Olivia Melville has been lauded and loathed for standing up to men who allegedly harassed her online. One of her alleged offenders will this week face trial, and the case is expected to set a precedent for whether threats made on social media are punishable under existing federal law.
When I first meet Olivia Melville, she’s nervously sipping her fruit smoothie, glancing at everyone who passes our table at an inner-city cafe. She’s worried people might recognise her from news reports or social media, she explains.
It has been almost a year since Chris Hall, a man Ms Melville did not know, took a screenshot of her Tinder profile and posted it on Facebook, where it was shared thousands of times. In her bio, she’d quoted a lyric by Canadian rapper, Drake: “The type of girl that will suck you dry and then eat some lunch with you.”
“Stay classy ladies,” wrote Mr Hall, a 31-year-old bartender. “I’m surprised she’d still be hungry for lunch.”
Since then, Ms Melville, 25, says she has been abused by more people than she can keep count of, most of them strangers. She’s been called a slut, mocked about her weight, threatened with rape, and repeatedly told that she brought all the negative attention she has received on herself.
She can’t fathom how simply citing a lyric has caused her so much notoriety, landed a Sydney man in court and inadvertently kick-started a movement calling for the Australian Government to better address online violence towards women.
” Ms Melville tells ABC News. “Seeing my face consistently being shared on Facebook … It was in the news everywhere as like, ‘Oh, there’s the Drake Tinder girl’.”
Zane Alchin, a 25-year-old friend of Mr Hall's, will this week face trial for allegedly making repeated rape threats to Ms Melville and her friends in August 2015. The case is being heralded by cyberbullying experts as a "test case" that will ascertain whether threats on social media are punishable under existing federal law (1997 Telecommunications Act).
To date, this legislation has largely been used for abuse and threats made over SMS, voice message or during a telephone conversation.
Ms Melville, who lives in Sydney's south, has never before spoken about her ordeal out of fear of provoking another backlash. She is also concerned about losing her job in the performing arts, and upsetting her parents, who she says "aren't that computer literate, so luckily they don't really understand it all".
She wasn't comfortable explaining to her parents what Tinder was, she says, but told them her photo was being shared and countless people were abusing her online.
"They kind of said, 'Oh that's terrible' but don't really understand it all, so then they were like, 'Just delete it'."
But she's speaking out now, she says, on behalf of women who are harassed and bullied online every day.
One in four women under 30 threatened with physical violence online
Ms Melville says she was threatened, abused and taunted after she and her friends shared Mr Hall's post — essentially "naming and shaming" him and calling out what they saw as sexist behaviour.