Women have poorer legal protection than men from online hate

21.06.17 | News
Moa Bladini
Atle Morseth Edvinsson
In practice, men enjoy better legal protection from online hate speech than women, according to Dr. Moa Bladini, Senior Lecturer in Criminal Law at the University of Gothenburg. Dr. Bladini has conducted a mapping exercise of legislation against online hate speech in the Nordic countries and concludes that it is crucial that gender be added to the list of motives in hate crime legislation if women are to enjoy greater legal protection.

“The Nordic Region aims for gender equality, so it is a definite problem that we offer poorer legal protection to women subjected to hatred and threats online than we do to men,” she points out.

Gender is not listed as a motive for hate crime in any of the Nordic countries.

With the exception of Norway, the legal safeguards against threats of sexual violence and revenge porn – which almost exclusively affects women – are also weak.

Political priority

Bladini has mapped the legal regulation of hatred and threats on the Internet from a gender equality perspective, commissioned by the Nordic Council of Ministers for Gender Equality.

The Council of Ministers sees the work against online hate as a top priority, as it involves multiple gender-equality aspects:

Men are exposed to more traditional forms of crime online, e.g. threats and abuse regarding their profession and competence. Women are often the target of posts of a sexual and sexist nature, with the threats related to the individual rather than her profession. Studies have also shown that women in the public eye are twice as likely to be victims of online abuse and that men are responsible for the majority of the hate speech on the Internet.

Simplified view of freedom of speech

All of the Nordic countries are currently debating how sexism and hate speech threaten to silence voices in public spaces. It is an acute problem for certain groups of people and politicians are having to grapple with a difficult balancing act between freedom of speech and individual rights.

“There is very strong protection for formal freedom of expression in the Nordic countries. Ultimately, however, this leads to some voices actually being silenced –   and becomes a real restriction on their freedom of expression. We often operate with an overly simplified picture of free speech,” Dr. Bladini added.

One of the conclusions reached by the mapping exercise is that victims of online hate because of their gender are not accorded the same legal protections as those exposed to hatred because of skin colour, ethnicity, race, religion and sexual orientation – These are the grounds listed as motives in hate crime legislation.


Moa Bladini has drawn up a number of proposals for measures to combat online hate in the Nordic countries in a manner that would be both effective and respect gender equality:

  • Add gender to the list of motives in hate-crime legislation
  • Add non-consensual pornography and other serious violations of privacy to the areas covered by the legislation
  • Extend criminal liability to those who provide platforms on the Internet
  • Provide journalists, elected representatives (who already have special protection

In Denmark), researchers and cultural figures with better legal protection, especially when they are the victims of organised hate campaigns

  • Improve the police and prosecution services’ knowledge of online abuse and hate crimes so that they also pursue cases of sexist hate
  • Draw up a code of ethics for ISPs who provide Internet forums, preferably at the Nordic level but also as part of a wider international dialogue.


The mapping exercise was published by NIKK and is available here: Hat och hot på nätet (Online hate speech and threat)


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