Symposium addresses action plan against online misogyny and violence

SALT LAKE CITY (News4Utah) - Sexual assault survivors, prevention specialists, and law enforcement were among dozens of people who attended the Silicon Safety Symposium Tuesday afternoon. The event is for leaders and advocates to learn more about violence towards women in the digital age and how to take action in their community.

The symposium was held at the University of Utah by the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA).

Presentations included a discussion on how misogynistic viewpoints flourish within and between online spaces, how online pornography normalizes the relationship between violence and sex, and how to take action against online misogyny and violence.

Carrie Rogers-Whitehead was one of the presenters at the symposium. She said that while the Internet provides a lot of advantages, it's also created an issue of unethical behavior online.

"Think about it in terms of road rage. You're more likely to curse or say something in your car where no one can hear you than directly say it to someone else's face. So same thing online - the anonymity, there's like a wall, there's a shield. We can't see the physical effects we're making. But just because we can't see it doesn't mean there aren't effects," said Rogers-Whitehead.

Carlie Knudsen, a sexual assault survivor, said one of the reasons why she attended the symposium is because she wants to be part of the solution.

"It just makes me so angry to hear people deny that this is an issue," said Knudsen.

Alondra Diaz, also a sexual assault survivor, expressed surprised in how many people showed up to the event.

"I actually felt really relieved that so many people showed up here today because I didn't imagine so many people would be intrigued, interested, or even want to have that kind of conversation, especially in a state where we don't have any comprehensive sex education," said Diaz.

She said because of her personal connection to the topics at hand, it was shocking to learn about the online trends in pornography searches during one of the presentations.

"What hit home for me were the words, "free rape." It was just an interesting term because rape in itself is a way to gain that freedom from someone else. So that's what really hit home with me. How those two words were compounded together and how people would search for that...the word rape is very detrimental," said Diaz.

However, Rogers-Whitehead believes that facilitating conversation about the issues at hand is necessary to combat the issue.

"We need to normalize talking about sex and talking about rape culture. We don't need to normalize rape culture itself," said Rogers-Whitehead.

While Diaz is happy to see the effect of the #MeToo movement, she said she doesn't entirely agree with the labels being used.

"Right now, it is a little bit hurtful that they're calling it a 'witch hunt,' which I don't personally find it as. Calling it 'trivial' is very undermining the awareness and acknowledgment of what sexual violence and rape culture permeates in our society," said Diaz.

Rogers-Whitehead said one of the ways to combat the issue of sexual harassment is to explain consent to children at an early age because the age group most vulnerable to assault is teens.

"The average age of hardcore pornography exposure is around 11 or 12. You also have the average age of sextortation, which means "Send me nude pics and I'll do something extorting" and that's at 15," said Rogers-Whitehead.

The symposium concluded with a session about how community leaders and advocates can take local action against online misogyny and violence.

UCASA will be holding their annual Utah Sexual Violence Conference, which is open to the public. For more information, click here.

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