Second in a series of stories about the state’s newest members of Congress
BOSTON — The state’s congressional delegation has long prided itself on having experienced politicians, but in recent years that’s changed.
One newer face among the delegation: U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, who’s from Melrose and represents Massachusetts’ 5th Congressional District.
And already, Clark has become a national leader in the fight against cyber abuse, and her work to protect women from online harassment may finally convince the Department of Justice to investigate more of these cases.
One of those cases is that of Brianna Wu, a gamer from Arlington who also makes video games. And that ticks off some guys, which means they send her creepy death threats, sometimes in scratchy video form.
“This is a video we were just sending off to the FBI today,” Wu showed me on a recent visit to her home. “You know, that’s just one death threat of 106. This is just another day of my life these days. It’s exhausting.”
Wu says she’s received those 106 threats in the last 10 and a half months.
She says the threats are partly because the gaming industry is changing. More women are becoming gamers, and that’s upsetting the old order.
“It’s all about scaring women in the industry until we’re silent. Right? Like, that’s the game,” she said.
But Wu refuses to be silent. In fact, she’s been so vocal, her story caught the attention of her congresswoman: Katherine Clark.
“[Clark] wanted to understand what the FBI was doing,” Wu said.
“And what we found is that the FBI really wasn’t responding to her,” Clark said in an interview. So she reached out to the FBI directly. “Frankly, it was a disappointing and frustrating conversation, because they were very clear that prosecutions of these crimes just wasn’t a priority,” Clark said.
And that worries Clark, because as she’s become a leading voice on Capitol Hill for this cause, she’s begun to hear more and more from women across the country about online harassment.
“We’re sending a strong message that you’re not welcome,” Clark said. “And we are certainly saying to younger women that some of these fields, or if you’re interested in writing on feminism, that this is part of what you have to accept about being online and talking about certain topics.”
Clark says that message is unacceptable. And she doesn’t understand why law enforcement appears to write off these threats as harmless antics. Danielle Keats Citron, a University of Maryland law professor, has found indictments that reveal federal prosecutors pursued only 10 cases of cyberstalking between 2010 and 2013.
“If somebody in your office said, ‘I know you’re gonna be in the parking lot at 5 p.m., and I’m going to be there and I’m going to murder you,’ and, ‘Here, I’m going to send you a video of the knife that I’m going to use,’ we would be all over that,” Clark said. The congresswoman says we ought to take threats made through the Internet just as seriously.
And that stance is getting some traction.
In late May, the U.S. House of Representatives formally agreed to put pressure on the FBI, thanks to Clark. The House urged the Department of Justice to “intensify its efforts to combat this destructive abuse.”
Then, last month, Clark filed a bill for additional resources and training. She’s asking for $4 million a year. That money would help hire 10 new FBI agents dedicated to investigating Internet threats.
And she wants to ensure each U.S. attorney’s office designates an assistant U.S. attorney to investigate and prosecute these types of crimes.
Clark added: “And, we’re also hoping to follow that up with giving local police enforcement the training and some of the expertise and help that they need to be able to take these virtual crimes and bring it to real-life, real-time solutions and help for these women.”
Women like Wu.
Some days, she works from her one-story, disheveled home, where her three dogs keep her company.
“You know, when you came to my house today and knocked on the door,” she told me on my visit, “every time that happens, I have this fear response, because they’ve doxed my address and I’ve had people tell me they’re coming to my house to kill me so many times now.”
Wu is tall — 6-foot-2 — with red streaks in her brown hair. She admits her height can look intimidating when she stands up, but she’s scared — so scared she keeps a Louisville slugger bat by the front door.
“I’ve had people telling me my dead, mutilated corpse is going to be on the front page of feminist websites,” she said.
Wu says these threats have now become so routine, but they’re still emotionally and economically debilitating. She has tried to reach out to law enforcement, but nothing is ever really done to investigate and prosecute the threats.
Clark is pushing for that to change.
“We’re not asking for the FBI or the federal government to come in and police the Internet,” Clark said. “We’re just saying, ‘Investigate these cases and enforce the good laws that we already have on the books.’ ”
Wu is thankful for the efforts.
“In a political environment, where law enforcement has frankly not been very helpful for my family at all, Katherine Clark is the reason we’re getting any attention on this at all,” Wu said.
In an industry full of mythical heroes, Clark’s become an unlikely hero for female gamers.