politics

Robyn Night's ex spent years sending strangers to her house to rape her.

When a burly man knocked on Robyn Night’s door last year she was home alone with her three-year-old son.

The man was there because an ex-boyfriend had plastered Night’s face across the internet, photoshopped onto nudes, and handed out her address to strangers online, pretending to be Night, and claiming she wanted to be raped.

It was, and is, a horrific example of what’s come to be known as “revenge porn”, a form of online abuse that ranges from sharing nudes online without permisson, to inciting people to commit abuse against former partners, like what happened to Night.

The security camera Robyn Night was forced to install.

And in the majority of Australian states, it's not against the law.

After enduring years of men turning up on her doorstep, Night was at her wits end. She had tried to get help from the police numerous times, to no avail.

"They told me he hadn't touched me and there was nothing they could do," Night says.

After that burly man turned up, Night's husband wrote to the Queensland police minister and slowly, the gears started to move.

Her ex-boyfriend was ultimately arrested and charged with stalking, but there still isn't a law that directly prohibits his online behaviour.

But Night's life has been irrevocably changed by her ex's actions and she is determined to stop it happening to others.

ADVERTISEMENT
Robyn Night on her wedding day.

"I'd lost a baby before because of the stress," she told Mamamia.

Frustrated at the responses she had been getting from lawmakers and police, Night decided to start an online petition using Change.Org.

Her petition, started around four months ago, has garnered over 46,000 signatures. Night is hopeful she will be able to use that support to convince Australian politicians to act.

"I'd been very vocal in the media trying to get the story out there and then I saw the Change.Org thing, and I thought this might be the perfect opportunity," Night says.

She now uses the online support she has gathered to help lobby politicians for legal changes, and to drive home the point that lots of people are concerned about the laws.

John Oliver on all the ways revenge porn is awful. Post continues after video...

It's a tactic more and more women are employing, and succeeding at, with Change.Org noticing that this year the top petitions on the site all come from women.

Blair Williams' petition is one of the success stories.

The Canberra student turned to Change.Org when she heard that a man who advocated "legal rape" was about to tour the country.

"We don't want him here, and so I thought why not do something," Williams told Mamamia.

ADVERTISEMENT

US pick-up artist Daryush "Roosh V" Valizadeh organised meetings at 44 locations around the world, including one at Sydney’s Hyde Park in February.

He was forced to cancel after significant public pressure, in large part represented by Williams' petition.

Her petition asking Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to block him from the country garnered just over 100,000 signatures.

Williams said she was surprised how far, and how fast, the petition spread.

"I was surprised, I was shocked... I don't know that many people but bam, two days later there were 100,000 people from all over the country.

"I knew a lot of people were angry, but I didn't really expect that."

At just 22 years old, Williams has trouble imagining how she would have tacked a problem like Roosh V before the internet came along.

"I am a product of the internet so I don't know what I would have done. Even if I had started a regular paper petition it wouldn't have reached very far so this really does make such a big difference."

Karen Skinner is the head of Change.org in Australia. She says recent research from within Change showed women were the biggest influencers on the platform, with more successful petitions than men, despite more men starting petitions.

Karen Skinner, head of Change.Org Australia
ADVERTISEMENT

Some of the biggest petitions on the site are by women like Williams and Night who are trying to find a way to have their voices heard.

"The real power of this is people are able to tell their stories in a really unedited way," Skinner said.

"They have powerful stories to tell and they are able to tell them online. More men start petitions but more women are winning them."

The top three successful petitions of 2016 so far have either been started by women or on an issue majorly affecting women.

Two were concerned with blocking pick up artists from entering the country and the third was focused on shutting down a sexist Facebook page run by Melbourne University students.

Other major petitions that, like Night's, haven't yet achieved their goal, include one on Medicare changes that could lead to increased costs for pap smears and pathology (which has over 221,000 signatures), one on remote area nurse safety (with over 131,000 signatures) and one on women's refuges (with over 131,000 signatures).

Skinner says as the election draws closer, she expects more and more women to use Change to gain leverage on the issues that matter.

"Obviously there are the issues that political parties decide are important but I think they should be checking online to engage with the population, and certainly with women," she said.

"We are seeing women mobilising furiously online and getting issues on the agenda and getting change.

"There are more things that politicians can do and we have a series of male leaders and they should be paying attention."

Williams is confident that tools like Change.Org will help women like her influence the election, and politics more broadly. An area that many people find overwhelming.

"They definitely are giving voice to people who would otherwise not have their voices heard," she said.

"Politicians don’t talk about these issues and they don’t talk about  things that are important to people. [Change.Org] transcends space and it gives a great voice to people who are disadvantaged.

"A lot of the issues we are talking about and bringing up would never be talked about in politics or parliament. They never get represented in parliament."

Women like Williams and Night are hoping to change that, and Skinner is providing the platform.

FROM OUR NETWORK
00:00 / ???