Of the millions of perpetrators of online harassment, Zane Alchin of Sydney is among the few to have been prosecuted and his victim says it took a media campaign
It began with a rap lyric.
Type of girl that will suck you dry and then eat some lunch with you, read Olivia Melvilles bio on Tinder a Drake quote, from the Canadian rappers song with Nicki Minaj.
Melville, then 23, was on the other side of Sydney from Chris Hall when he came across her profile. He posted a screenshot publicly to his Facebook page.
Stay classy ladies, he wrote, adding the tears-of-joy emoji. Im surprised shed still be hungry for lunch.
It was the kind of blanket, banal sexism that weighs down the internet in steady streams: arguably too common, too tired to be truly offensive to any woman online.
Melville was alerted to Halls post by a friend. She chose to respond.
I wasnt aware I had to put my CV in my Tinder bio, she wrote on 25 August last year, sharing Halls post to her own profile. Shame on you, Chris Hall, for your ignorance of Drake and a good taste.
Her friends rallied in the comments thread in support. So did his.
The back-and-forth between the two groups was antagonistic, at times aggressive but, even so, the comments by Zane Alchin were an immediate escalation.
Please you cunts deserve to be taken back to the 50s were [sic] you wil learn to know your role and shut your damn mouth.
Do me a favour go home and slap your mother obviously your father never did it enough.
Id rape you if you were better looking but I wouldnt fuck you.
Over a period of about two hours, Alchin now 25, a labourer who lives with his parents in Caringbah in southern Sydney left 55 posts, many of them referring to violence and rape.
That last comment was addressed not to Melville but her friend, Paloma Brierley Newton, now 24, who had come to Melvilles defence. Their interaction came to dominate the thread; at one point Brierley Newton told Alchin she would report him to police if you keep threatening me with rape.
What law am I breaking? he responded. Im not the one out of the fucking kitchen.
Eventually Brierley Newton blocked Alchin, meaning his comments were no longer visible to her. He kept posting.
Brierley Newton shared screenshots of their back-and-forth on her own Facebook page.
This kind of behaviour is what we call normalisation of violence against women and it is really, really scary and damaging, she wrote. Every time you playfully tell a woman to get back in the kitchen, every time you smack a girl on the bum because its funny, every time you make a joke about rape, YOU are contributing to a society where unfortunately women are not safe.
She concluded with a vow to report Alchins comments to police.
Be warned men, the internet is no longer your invisibility cloak. I am coming after you and I will not be stopped.
Nearly one year on, Brierley Newtons post has had more than 700 shares and 1,200 reactions and Alchin has been convicted of a crime.
On Friday, he was sentenced to a 12-month good behaviour bond for using a carriage service to menace, harass or offend at the Downing Centre court in Sydney, although the judge found his conduct did not amount to threatening to rape. It has been described as a test of police and legal responses to online abuse, an area that appears to be nearing crisis point.
A United Nations report released in January 2015 suggests 73% of women worldwide have been exposed to or the target of some form of cyber violence. In the 18 months since then, online abuse particularly of women, and, in the wake of the murder of the British MP Jo Cox, particularly female politicians has come under greater scrutiny.
But if it seems a tipping point is nearing, it is only of awareness, not action. Of the millions, maybe billions of victims around the world, Brierley Newton is among a tiny minority to have successfully pursued her case through the criminal justice system.
It wasnt easy, she said. The officers at her local police station to whom she reported Alchins comments, with screenshots saved to a USB drive, were unfamiliar with the medium.
The cop I spoke to didnt even have Facebook explaining to her the post, the reposting, the screenshotting, the comments, was harder than it needed to be, she told Guardian Australia in January. Its ridiculous. Its 2016. Literally everyone uses the internet.
The case progressed only after it received media attention, she said echoing a common complaint about social media abuse, that only high-profile users get a response to their reports.
Her interactions with Alchin and then with the police inspired her to start an advocacy group, Sexual Violence Wont Be Silenced.
First came a Change.org petition, then local media coverage often alongside the striking press shots of Brierley Newton and her friends wearing homemade T-shirts reading SHAMELESS SLUT.
Her campaign eventually drew the attention of Clementine Ford, an Australian feminist commentator who frequently veers into activism, who shared the screenshots of Alchins comments with her tens of thousands of Facebook followers.
In late October, Alchin was charged.
Brierley Newton told Guardian Australia the officer who called to tell her said Alchin was apologetic and had no prior convictions in what she took to be an attempt to convince her to abandon the charge. (New South Wales police said they were unable to comment until after the appeals period had lapsed.)
Brierley Newton was better placed than many maybe most victims of abuse, online or offline, to pursue her case with the necessary tenacity to get results.
She is self-possessed, articulate, media savvy and a natural campaigner (disclosure: the reporter has known Brierley Newton socially for two years). Her mother, De, is lead organiser and a former candidate for the NSW Greens. Her personal Facebook profile lists her job title as a force to be reckoned with (and former professional good timer).
Alchin was charged with using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence, which carries a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment.