Photograph by Fabrizio Bensch — Reuters
By Tom Huddleston Jr.
October 22, 2014

Physical threats, cyber-bullying and sexual harassment is widespread online with nearly 40% of adult Internet users saying they’ve faced such attacks, according to a new survey.

Young women are the most likely targets of some of the more severe forms of online harassment, a Pew Research Center report released Wednesday said. A quarter of women, ages 18 to 24, have been sexually harassed online and 26% have been stalked online. In general, younger people are more likely to experience online harassment, especially via social media, while men are slightly more likely to be physically threatened.

“In essence, young women are uniquely likely to experience stalking and sexual harassment, while also not escaping the high rates of other types of harassment common to young people in general,” the report said.

The findings come at a time when the attitude toward women in online gaming is under a harsh spotlight as a result of the Gamergate controversy, in which a number of women in the video game industry have faced online threats and harassment. Several have said they’ve had to flee their homes after receiving death and rape threats online. One female video game critic recently had to cancel a speaking engagement at Utah State University after an email to the school threatened a mass shooting.

Online harassment is most prevalent on social media platforms like Facebook, with two-thirds of Internet users who have experienced online harassment saying that the most recent incident occurred on a social networking website or app. A much smaller group, 22%, said their online harassment happened in the comments section of a website, while personal email and the online gaming community were each named by 16% of respondents.

Another 10% of online harassment victims said the most recent incident happened on an online discussion site like Reddit, the news discussion board. Only 6% said they were harassed via an online dating network.

The report also broke down which online “neighborhoods” respondents felt were most welcoming to men and women. More than three-quarters of respondents said social networking sites, comments sections, and online discussion forums were each equally welcoming. Two-thirds pointed to online dating sites and apps.

The largest disparity, though, is found in views of the online gaming community with over half of respondents said that men and women are welcomed equally in online gaming. But 44% said that community is more welcoming to men and only 3% feel online gaming is most welcoming toward women.

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