Why I Don’t Just Go to the Cops

As a woman who has opinions online, I get rape and death threats on a fairly regular basis, mixed in amongst the barrage of gendered slurs and comments about how fat I am. For the most part, the “threats” are obviously empty attempts to scare me into being silent – just another aspect of the usual bullying. Every now and again, though, there’s a threat that sounds just a bit more legitimate.

The first one came back in 2005 when I lived in Boston and had just launched Skepchick. I was able to write up a short article about the project for an issue of eSkeptic, Michael Shermer’s free email newsletter. Within a day of that eSkeptic hitting in-boxes, I received a brief email from a man calling me a cunt. I responded with a chipper “Thanks for taking the time to write!” He responded with, “If I lived in Boston I’d put a bullet in your brain.”

That escalated quickly.

I checked his IP address and found he was most likely writing from North Carolina. I called the Boston police and described the exchange. They told me there wasn’t much they could do because he apparently lived in another state. They offered to take down a report, but admitted that nothing would come of it unless someone one day put a bullet in my brain, at which point they’d have a pretty good lead.

At the time, I assumed my local police department was the exception, but as the years passed I learned that they’re actually the rule. I’ve lived in several different cities since then and received several frightening threats, and never have I met a single helpful cop who even made an attempt to help me feel safe.

The last one I reported was last year. A Skepchick reader happened across the website of a man who had written disturbing things about murdering women in general and me in particular, including photos of me with targets on them. The reader alerted the other Skepchicks, who compiled as much information as they could on the person, including his real name, age, and location (about a 3-hour drive from me). Let’s call him “Rick.”

Because I knew what town “Rick” 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. So I called my local police department and the operator transferred me to a detective, but I got a busy signal. I called back and the operator sent me to another line, which rang and rang for ten minutes before I hung up. I called back and finally got through to someone who told me that there was nothing they could do but take a report in case one day “Rick” followed through on his threats, at which point they’d have a pretty good lead.

My fellow Skepchick contributors and other friends suggested that because he lived in a different state, the FBI might be able to help. So, I called my local FBI office.

My first experience dealing with the FBI was wonderful. The first person I spoke to was horrified by what I described to her, and she immediately forwarded my call to an agent. I gave the agent all the information I had, and he was also very understanding and professional. He told me he’d assign two agents to the case who specialize in this sort of thing, and they’d be in touch with me soon.

Within the day, an agent called me and got all the details. After I described everything on “Rick’s” website, the agent agreed that the threat was credible and told me that it sounded as though his threats would definitely fall under the category of a hate crime (since he was targeting me for my gender), which would make it rather easy to prosecute. She asked that I send along all the screenshots and information I had gathered.

I emailed her the information as soon as I got off the phone with her, and felt much better having spoken to her. The other Skepchick contributors and I celebrated that our own Scully was on the case.

Days went by with no word from her. I emailed her again to be sure she received everything. She said she was traveling and that she’d get back to me asap.

Weeks went by and I emailed her again, apologizing for bothering her but wondering if anything was happening. She replied to say that I definitely was not bothering her, and that she’d be getting to this soon.

A few more weeks later, I emailed her to tell her that in a month I would be giving a public talk just an hour from where “Rick” lived and that I wasn’t sure what to do. She told me, “You take whatever precautions you need to take.” She also asked me to resend the screenshots, which I did. She replied saying her computer wouldn’t open the .zip file I sent but asked if the screenshots were the same as the links I had sent her. I replied to say that yes, the screenshots were all the same as what the links showed, since “Rick” hadn’t edited or taken down anything he had posted.

That was September of last year. I never heard from her again.

A good friend of mine heard this story at the time it was happening and wanted to help me, so he hired an armed guard to attend my talk and a private detective to look into “Rick’s” background.

Around this time, I started receiving hundreds of harassing Tweets and Facebook messages from a pseudonym using an IP address that came from “Rick’s” home town.

The detective worked quickly and efficiently. He almost immediately found that “Rick” had previously been arrested for domestic violence. He also found that “Rick” was responsible for vandalizing my Wikipedia page, and had a long history of making enemies online in forums and elsewhere.

The private detective called me to talk over my options. He pointed out that there’s a chance that “Rick” is just a pathetic troll who lives with his parents and will never actually do anything besides rage on the Internet. There’s also a chance he would follow through on his threats, and there’s absolutely no way to know for sure one way or another until it happens. He told me that if I wanted, I could get a restraining order, but this would have consequences. The restraining order would be delivered to “Rick” along with the information that I’m the one who ordered it. He told me that sometimes, this is enough to encourage people like “Rick” to escalate to violence. He pointed out that a restraining order is not a magical spell that would stop him from getting near me – its only purpose is to make it easier for the police to prosecute him if he does get near me, at which point he’ll have already done what he’s going to do.

The detective also told me that I should reconsider publicizing anything about “Rick” because that, too, could “escalate” the situation to one that would be very dangerous to me. That’s why “Rick” is not the man’s real name and I haven’t linked to his threats. I don’t know if “Rick” is still obsessed with me, but if he is, then he probably has read this and recognized himself, anyway, so I’m actually very hesitant to even publish this.

I am going to publish it, though, because I’m tired of people asking me why I don’t go to the cops when I get a threat like this one that came in the other day via Twitter:

I will rape you then kill her then rape her again

I will rape you then kill her then rape her again

I don’t go to the cops because the cops don’t care. I’m sure they’re doing very important things, like shooting drug dealers or whatever. And for every Anders Breivik there are 100 men who will never go further than hating women from the comfort of their basements; for every George Sodini, 100 men who only wish they could gun down women.

And I guess wishing isn’t illegal.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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    1. Of course the first comment is “Rebecca, why didn’t you do more to resolve this issue?”.

      Whether or not that’s how you intend your question, it’s how it comes across. How in the hell is Rebecca supposed to know whether or not that would have helped? Helped what, exactly? There’s an obvious lack of empathy on the part of law enforcement, how would speaking to another law enforcement officer have helped when the ones who are empathetic don’t even follow through?

      1. I don’t know myself, never having been involved with the FBI (or, since I ma the Canadian, the RCMP). My involvement with police was the speeding ticket I got when I was 19 (24 years ago) and when I had a seizure while walking outside at night and some how managed to call 911 after regaining consciousness. The first isn’t applicable here and the second is kinda hazy because ot effects on memory a seizure has. In other words, I have limited experience with the police. Rebecca clearly has had more contact with them than I have and ppossibly she has asked that question in the past.

        I didn’t say “Rebecca, you should have asked for a supervisor” – I asked if it would have helped. If the answer is “No, it wouldn’t have helped becuase the apathy goes farther up the chain”, then say that and I’ll know that in future similar discussion it’s not it’s not a question to ask. But unless I ask somebody whoprobably knows more than I do, how the heck am I supposed to know?

        1. The way you’re supposed to know is by thinking about potential answers beforehand.

          Follow the logic chain, here: “would it have helped to X” is a completely unanswerable question, because we can’t know unless she did X. She obviously didn’t do X, and you know this. So! A pretty rational inferrence to draw from the fact that you asked a completely pointless question is that you did have a point, but were passive-aggressively couching it in the form of a question.

          Perhaps you just didn’t really think it through, but then you can’t blame Will for presuming you had, can you? He did give you the out: “Whether or not that’s how you intend your question, it’s how it comes across.”

          1. Actually, it’s completely answerable by Rebecca or anybody else who has been in a similar situation.
            1. Yes, I’ve tried that and I’ve found it didn’t work
            2. Yes, I’ve tried that and it did work
            3. No, I haven’t tried it so I don’t know either way
            4. Others I trust have tried and it didn’t work for them so I didn’t bother

            Again, I haven’t been in such a situation, that’s why I’m asking. Just because you or Will cannot answer the question doesn’t mean that it is unanswerable, or that it’s an illegitimate question.

            But hey, I guess you’re all just bound and deteremined to expect the worst from a commenter rather than applying the principle of charity as try to help that commenter educate themselves.

          2. Bytor: I’m going to assume good-faith, here. Rebecca laid out the entire sequence of events; it’s quite clear from the story itself that she had no contact with anyone else at the FBI–that rules out your 1 & 2 answers right off. So only 3 or 4 is remotely plausible in this situation. Furthermore, given the detail of her account, it’s reasonable to assume that 4 is out as well (since she would’ve said, “And after not hearing back, I decided not to continue pursuing the issue up the chain because reasons”). So at that point, the only likely answer to your question is number 3.

            That you didn’t perceive this indicates to the casual observer that you didn’t fully engage with the story as-written, and instead simply breezed through to get to the comments section and make your point, much like a conversational partner who doesn’t so much listen as wait until you’re done talking so they can say their bit. Asking a bald question with no other commentary (such as, “Cripes, that’s some lousy service by the folks your taxes pay for. In a situation like that, do you think…?”) makes that impression even stronger.

            So, a tip:

            With a column like this, you should primarily focus on one of two options:

            1: Expressions of sympathy/empathy for the writer’s specific experience. This can include similar stories of your own, provided you aren’t using them to try to undermine the broader point.

            2: Discussion of the broader issue that the anecdote is meant to illuminate, in an effort to come up with possible solutions. When doing this, your phrasing needs to make it clear that’s your intent, even if it just means stating it outright. This will prevent it from seeming as if you’re attempting to ‘fix’ their personal situation, or otherwise correct their actions.

            #2 obviously requires a certain degree of effort, both of thoughtfulness and of communication–you have to consider how you’re going to phrase things, and then take the time to write it out clearly and with an eye to self-correction. Some folks don’t feel like doing that for blog-entries, since they tend to roll past pretty quick, anyway.

            But if you’re not going to make that effort, then you can expect that a portion of the readers who come after you will misinterpret your intent, and thus, react poorly. Getting irritated at that (instead of saying, “You know, that wasn’t what I was going for, and I withdraw the question/here’s a rephrasing that I hope makes my intent clearer”) is just a matter of failing to follow the First Rule of Holes.

          1. Seriously? Just where do you get the nerve?? You social justice bloggers whine and carp and moan about what is wrong with the world. But what do you actually do? And the people leaving comments are even worse. You think being in the FBI is a piece of cake and they just don’t give a shit? Try being hog tied by the justice system. Try being unable to help people you know are suffering. Try facing that mountain every day and then having some self-righteous, lazy whiner sitting behind a computer tell you that you aren’t doing your job well enough for them.

            Here’s a thought…how about you get off your lazy butt and do something other than criticize the people who are actually doing the work?

        2. My involvement with police was the speeding ticket I got when I was 19 (24 years ago) and when I had a seizure while walking outside at night and some how managed to call 911 after regaining consciousness.

          I know, being a white man is pretty amazing, huh! I mean, you cannot even seem to fathom how dismissive law enforcement are of people who aren’t white men. SURELY this is not some sort of pervasive systemic issue and that person’s supervisors would TOTALLY have jumped right on Rebecca’s case (as all the other law enforcement people have before, right?).

          Seriously, I don’t think you’re here trying to be a douche; I do think you’re unintentionally JAQing off by making a lot of assumptions based on your admittedly limited experience with law enforcement (which, by the way, is almost certainly a function of you being a white man, if I may make that assumption from your avatar photo).

          So, how the heck are you supposed to know? Hopefully by reading and listening and not getting so defensive when your unintentional misstep is pointed out to you. I did not read you uncharitably–I even said I recognized you may be doing what you’re doing unintentionally. Perhaps you should step back and think about how it appears to people who are constantly overlooked and dismissed by the legal system when you ask them what more they could have done to make the system work for them. It’s a really condescending question, even if you don’t mean it to be–and especially coming from a person who the system is much more likely to support and give assistance to.

  1. Thank you for taking the time and baring the emotional cost of sharing this. Without posts like this, those of us who don’t have a lot of experience dealing with cops would have no idea what actually happens. Cyber kitty offers you cuddles >^,,^<

  2. Following on from what Will said above, but not wanting to grow the thread for Unhelpful McDudebro there…

    Will, I think at the FBI level the lack of empathy is also institutional. From my understanding the FBI doesn’t view online harassment, threats, and stalking as serious as the other things under their purview, thus there aren’t enough resources for them.

    1. What I’d like to see is a program where the Feds and the local cops work together. Victim calls the FBI. Fed Agent looks at the situation, much like Rebecca described, to see if it makes a legit complaint. If it does, they contact the locals, who then do the legwork of checking the guy out, seeing which category he’s likely to fall into (ie, “annoying but ultimately harmless douchebag” vs. “potentially dangerous douchebag”). Then things could proceed accordingly. Among the options:

      1: Cops pay him a visit; they make sure he knows they’re aware of his activities, and that he’s made himself Suspect Number One if something does happen.

      2: Restraining order.

      3: Quiet Record–the cops don’t actually act at that time, but both the locals and the Feds involved keep a record of the information discovered, so that if there’s signs of escalation, they just have to pull the file.

      4: Actual criminal charges.

      And generally, the decision for which option to take would fall to the victim, though Option 4 obviously still requires a prosecutor willing to sign off on it. Note: Option 3 is pretty much where Rebecca wound up, but with a key difference–she’d have been given the right to choose that option, based on her feelings about the guy’s likely conduct.

      To help bring the locals on-board with doing the legwork, they’d get compensated by the FBI for the time and resources involved.

      1. Your ideal sitch, while very ideal, assumes that people both care and have the resources (money) to carry through on their caring. I think that is the first obstacle to your dream program: people mostly don’t care, and the ones who do, for whatever reason, care cannot follow through because many taxpayers want to “shrink government” and “reduce spending” without really thinking very hard or caring very much about what that actually means.

        1. skeith: Oh, I’m aware that it is astoundingly difficult to change society to the degree I describe. But government programs do get enacted, even good ones that don’t seem to have a lot of support. Key would be getting a handful of legislators to push it through as part of a broader bill, I think–it’s got a lot more chance to pass as part of a general appropriation for law-enforcement, for instance.

          1. Freemage,

            Good point. I don’t know how effectively they could do this through. They may run into some constitutional issues as well if they tried your idea.

          2. Freemage: Getting a law passed is, unfortunately, only the first step on a journey of a thousand miles. Ask anyone who worked hard to get good programs inserted into the massive and overall-terrible No Child Left Behind law. Those programs, while great and still on the books, were spottily implemented and basically none of them exist anymore. You may be able to find a municipality here or there that is still using them, but the nationwide implementation never happened and most of the places that did implement those programs no longer use them because there is no money.

            Dig deep into the ACA and you’ll find lots and lots of really amazing programs relating to health care outreach and advocacy in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Those are going the same way: very little implementation and no money.

            Even if a law states, outright, that $X will be appropriated for a program, that money almost never materializes. Things are never as easy as getting a law passed.

    2. You used an important word here that hasn’t come up enough in this conversation about harassment: STALKING. The people harassing the Skepchicks, PZ, etc. are all stalkers. In particular, they’re “resentful stalkers” or “vengeance/terrorist stalker.” elevatorgate is a classic stalker. This behavior has a name.

  3. It seems to me that we should be able to get the gun nuts and the NRA working on this. The gun nuts are the ones that say that more guns are the answer to each and every threat of violence.

    Would it be useful to set up a website where those who threaten violence can be listed so that gun nuts know who to watch out for? So that gun nuts know who to blame for calls for confiscation of guns due to death threats?

    The gun nuts have completely co-opted government, so there will be nothing effective from it. What about a private data base of people who have made credible threats to murder, a “wants to murder” list, that a “reasonable gun owner” would check before selling a gun to said person who has made credible threats to murder someone? Maybe there can’t be a “law” that requires such a background check, but if it is reckless to not check, then the gun owner who sells to anyone on the list without checking increases their risk of civil liability for damages. Similarly, any gun manufacturer who allows their distributors to sell guns to people on the “wants to murder people” list should be liable for greater damages too.

    That doesn’t help much in keeping Rebecca alive, but we could have a great party if someone did shoot her, and funding to let other skepchicks go to various conferences for a long time ;).

    1. “More guns are the answer to each and every threat of violence” = epic straw man…gotta love it.

      I’d feel better if Rebecca did own a gun and knew how to use it safely. That would have a much greater chance of keeping her safe than passing yet another law that criminals are just going to break anyway.

  4. I agonized using my real name for these sites (in the rare instances that I actually post), fearing the crazy people out there. Between here and Randi (when i used to visit there) and other places I made the decision that I had nothing to hide as a person, and being in the Boston area I guessed it would be safer. What I have going for me, apparently, is being a white male. Rebecca, it is unfair that you have to deal with this garbage just because you are a mighty woman with a strong opinion. The Skepchicks are brave people that I admire very much, it must get tough after a while. I appreciate you all immensely.

  5. I noticed that it does seem to have occurred to anyone to look up, you know, the law.

    The California statute was the first complete one I found. Let’s take a look:

    “In California, under Penal Code Section 422, a criminal threat has five elements:

    1. the accused willfully threatened to commit the crime that will result in death or great bodily injury; and
    2. the accused made the threat with the specific intent that it be taken as a threat; and
    3. the threat is so unequivocal, unconditional, immediate, and specific as to convey a gravity of purpose and the immediate prospect of execution; and
    4. the threat actually caused sustained fear in the victim; and 5. the sustained fear was reasonable.”

    “Laws prohibiting terroristic threats must be narrow in scope to avoid infringing First Amendment rights. Only when a person threatens a crime, and that threat meets the requirements discussed above, can the person be prosecuted. In distinguishing between protected First Amendment speech and the unprotected criminal threats, courts will look closely at the context in which the words are spoken and the surrounding circumstances.”

    And, to add to the problem . . .

    “Personal jurisdiction, or in personam jurisdiction, refers to the power of a court to enter a binding judgment against a person or other legal entity. A court must be able to exercise personal jurisdiction over a party in order for that party to be bound by an order of the court.”

    Please read the entire discussion at http://www.lawnix.com/cases/personal-jurisdiction.html

    Now, if you read the entire discussion about in personam jurisdiction and still aren’t clear whether or not a person in one state can be haled into a criminal court in another, i.e. extradited to stand trial, then congratulations, you’re beginning to get the picture.

    Where does the crime even actually take place? In the state where the email is written, or in the state where it is read? That’s a real question that has to be answered. How reasonable is it to be afraid of a threat made by someone who lives perhaps a thousand or more miles away, and has a job and a family and bills to pay so s/he can’t just hop on an airplane and show up at your door, if s/he can find out where your door is?

    And remember, if you’re the prosecuter you have to be convinced that you can get ALL (usually, most places) 12 members of the jury to buy your argument that the threat was credible, regardless of what counter arguments the defense will offer. Which arguments will include that the threats were not reasonable and credible because of distance and therefore actual impossibility.

    By being a public figure who get’s lots of emails from lots of people, from all over the country, many of them threatening to a greater or lesser degree — and all of which have so far come to nothing – if YOU’RE the police/prosecutor AND you have an actual, you know, BUDGET (and probably a shrinking one at that to stay inside of since no one wants to pay any taxes) AND a crime which requires specialized skills and a hell of a lot of time just to accumulate enough evidence that would stand up in court simply to prove that the email came from a specific person AND you’re office is already over burdened and understaffed (That budget thing again. You think cutting taxes has no consequences?) how willing are you going to be to prosecute one lone a-hole from two states over? Remember, you have to PAY to extradite him and PAY to hold him in jail and the public defender he will no doubt require well, that costs money too. Now, once he’s convicted, he’s somebody else’s budget/personnel/space problem.

    So think all that through, most of you won’t even try before posting, but maybe someone will make an earnest attempt. Then ask yourself — unless someone is going to give you a budget and personnel just to fight these types of crimes (because the one threat Rebecca posted looks like it meets the criteria to be construed, prima facie, as an actual criminal threat) how many resources can you afford to divert to try and prosecute that threat, from two states away – given that you have plenty of local crimes that need to investigated and have a good probablity of resulting in an apprehension and/or conviction already on your plate?

    1. So glad to know the California law in this discussion about a threat issued by someone in Massachusetts to a person living in New York. THX FOR EXPLAINING IT TO US!

      Also, excepting the current shutdown, are you honestly making an argument that the FBI doesn’t have funding to look into credible threats of violence against people?

    2. Well, we could free up some funds by ending the racist war on drugs, and the racist war on terror, and the racist war on immigrants, and the classist war on poverty, and the sexist war on women… you know what? We could just stop declaring war on things that war can’t fix and actually use law enforcement to solve the problems that they can solve.

      But we can’t stop the war on Christmas, because I need something to keep me busy during the holidays.

  6. As a retired police officer who worked several years in the division that handled threats, I can say that your experience is typical, at least with the local police. Threats over the phone and through the mail and over the internet are messy cases to prove. And 99% or so of the suspects are never going to really harm the victim. They just want to scare the victim because it makes them feel powerful. If you really wanted to kill someone, you would not warn them for a year or more that any day now you are going to show up and harm them. You would just go do it. But there is always the one percent or so that really follows through and that is why the treat is effective.

    I can tell you that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. In these cases, the only way to get anything really done by a law enforcement agency is to be the squeaky wheel. You have a vast readership and if you asked them to, a lot of people would write the FBI and their congress people and ask why more is not being done to deal with this guy. Once they understand that the person being threatened is a celebrity and a lot of people are watching, things will happen.

    It could anger him and make him do more, or it could make him stop. If he is the type of person who is going to really confront you, I think he will do it anyway someday, so there is no real downside. Except that it will consume some (maybe a lot) of your time and you will have to show up someplace in a court and testify.

    Your other option is to pursue him in civil court. Or have an attorney write a letter threatening to sue. Have an attorney send a letter to his internet provider notifying them how he is using their service. We used to get people’s phones disconnected by letting the phone company know that their service was being used to threaten and intimidate people. Once they knew that, they had a certain amount of civil liability if they allowed the service to continue, so they would usually pull the plug on them.

    Resolving these kinds of issues is not as easy as it should be. Sometimes it causes more aggravation to make it stop and to continue pushing law enforcement than it is worth to you. That’s a call only you can make.

    1. “So think all that through, most of you won’t even try before posting, but maybe someone will make an earnest attempt.”

      Seriously? SERIOUSLY?

    2. They just want to scare the victim because it makes them feel powerful.

      I’m pretty sure that’s called terrorism. You know, issuing credible threats to make someone change their behavior.

      You have a vast readership and if you asked them to, a lot of people would write the FBI and their congress people and ask why more is not being done to deal with this guy. Once they understand that the person being threatened is a celebrity and a lot of people are watching, things will happen.

      I appreciate your experience and highlighting the complete and utter failures in our legal system. I quoted this because, among many other things you said, it really does get at the brokenness of our system.

  7. The fact that his username–esproc detalitum–is mutilated corpse spelled backwards speaks to his mindset. Small minded people threaten and make it personal. Sucks that this is so common that law enforcement shrugs and shelves these complaints.

  8. Rebecca Watson,

    Hopefully, you’ll never have meet any of these sick people face to face. Unfortunately bigoted jerks like this will always exist. By the way, that “Espoc Detalitum” is especially cowardly for sending you a rape/death threat in a language you probably don’t even speak.

  9. “So glad to know the California law in this discussion”

    >>>>The various state statutes are all similar.

    about a threat issued by someone in Massachusett

    The defendant is charged with having threatened to commit a crime
    against the person or property of another. Threatening [a person with a crime
    against his or her person or property] [a person by threatening a crime
    against someone else or their property] is itself a crime.
    In order to prove the defendant guilty of this offense, the Commonwealth
    must prove four things beyond a reasonable doubt:
    First: That the defendant expressed an intent to injure a person, or
    property of another, now or in the future;
    Second: That the defendant intended that his (her) threat be conveyed
    to a particular person;
    Third: That the injury that was threatened, if carried out, would
    constitute a crime; and
    Fourth: That the defendant made the threat under circumstances which
    could reasonably have caused the person to whom it was conveyed to fear
    that the defendant had both the intention and the ability to carry out the threat.”

    ” to a person living in New York.”

    Ah, New York is a bigger problem:

    “S 240.30 Aggravated harassment in the second degree.
    A person is guilty of aggravated harassment in the second degree when,
    with intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm another person, he or
    1. Either (a) communicates with a person, anonymously or otherwise, by
    telephone, or by telegraph, mail or any other form of written
    communication, in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm; or
    (b) causes a communication to be initiated by mechanical or electronic
    means or otherwise with a person, anonymously or otherwise, by
    telephone, or by telegraph, mail or any other form of written
    communication, in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm; or
    2. Makes a telephone call, whether or not a conversation ensues, with
    no purpose of legitimate communication; or
    3. Strikes, shoves, kicks, or otherwise subjects another person to
    physical contact, or attempts or threatens to do the same because of a
    belief or perception regarding such person`s race, color, national
    origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability
    or sexual orientation, regardless of whether the belief or perception is
    correct; or
    4. Commits the crime of harassment in the first degree and has
    previously been convicted of the crime of harassment in the first degree
    as defined by section 240.25 of this article within the preceding ten
    5. For the purposes of subdivision one of this section, “form of
    written communication” shall include, but not be limited to, a recording
    as defined in subdivision six of section 275.00 of this part.
    Aggravated harassment in the second degree is a class A misdemeanor.”

    >>So, in New York, making a threat is only a misdemeanor. Good luck trying to get a prosecutors office to try and extradite someone for a misdemeanor that will be difficult to prove.

    >> I.e., The California statute was perfectly fine as a teaching aid.

    >> Except for the unteachable of course.

    >>You’re most welcome. Now, go back and read it and see if you can make any cogent comments that demonstrate at least an effort towards understanding the complexities of the issues.

    “Also, excepting the current shutdown, are you honestly making an argument that the FBI doesn’t have funding to look into credible threats of violence against people?”

    I’m suggesting that as with any organization with more possible things to investigate than people and resources available to investigate them all, that triage is always done. As Devin suggests it doesn’t mean they won’t ever, but it may take a good deal of pushing. – and the victim may have to relinquish their own computer’s for a good while so that proper, legally usable evidence can be obtained.

    But let’s see if you can learn the law before I try and teach you anything about computer forensics. One complex topic at a time.

  10. “So think all that through, most of you won’t even try before posting, but maybe someone will make an earnest attempt.”

    Seriously? SERIOUSLY?

    >>Well, so far I’ve been right. It has only been one evening and Devin has tried to explain what happens at the local level. And that’s just for threats where the police and the courts would clearly have jurisdiction over both the alleged perpetrator, victim, and crime. (and yes those are three separate problems.)

    1. Actually, I think “Seriously? SERIOUSLY?” means “You just read a post from a woman talking about how she can’t get the death threats she gets treated with any kind of gravity, and how that doesn’t stop people from erroneously and condescendingly telling her how to handle those threats, and you think that’s a great time to play juvenile ‘internet debate champ’ games?!”

      1. I don’t know. I think he’s down a great job of underscoring Rebecca’s point. The local police and FBI are so tied up with other priorities and practical constraints as to be useless. Systematic problems make it all but impossible for the victim to get protection, and even if they do, it’s only with great personal cost, effort, and risk.

        Rebecca didn’t just happen to talk to insensitive law enforcement officers. She didn’t just have bad luck with a few mysoginyst cops who weren’t on her side. This isn’t about bad apples. She encountered a system that routinely fails peolple in her situation. That’s exactly what elfishchimra has described (in a slightly dickish way.)

          1. Yep. If you want to interact with people, just having the facts or being right don’t really do much. You’ve got to tone down your rhetoric, be patient, read what others have posted, and accept criticism if you want to accomplish anything.

          2. I was agreeing with Stephanie. My comment was directed at elfishchimera. The fact that you thought it was directed at you, though… does someone have a guilty conscience? :P

          1. Another revolutionary thought – let’s act like grown ups and deal with a serious problem in a serious manner instead of tone-trolling and pulling the BS “mansplaining” card.

  11. Is it a general rule that “skeptics” are all creepy and somewhat rapey. I mean I’ve always though Richard Dawkins is a creep and kind of a dick. I feel like people who relentlessly insist every aspect of the universe around them be proven with science shouldn’t use the term “feminazi”, aren’t there more important creationist fish to fry? I started reading this blog when I read an article by Rebecca Watson on slate.com and after reading that I watched some of the more “controversial” YouTube videos she’s done and I really did not see anything that warrants rapey death threats. Who thinks that’s ok? Who thinks people like that deserve a dialogue? Dudes who follow Richard Dawkins I suppose.

  12. Perhaps a relevant case to this, is that of Gilberto Valle, known as the “Cannibal Cop”. There was a fine line being explored in that case, between thought and intent to act. It was very, very dicey to take the case to court. The jury had a hard time with it.


    Blaming this all on law enforcement apathy is, I believe, misplaced. I’ve been a dispatcher for 15 years. There are actually databases of people who have threatened officers (specifically, or in general) or governments – and those databases only exist to give the officers a heads-up. Every so often there’s a regional message about person X who stated to person Y they were on their way to go blow away some cops… and there’s no charges, no warrant for arrest. It’s just information, a be-on-the-lookout, use caution. Charges and warrants come about when the person actively takes steps to carry out the threat (as in the Valle case).

    So if LE is failing to act simply because they’re apathetic towards the threats against you, by logical extension they’re also apathetic to threats made against themselves, which isn’t a particularly reasonable concept. What’s happening is that the jerk is toeing that fine line, without quite crossing it. Although it sounds like you could possibly have a case for harassment?

    “He pointed out that a restraining order is not a magical spell that would stop him from getting near me – its only purpose is to make it easier for the police to prosecute him if he does get near me, at which point he’ll have already done what he’s going to do.” Not necessarily. Possibility: an officer stops to check a car parked on your street. He makes contact with the driver. He runs the driver… oh look, this guy is the subject of a restraining order. And what a coincidence, the protected person lives on this street. Now the cop takes a harder look at what’s in the car. That roll of duct tape in plain view on the back seat sure looks a lot more sinister now than it did a moment ago………

    You might be surprised at how often arrests are made on very innocuous-seeming contacts where the officer had just enough of a trail to allow him to keep digging.

    There is a chance such an order could rile up the jerk. There’s also a chance it could scare him off. I consider such tools much the same as I do door locks. A door lock will not stop a determined individual, but not locking the door won’t stop anyone at all.

  13. I have to wonder how my local police would handle this exact situation. About a year and a half ago I was awaken at 2:30 AM by a phone call from the police informing me that there were officers at my front door who wanted to talk to me, so I went to talk to them. It seems someone had read something I posted online and decided that I might harm myself (despite the fact that I wasn’t online that day and hadn’t written anything that I could think of that would have given that impression) and called the state police who contacted the local police to come and wake me up to evaluate whether I was going to hurt myself.

    I still don’t know the particulars of how or why that happened but I have to wonder if they would take the report of a man threatening to harm a woman as seriously as they took a report of a man threatening to harm himself.
    I would hope my suspicions would be wrong.

    1. Well, if you’re going to harm yourself, the threat and the victim are at least in the same jurisdiction. That makes it a lot easier for local police to take action. The system just isn’t set up to handle serious threats made over the internet. I suspect your suspicions would not be wrong. And I suspect it’s going to take a national tragedy to change that.

        1. PZ has also had credible threats made against him that weren’t taken seriously by law enforcement. In fact, I’ve not heard of a single case where this kind of behavior was taken seriously by law enforcement at any level. I think the problem of these threats not being taken seriously has more to do with their coming via the internet than their being against women (though I’m sure sexism plays a role in making it worse.)

        2. I would imagine the difference is that they treated your perceived threat as a need for a welfare check. The cops do welfare checks all the time, at least around here. Someone’s grandma not answering the phone all morning can prompt a welfare check if the grandkid calls the cops to request one, and there’s nothing criminal about not answering your phone. A threat against another person involves a different sort of response, I expect.

  14. Can we take a cue from those revenge porn sites that allow anyone to put up pictures and then charge for them to be taken down?

    How about a “threatens to harm people” site with various categories? One of the categories could be “claims it was a joke” and it costs $50 to move the entry from any other category to that one, for example from the “threatens to rape” category.

    If you are listed on such a site, and your employer finds out, you would have some ‘splainin to do.

  15. I always find myself bemused by this. I do NOT doubt this happens. A lot of men as asses. But in over 20 years online . .before the WWW . . .ONCE a man threatened me. He posted my address and phone on Usenet and threatened to kidnap my oldest daughter (on the birthday of my youngest daughter, who WAS at that point still missing after having been taken 8 years before) (And the police ARE useless, at least we have that in common.) That was it. And I was a flame queen at that time. I irritated TONS of men. But that was it. No threats of rape, or death or anything. I have to same experience in video games. Since 1998 or 99 I have been playing MMORPGs. Ultima Online, Dark Something . . a ton of anime based ones . . and now World of Warcraft for 8 years. Never has anyone made an effort to scare me. Not saying stupid little boys don’t say stupid shit. But I tell them to go stand in the corner and go back to looking for their penis with the magnifying glass and they shut up. Why don’t they bother me? Is there something wrong with me? I don’t know.

    I am sorry moronic men bother you, dear. You are AWESOME. Don’t let the idiots get to you. Ignore and block are AWESOME functions.

    1. I haven’t had any rape or death threats, either. And it’s possible you just didn’t notice them. I tend to not notice things like that unless they are very in-my-face.

      I DID have a random stalker, a man I WORKED with, and he caused me to force a resignation from a job back in 2007. That was weird because it wasn’t a sexual thing. He was just a meth head asshole who hated me because I was young, I think, although I suppose my being female had something to do with it.

  16. It;s interesting that the California law has so many ifs and buts. Australian Federal Law is clear cut:
    474.15 Using a carriage service to make a threat
    Threat to kill
    (1) A person (the first person ) is guilty of an offence if:
    (a) the first person uses a carriage service to make to another person (the second person ) a threat to kill the second person or a third person; and
    (b) the first person intends the second person to fear that the threat will be carried out.
    Penalty: Imprisonment for 10 years.
    Threat to cause serious harm
    (2) A person (the first person ) is guilty of an offence if:
    (a) the first person uses a carriage service to make to another person (the second person ) a threat to cause serious harm to the second person or a third person; and
    (b) the first person intends the second person to fear that the threat will be carried out.
    Penalty: Imprisonment for 7 years.
    Actual fear not necessary
    (3) In a prosecution for an offence against this section, it is not necessary to prove that the person receiving the threat actually feared that the threat would be carried out.
    (4) In this section:
    “fear” includes apprehension.
    “threat to cause serious harm to a person includes a threat to substantially contribute to serious ” harm to the person. ”

    TL;DR do NOT try this shit in Australia.

    1. Assuming of course that the Australian police are interested in pursuing it. My sister received death threats from a bloke who drank in a pub near her flat for nearly a year before she moved to another state. The response from Victoria police.

      1) We can’t do anything because he hasn’t done anything.

      2) Try anything retaliatory and we’ll arrest you!

      One wonders if you’d get better results in these cases if you told the coppers that the individual concerned was:

      a) Foreign, or indigenous, non white and selling drugs.
      b) Foreign and having a gathering at their house where copies of the Koran could be seen
      c) Left wing, scruffy and planning a demonstration.

      Only half joking.

      1. Yeah, OK but if he had used the internet for those threats it would have been a federal matter and at least the law itself in that case is clearcut by comparison with the USA. I think also the AFP are probably less corrupt and decadent than some of the State police.

  17. Just wandering in to say hello, Oh crap, it’s still going on, I’m so sorry.

    I love you Rebecca, and your continued bravery in the face of such colossal ASSHATTERY humbles me. You are amazing.

  18. Rebecca, i am sorry, and ashamed that many men put women through this abuse. To me, all of these problems seem systemic. Legal measures are needed to help in the short term, but I think humankind needs to say as a whole society, “this is disgusting. This is unacceptable.” it isn’t happening overnight, but we are progressing. As we try to find legal recourse for today’s stalkers, haters (I mean true hate here), creeps, what have you, the way we progress as a society is by teaching our children well.

    Yes, the minds of the youth are the blazing sword we must form against the adversaries bigotry, mysogeny, and any other form of hate and discrimination we face.

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