Remarks at a Meeting of the Third Committee on an Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Its Causes, and Conseque

Gregory McElwain
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
October 5, 2018


Thank you. The United States is against all forms of violence against women, and we appreciate the opportunity to share our leadership on the protection and promotion of women. We will use our time to address one specific issue.

In her report, the Special Rapporteur notes that women in politics regularly experience online sexual harassment, sex-based threats and violence, and stalking. She recommends that such violence be criminalized and prosecuted. The United States recognizes that information and communication technologies are another tool that can be misused to inflict sex-based threats and violence, acts of abuse including economic and mental abuse, and harassment against women on-line with sweeping impacts off-line.

Under U.S. law, threats of violence online can be and are prosecuted, as well as other activities that can lead to violence, such as stalking, including cyber-stalking. In addition, under the Federal Violence Against Women Act, the federal government provides resources such as specialized training for law enforcement, prosecutors, parole and probation officers, and victim service providers to enable them to recognize stalking and to ensure that comprehensive, holistic services are available for women and minor victims of violence.

At the same time, the robust protection of the First Amendment requires that broad latitude be given to online discussion as a form of free speech. The United States does not support criminalization of speech that does not rise to the level of what are called “true threats” under U.S. law. Furthermore, the United States does not accept a definition of “violence” that incorporates mere speech. Speech – even distasteful, abusive, or harassing speech – is not violence. Subsuming all forms of abuse and harassment under the term “violence” is legally, factually, and intellectually inappropriate. “Hate speech” has no meaning in U.S. law. Doing so risks diminishing the impact of physical violence on victims by equating speech with it, and risks prohibiting legitimate expression.

In closing, we would be interested in hearing about other initiatives by the United Nations, Member States, or civil society to counter online violence against women.