It was the tweet that unleashed a thousand sexual violence threats. Over the weekend, Ashley Judd—actor, Kentucky college basketball fan, and sexual assault survivor — tweeted that her team's rivals were "playing dirty." In response, she received a tirade of abuse. Now she's pressing charges against the individual Twitter users who called her a "cunt," "bitch," and "whore," and threatened her with "anal, anal, anal."
"During a conference championship game on Sunday, I posted a comment to Twitter that some found unsportsmanlike," Judd, 46, wrote in an opinion piece on Mic on Thursday. "I didn't much care for three players bleeding on the court, and I tweeted that the opponent was 'playing dirty & can kiss my team's free throw making a—.' The volume of hatred that exploded at me in response was staggering."
In response to her original tweet, which has since been deleted, one Twitter user wrote, "What the hell do you even do you stuck up cunt. What are you famous for again," while another shot: "Go suck on Cal's two inch dick ye Bitch whore."
The actor and political activist, known for her roles in such films as Divergent and Double Jeopardy, said the torrent of highly sexualized and gender-based attacks is an all-too-common outgrowth of social media, which increasingly has become a platform that incubates and normalizes misogyny. The narrative of the threats took a "predictable" tone this weekend, which "reflect the universal ways we talk about girls and women," Judd said.
"What happened to me is the devastating social norm experienced by millions of girls and women on the Internet," she wrote. "Online harassers use the slightest excuse (or no excuse at all) to dismember our personhood. My tweet was simply the convenient delivery system for a rage toward women that lurks perpetually."
The time for belittling or attacking women for simply expressing an opinion on sports or anything online must end, Judd said, adding that her uncle expressed similar views about the game Sunday, but was spared attack. Why? Because "being a male sports fan is his immunity from abuse," she said.
Judd has since filed a number of police reports against the perpetrators of the aggressive tweets and said she has looked into taking legal action against them. A representative for Judd told VICE News on Thursday that the actor did not wish to comment further on the particular legal avenues she is pursuing.
Jonathan Weinman, a Los Angeles-based sexual harassment lawyer who is not representing Judd, told VICE News there are a number of actions that social media users can take against online harassers, but most of the outcomes rest with social media companies, which have the ability to take down the individual threats or accounts according to each of their own individual policies. Pursuing legal redress is much more difficult, he said.
"There's not enough in the way of online bullying and harassment laws," he explained. "There's very little legal recourse unless you're able to track down the original user or prove to authorities that there is an imminent threat posed to you as opposed to someone venting hatred online."
This is because of the "grey area" between what is considered free speech and hate speech and online threats, Weinman said, adding that, "A lot of these online actors make these threats knowing there's not much legally that can be done to prosecute them."
"Technology moves a lot faster than the law," he said. "Online Internet things are developing on a minute-by-minute, sometimes second-by-second basis on Twitter, and the law needs to catch up. We need to streamline some of the processes in respect to the way we treat online harassment, so we can prosecute threats without infringing on someone's right to free speech."
Twitter did not immediately respond to VICE News' requests for comment Thursday. Gender-based threats of violence are prohibited according to the company's rules and terms of service. Users can file reports about abusing behavior, but "as a policy," Twitter does not "mediate content or intervene in disputes between users."
Judd is among a growing contingent of women, including a number of celebrities, who have been subjected to online sexual abuse and harassment. In January, actor Lena Dunham declared she was going dark on Twitter, saying she was taking herself offline "to create a safer space for myself emotionally."
Other stars, including Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Watson have been targeted by hackers who released or threatened to release nude photos of the women in recent months.
Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields