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#YesAllWomen bear brunt of violence - Can social media campaign drive real change?

Once again a mentally unstable individual has “fallen through the cracks” and gone on a shooting rampage which left seven people dead and nearly a dozen injured. Elliot Rodger's rampage in Isla Vista, Calif. once again brings the issue of violence against women on college campuses into focus. The gunman, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger, killed four men, two women and himself near the Santa Barbara campus Friday, but was thwarted in his efforts to enter a sorority where he planned a sustained attack. The violence came after he left a trail of written and videotaped grievances against women, released before his rampage.

Women's rights activists around the country are stepping up their call for a national campaign to reduce violence against women in the wake of a mass stabbing and shooting in California that also revived calls for tougher gun laws. The subsequent outpouring on social media, including a hashtag campaign, #YesAllWomen, has drawn more than 1.5 million comments.

Other recent mass shootings have also spurred activism—particularly in support of gun-control measures—but not widespread change. Polls taken in the months after the December 2012 mass shootings of children at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., showed record-high numbers of Americans in favor of new gun laws. But later polls showed that the wave subsided after several months.

Attempts to change gun laws failed in Congress, but some states, including Connecticut and New York, have passed tougher restrictions on some types of gun sales. Other states passed laws that lessen restrictions.

In a long emailed message to around 20 people, Mr. Rodger wrote, "My hatred and rage towards all women festered inside me like a plague. Their very existence is the cause of all of my torture, pain and suffering throughout my life."

In recent months women’s safety on college campuses has received national attention with it’s believed 1 in 5 women experiencing sexual assault while at college.

Within several hours after the shooting by suspected gunman Elliot Rodger, a Twitter hashtag, #YesAllWomen, began trending on the social network. The hashtag's users aimed to draw attention to common experiences of violence against women.

A woman launched a conversation on Twitter under a Twitter hashtag called #YesAllWomen about what it's like to feel vulnerable to violence with a tweet; "As soon as I reached my teens, I didn't feel comfortable being outside in the evening on my own street."

Comments started pouring in as soon as the hashtag was started, with women from around the world—including Saudi Arabia—chiming in and using the hashtag as a vehicle to air their feelings on issues from criticism of their dress, to men's behavior. (A response from men quickly started under the tag #NotAllMen).

#YesAllWomen is the latest Twitter hashtag to draw attention to violence against women in a global conversation that has spread from social media to college campuses and into the White House. #YesAllWomen's forebears include #everydaysexism, which evolved from the website Everyday Sexism. In 2011, the site launched as a place for people to share stories of gender-based harassment. Today, #everdaysexism exists as a continuous feed of examples of street harassment, and as an occasional rallying cry around petitions. It has been tweeted more than 520,000 times in the past year, according to social Web search engine Topsy.

While most feminist-driven Twitter campaigns preach to the choir, #YesAllWomen has succeeded in drawing the mainstream (including men) into the conversation. More unique is the conversation's focus on misogyny and its negative impact on women and men.

The hashtag sparked more discussion about rape in India and Africa, and college campus sex assault in the United States. The hashtag also forced discussion of the intersection of mental illness and misogyny in violence against women, especially in mass shootings, which are overwhelmingly perpetrated by white men.

In essence this has helped to highlight how interlinked these factors and events are – It’s not about prioritizing gun legislation or misogyny or mental illness as exclusive initiatives to address. It’s about recognizing how these collectively are undermining the principles of a free and just society and doing something comprehensive to change that.


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