Girl gamers abused and threatened with rape by males when playing online, new report reveals

Female gamers are routinely being harassed, abused and even threatened with rape by men and boys, according to a report from the UK charity The Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust (YGAM).

The report, She Plays, He Says, details the experiences of many young women while playing video games online, to raise awareness of the problem and to address ways of preventing sexual harassment and misogyny in gaming. It will be now will be submitted to MPs on the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Video Games and E Sports.

The report was compiled after a team from YGAM joined with a small group of academics and female gamers to examine the issues facing women and girls.

One gamer, Lisa Kelly, spoke about the abuse she received while gaming: “It’s just so normalised and there are so many rape threats just casually thrown in there,” she said. “On top of generally sexist comments, there’s an extra layer where it gets a bit more toxic.

“There’s general abuse that we’ve all received, like, ‘go kill yourself’ or really awful things like that.”

Another girl gamer, Mollie Barker, said: “The first time I experienced a threat [online] I was 14 or 15. It was the first time I had ever opened this game and the first time I had played it online. After that, I didn’t play online again for 2 years.”

YGAM’s Katie Tarrant, who compiled and produced the report, said: “We wanted She Plays, He Says to convey an inherent dynamic we’ve been told exists in the online gaming community: what is often a form of escapism or skilled hobby for young women is too frequently ruined by a few words from male gamers.

“Gathering this evidence has confirmed my belief that education is the way forward in tackling misogyny and abuse targeted at female gamers. I hope this report goes some way to making sure that need for education is recognised by parliament.”

The report makes three key recommendations, based around the charity’s mission statement to ‘Inform, Educate and Safeguard’ young people against gaming and gambling-related harms:

— Inform parents of the behaviour young people could be exposed to while gaming.

— Educate boys at a young age on rape culture and discrimination and the impact these words said during online gaming can cause.

— Safeguard female gamers and create a safe environment where victims of sexual harassment are supported.

Dehenna Davison MP, a member of the APPG on Video Games and E Sports, and a regular gamer from a young age, welcomed the report. She said: “Though there can be a perception that they’re just for young lads, video games really are for everyone. I started playing as a 4-year-old with my dad, and since then I have seen the industry transform dramatically.

“With the rise of online gaming, levels of online abuse have sadly risen too and it’s particularly bad if you’re female. I have lost count of the number of times I heard a group of teenagers on their headsets moaning because they didn’t want a girl on their COD team. We all need to get better at tackling this and calling out any abusive behaviour to make sure everyone feels safe whilst gaming.”

Gaming companies are already taking steps to confront online abuse but approaches vary; Call of Duty, who banned more than 350,000 accounts for toxic behaviour in the last year, have implemented new technology to filter potentially offensive text chat, while Counter-Strike allows the user to kick a person out of a game. Most game developers also have zero-tolerance policies towards activities that could be considered abusive.

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Dorothy Lepkowska

Dorothy is the Communications Lead on EDUCATE Ventures, and former education correspondent of several national newspapers.