The abuse of women in politics online and offline is on the rise, with female politicians reporting threats of an acid attack, verbal abuse in public, and even having faeces thrown at them.
That’s according to the findings of a new NUI Galway study that interviewed 69 current and former female politicians from all major political parties.
The findings come as the last month revealed a significant proportion of sitting female TDs and Senators said they had been subjected to sexual harassment and online trolling.
The NUIG research, to be presented at a webinar organised by the European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality and the National Women’s Council of Ireland on Friday, focussed on online abuse but also identified incidents where female politicians reported being abused in public.
The researchers spoke to 42 councillors, 12 TDs, six Senators and nine former Oireachtas members and found 96% had received social media or email messages using threatening language or ‘hate mail’, while 73% said they were threatened online with physical violence.
The study also found 38% were threatened with sexual violence and 27% were verbally abused in public.
One politician told researchers they had faeces thrown at them in public while another was threatened with an acid attack. “I was repeatedly threatened by a troll who threatened to throw acid in my face. Another once said he knew where I lived and he’d be standing in my garden waiting for me,” the former TD said.
Of those interviewed, 20% said they considered quitting politics because of the abuse — this sentiment was higher (59%) among female councillors.
Respondents also reported receiving threatening and abusive phone calls, being worried about their family’s safety, and not feeling comfortable attending large public meetings alone.
Only a “small minority” reported the abuse and those making complaints found it hard to get gardaí and social media companies to take the threats seriously, as there was a perception politicians are “fair game”.
NUIG Head of Journalism and Communication, Tom Felle, said the findings are not significantly different to similar studies in the UK and highlight the need for more robust legislation.
“Clearly this is not acceptable. The danger is that it has a chilling effect on women entering public life. There's a clear need for stronger legislation around cyberbullying and cyber-attacks,” Mr Felle said.