On a bad day, Maria Tikas receives four or five abusive online messages suggesting that she only got her job as a journalist because she offered sexual favors to her bosses.
Some messages include graphic sexual images. Others suggest a woman cannot know anything about covering soccer for Sport, a Spanish daily sports newspaper.
“You have not got any idea (about soccer), get back to the kitchen,” read one of the messages Tikas showed VOA.
Tikas and other female journalists in Spain have gone public about the daily vitriol.
“¡Basta! Female journalists say enough!” That was the headline over a double-page article in Sport last week, which detailed the experiences of 15 women who cover sports in a country where soccer is like an alternative religion.
The article came out as a new law was going through the Spanish parliament that promises to tackle online sexual abuse for the first time.
Due to come into effect next year, the legislation will class online abuse as sexual violence. Convicted offenders will face fines or even house arrest.
For Tikas, and millions of other women, the law offers hope that people will think twice before sending offensive messages.
“It is not so bad when I report on women’s soccer but it is worse when I write about the men’s game. The typical thing is saying I only got my job because I had sex with the boss. Or they say I should be scrubbing in the kitchen,” she told VOA.
Most of the abuse is online but Tikas says she also gets sexist comments while out working. Some male sports agents – a crucial source for stories — make sexually charged “insinuations,” she said.
However, the 24-year-old journalist insists the abuse does not deter her.
“No, this does not make me think of giving up journalism. I block these messages. It bothers me more in general that women are still treated like this,” she said.
When the Sport article came out, it prompted a fresh dose of abuse, Tikas said.
“Some said we are always saying we are victims, that we complain too much, that we should not have equality because we are not good enough.”
Spain’s Sexual Freedom draft legislation has been dubbed the “only yes means yes” law because of how it will change the criminal code regarding rape. Unless a person gives express consent to have sex, it will be considered rape. Previously, prosecutors in Spain had to prove there was intimidation or violence.
“I hope that this (law) will mean that Spain has left behind its long history of sexual violence against women,” Spain’s Equality Minister Irene Montero Gil told parliament when she presented the law in June.
The law will also consider it a criminal offence “to address another person with expressions, behavior or propositions of a sexual nature that create an objectively humiliating, hostile or intimidating situation for the victim.”
Montero stressed that harassment is not defined as a man complimenting a woman on her looks, but making lewd sexual remarks.
Digital domestic violence – revenge porn or sextortion, where someone threatens to release private images or materials if the person doesn’t comply with demands for sexual favors or money – will be also considered an offence punishable by fines or community service.
The government is urging social media platforms to adapt strategies to combat domestic violence and is trying to involve social media influencers in this policy.
Laia Bonals, a 23-year-old sports journalist with Ara, a regional newspaper in Catalonia, northeastern Spain, says the law is welcome but not enough.
Like Tikas, Bonals regularly receives messages suggesting she uses sexual favors or that she knows nothing about sport.
“On other occasions, men – athletes or agents – try to flirt with me and treat me like an object instead of someone trying to do my job. This law may help, but it is going to take a lot more to change people’s vision of women journalists,” Bonals, who also put her name to the article in Sport, said.
Encarni Iglesias, of the campaign group Stop Digital Gender Violence, backed the new law but says in practice it may be unworkable.
“This is a way forward, of course, but I think it will be easy for a judge or defense lawyers to throw out these cases because how do you prove someone made the tweet? It is easy to manipulate digital images,” she told VOA.
Tikas believes education –- not the new law –- will stop the abuse.
“I don’t hold out much hope that a law changes things. It will take education to change attitudes toward women in Spain. We need to change children’s minds,” she said.
Julie Posetti, global director of research at the International Center for Journalists, has studied the effects of online violence on journalism.
“Our research has shown that it is not possible to solve this crisis through a single measure,” she told VOA.
“Legal and legislative protections against online violence are an essential part of any effective response,” Posetti said. “And they need to target not just the perpetrators but also the facilitators and amplifiers of the bulk of gender-based online violence: the social media platforms.”
Posetti was lead author of a recent study by UNESCO and the International Center for Journalists that surveyed 901 journalists globally. They found that 73% of respondents had experienced online violence.
Online harassment can seriously affect journalists, said Posetti, adding that she is aware of several cases of journalists being treated for PTSD because of harassment.
“Psychological harm needs to be acknowledged as a serious consequence of online violence facing women journalists,” Posetti said. “(It is) not something that should be diminished and or shrugged off because even less severe attacks can be cumulatively very damaging.”