You might recall the story ‘Hotties of Melbourne Uni‘ – a Facebook page with more than 13,000 followers, bursting with photographs of unassuming women and littered with offensive, predatory comments.
“Would not bang her even if you paid me.”
“Shoot me with a tranquilliser right now before I go out to hunt!”
“This bloke doesn’t take no for an answer.”
Despite objections to statements like these, Facebook was unresponsive and Melbourne University powerless to take it down. And so the page’s creators remained protected by their anonymity.
At least, until a law student named Laura Blandthorn (pictured below, centre) found a convincing way to appeal to them directly in petition-hosting website Change.org.
It's a medium that, as of the time of writing, four million Australians - or roughly one in six of us - have used.
“The idea of a petition means that people can actually feel like they’re engaging with something, rather than just having a whinge or feeling angry,” Blandthorn told Mamamia.
"They can feel like they've achieved something, because they can see that other people are joining them on that journey."
Blandthorn's campaign ultimately compelled 23,299 signatures, making it one of the ten most successful Australian petitions to be launched on the site so far this year.
“If you want effective change, you really do have to have an ask," said the 28-year-old.
"So I thought I’d do a petition, because then the people who were against [Hotties of Melbourne Uni] and knew it was wrong could join together and have their voices heard, to show the people creating the page that there were more of us than there were of them, that what they were doing was not okay.”
Though optimistic, she never expected the success to come so quickly.
“The petition just had a life of its own,” she said.
“Within a few hours it had over a thousand signatures and I hadn’t even promoted, so it just shows the power of that platform.”
Some of the comments on the 'Hotties of Melbourne Uni' Facebook page.
She's not the only woman to have recognised that power. Of those top ten local Change.org causes, eight have been launched by women.
There was 16-year-old Angela who persuaded Aldi to stop stocking cage eggs.
Carolyn Priest, who campaigned for investigation into the murder of New South Wales mother Lynette Daley.
Chloe Scott, a farmer's daughter who secured a $500-million relief package for dairy farmers and $2 million to review the milk pricing system.
Head of Change.org Australia, Karen Skinner, believes technology plays an important role for women in levelling the playing field.
"In a world where trolling is off-putting for many women putting their name to online campaigns, it's refreshing that women who start petitions tell us how empowering it is to see their support grow online and read so many encouraging comments below the petitions they start," she said.
"It's a kind of digital sisterhood."
Chloe Scott, a Change.org success story. Image: Change.org.
That sense of collective power, of safety in numbers, is precisely what inspired Blandthorn to put herself on the line to ensure 'Hotties of Melbourne Uni' was taken down.
“I could have written on their Facebook page; I could have done this many ways. But I chose to do a petition because, as a woman, it’s really difficult to come out and speak against something, especially when you’re talking about the actions of men, men who are not doing right by women," she said.
“Perhaps that’s the reason women like this platform, because getting people around you makes it easier to step forward.”