5 Tips for dealing with online harassment for trans kids and their families
Targeted online harassment can have a severe and lasting impact on a person’s life, sometimes leading to anxiety, PTSD, self-harm, and risky online and offline behavior. It can also push people to censor themselves or withdraw from online communities and offline social settings just to avoid the harassment.
According to Pew Research Center, a majority of teenagers have experienced some form of cyberbullying. And studies have shown that online harassment disproportionately impacts women and LGBTQI+ people – including LGBTQI+ youth. For LGBTQ+ kids and their families in particular, social media often presents a unique opportunity to connect with people with similar or shared identities and find a community. Being bullied or harassed online can force vulnerable transgender and gender diverse young people (and their families) into isolation.
Our attorneys at C.A. Goldberg, PLLC have been working with clients who are trans and experiencing attacks online since we opened our firm in 2014. In recent years, the vicious online behavior has been aimed at increasingly younger trans people and their parents and families too.
The increase in harassment toward trans kids and their families is the result of politics, the pandemic, and social media products inducing people to spend more time online and engage in more reckless and harmful ways to drive engagement. It’s also the result of kids identifying earlier and feeling increasingly empowered to be public online about their identity at earlier ages, combined with increased intolerance stoked by popular media. Much of the harassment and hate occurs on mainstream social media platforms, not in deep dark corners of the internet, both in the form of targeted harassment at trans kids and content intended to radicalize people against the trans community.
In this day and age, there is no segregation between online and offline life. Harassment online has real-world consequences that impact all aspects of a person’s life. We work toward ensuring that social media companies are not encouraging and profiting from hate, harassment, and radicalization; and that the legal system, educators, and society are responsive to online harms.
We want to provide some quick steps you can take if you or your child experience intimidation, threats, mobbing, stalking, or doxxing online:
- DO NOT BLAME YOURSELF. OR YOUR CHILD.
You and your family are not the reason you are being harassed. You are not responsible for a troll or stalker’s actions. And you are not responsible for carrying the shame and embarrassment of those actions.
As a parent, it’s important to remind your child that it’s not their fault. Keep the lines of communication open and assure your child that you love them unconditionally and are taking action to stop it. Generally, it’s not ultimately helpful to punish your child by taking away their phone. If your child feels alienated online and/or at school, home needs to be a loving place for them where they can confide what’s going on instead of worrying about it alone.
- DON’T ENGAGE. GATHER EVIDENCE.
These days, using technology and social media as weapons to harass someone is fairly uncomplicated. VPNs, Tor browser, the ability to generate scores of fake phone numbers, spyware apps – the potential tools available to stalk are numerous and terrifyingly effective.
While technological innovation has inspired cruel and more creative ways to terrorize another person, stalkers’ desperate need to be noticed remains the same. They don’t care if it’s positive or negative attention. Many get sick pleasure from the tiniest morsel of confirmation that their actions have had an effect and will continue until they provoke another reaction.
It’s only natural for victims to want to defend themselves against damaging lies and menacing behavior. But sometimes, by doing so, they’re giving harassers what they want – attention.
If someone is making unwanted and repeated attempts to contact you after you’ve firmly requested them to stop, don’t respond. Even if they threaten to contact your employer, friends, or family, or sensitive information – don’t respond. Focus your energy into gathering evidence. Gathering evidence can include taking screenshots and filling an incident tracker. This is especially important for showing a pattern of persistent or escalated harassment, should you decide to file a police report, report the harassment to social media platforms, or otherwise take action.
- FORTIFY YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA.
Change and secure your passwords to social media, phone apps, email, iCloud and always choose the option to log out of other browsers after resetting. Consider using a password manager and turn on two-factor authentication.
Set up privacy features to ask for approval before anything you’re tagged in can be posted to your timeline.
Block harassers on social media. Any efforts to get around that blocking, such as creating new accounts to add you, calling from blocked or unknown numbers, indicates escalation. These fervent attempts should be documented and included in any statement you give to the police or a lawyer.
In addition to blocking, you could consider making your accounts private, deleting comments, and reporting users and posts.
- INFORM AND ASSEMBLE YOUR SUPPORT TEAM.
Telling supportive people in your community and loved ones about what’s happening is beneficial in two crucial ways. First, it is mentally and emotionally torturous to be the target of online harassment. Being surrounded by friends and family who care is a continuous reminder of what respectful, healthy relations looks like.
Secondly, it’s an issue of safety. Your friends and family should keep in mind that anything they tag you in, a harasser can potentially see.
Engaging w/schools (if possible) might be a good idea if you have reason to believe that the harassment is coming from classmates known to your child.
Tell the principal/ teacher about the situation and ask what their policy for responding to cyberbullying is and what support they can offer. If the attacks against your child are gender-related (or relate to gender expression), you can request a meeting with the school’s Title IX liaison.
Keep your child in the loop, if appropriate, so that they feel in-control of the situation.
- USE THE RESOURCES AVAILABLE TO GET HELP.
Don’t let others excuse this behavior as “not that serious” or diminish your/your kid’s feelings. Stalking is a criminal offense, it’s generally a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. It’s serious, often violent, and can escalate. If you sense that the harassment getting more serious, the situation is escalating, or you would like additional support to stop it, call the police and reach out to an experienced lawyer to help your family.
Our team of experts will do everything they can to stop online harassment and protect your safety and peace of mind. If you are looking for support, go to cagoldberglaw.com or call 646-666-8908.
- Resource: 5 steps to take if you’re being blackmailed online
- Blog: What parents need to know about online grooming and sextortion
- C.A. Goldberg, PLLC in the news: Mother Jones – The Internet Is Full of Predators. Omegle Lets You Meet Them
- C.A. Goldberg, PLLC in the news: Washington Post – How to talk to teens about nudes and online safety
- Wall Street Journal: Instagram Connects Vast Pedophile Network
- Blog – AI in the hands of stalkers, abusers, and traffickers: A new frontier in victims’ rights
Nothing on our website, blog, or social media should be interpreted as legal advice or the creation of an attorney-client relationship. You should not act or rely on the basis of information on this site without seeking the advice of an attorney.