

Sexual harassment is most common: one in fourteen women have been threatened with sexual violence and rape, while one in ten women under 44 years old have been affected.

One in four lesbian, bisexual and transgender women have been targeted because of their sexual orientation. Other women have been targeted because of their physical appearance, weight, gender and disability.

“This survey uncovers the prevalence of harassment against women in the online world, and sheds light on the extent of the problem in our society. It also exposes the high emotional toll online harassment is having on New Zealand women and brings to light the uncomfortable truth that some Kiwi women are feeling violated, abused and frightened by their online experiences,” says Melissa Dempsey, senior director, Asia Pacific, Norton by Symantec.

Sixty nine percent of all harassment is commonly perpetrated through social media, while text accounts for 24% and email at 22%.

Netsafe, an organisation that deals with cyber bullying and online harassment reports on a regular basis, says that the attacks are often relentless and devastating for the victims.

“We receive a higher percentage of reports of personal harm from females than males. Anyone who is harassed or abused online needs positive support as well as practical expertise - which can be accessed through NetSafe,” saysLee Chisholm, Netsafe training and education specialist.

This bullying can have some devastating effects, with 21% of victims reporting depression, 9% felt they needed to seek professional help due to depression or anxiety, 12% felt powerless and 6% felt suicidal.

As a result, 26% of women increased their social media privacy settings, 25% changed the nature of friend relationships, 21% lost friends and 8% closed their social media accounts entirely.

Norton recommends following the three Rs to tackle harassment: Review, Recognise and Report.

Read more about the Online Harassment: The New Zealand Woman’s Experience Report here.

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