To be a woman in the public eye these days, or actually anyone who can operate a Twitter account, means to be subject to abuse. Sometimes threats of death and rape. Sometimes just whacked-out nonsense. Sometimes desperate cries for attention that will never be met.
On occasion I have had to have the police round. They have been very nice but don’t really understand that Twitter is not email.
Still, we have a chat and I show them how to use it. I like to think I provide a public service and often feel that the police just need to talk. One time after I had been burgled, they insisted that I have “victim support”. It wasn’t nice thinking someone had been in the house while I was there, but as they’d only taken a bit of hash, some money and half a bottle of gin and dropped some diamond rings in the process, I just didn’t feel that scared.
Nonetheless, two earnest blokes kept coming round and sitting on my sofa while I made them tea.
“We understand you must feel very violated,” said one.
“Not really, and I’m moving soon anyway.”
“I was burgled once. I felt very, very violated,” said the younger one. This was a word they were proud of. After two hours of listening to how violated these policemen were, I told them I had stuff to do.
But when I got a proper death threat in the days before the internet, the police were actually great. Instead of online abuse, there were letters. I still get them. These people are dangerous, I always think. They’ve gone and got a stamp and everything.
A couple of missives from Combat 18, a fascist group, arrived. I loved “pakis and niggers” and was some kind of Jewish whore. The unchanging slur: you are too ugly to be raped but you will be anyway. The details of how they will destroy you are the frightening part. While reading, my home phone started ringing:
“We know where you live. We know you have children. So we ain’t going to kill you. Just disable you.” Or, “Buy a wheelchair. You’re gonna need one.”
The police told me, “We can deal with groups better than individuals,” and offered to install a panic button.
The newspaper I worked for at the time was also very supportive, taking the threats seriously. By now, though, I wondered how anyone could have got my phone number except from someone inside the paper. That’s what these types of threats do. They make you distrust everyone.
Then the freakiest thing happened thing. My editor passed on a message of support from a fellow columnist, a man who knew something about death threats.
“He says, you know you have made it when you get a death threat.”
This message of support was from Norman Tebbit.
I nearly died.
This article appears in the 07 Oct 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin vs Isis