Jo Cox death: Call for violent threats towards female MPs to be taken more seriously

The MP and mother-of-two, 41, died after being shot and stabbed outside Birstall library

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The Independent Online

The issue of online abuse towards women in the public eye has been highlighted following the killing of Jo Cox, the Labour MP stabbed and shot outside a library in her west Yorkshire constituency on Thursday.

Social business executive Beth Murray pointed out the double standards of those on social media who turn a blind eye to violence directed towards female MPs online, yet take an outraged stance in the case of real-life attacks.

“Female MPs get daily death and rape threats: ‘It's just online, why can't you ignore it?’ Female MP is murdered: ‘An unexpected tragedy’,” she wrote in a tweet which has been shared thousands of times.

Ms Cox, 41, died just before 2pm on June 16 outside Birstall library, where she was holding an advice surgery for constituents.

A 52-year-old man named locally as Tommy Mair has been arrested in connection with the attack and police have said they are not looking for anyone else. 

There has been an outpouring of tributes to the politician, who in November 2015 shared a picture of herself and a group of Labour MPs holding up signs saying '#ImaFeminist' on Twitter with the caption: “Happy to join my UK Labour colleagues to stand up against online abuse.”

Another female politician, Natalie McGarry, the MP for Glasgow East, has been advised by police to step up security at her office after receiving online death threats.

She spoke to The Independent after hearing news of Ms Cox's killing. 

“It’s all very well to say that what happens on the internet stays on the internet, but today we’ve seen in real life that people are prepared to take heinous actions against people in public life,” Ms McGarry said. 

“I don’t think enough of an issue has been made that people in the public eye, particularly women, suffer from threats, and gendered sexual violence.”

Tributes paid to Jo Cox

While Ms McGarry stressed it was too early to say whether there was any online factor in the motivation of Ms Cox’s attacker, she said there was not enough recognition of violent online threats towards those in the public eye.

“The reality is that MPs and people in the public sector are always to a certain degree at the mercy of the people they go to see,” she said.

"Everyone is absolutely devastated, regardless of party politics,” she added. “It’s a community of people in public service. We can’t even imagine the tragedy.”

Ms McGarry, a former member of the Scottish National Party, called the police after receiving sickening messages online including murder and rape threats.

She is one of a growing number of MPs speaking up against online abuse, including Labour MP Jess Philips - who recently revealed she had received more than 600 rape threats in one night.

Referring to Ms Murray's tweet, Ms McGarry said the online response had been predictable.

“Unfortunately the response to it is ‘women should shut up about abuse, because men get abused too.’ That is simply not the case. Men don’t have the same comments about their appearance, threatened to be raped - I don’t even want to go into details of the ones I’ve seen.”

“I don’t think [the same level of online abuse towards men] exists, and part of it is because society doesn’t stand up enough for women who are abused.”

Ms Cox experienced online abuse in May 2014, after she became the Labour candidate for the Batley and Spen constituency. In response to her selection, one Twitter user said: “Another one on the gravy train."

Ms Cox replied: “You’re my first twitter troll, thank you.”

Another user wrote in response to that message: “You should know these screechy Labour (so called but a fraud) women are very touchy."

In light of the tragedy, her husband Brendan Cox has called for a fight against the hatred that he said killed his wife.

“Today is the beginning of a new chapter in our lives," he said in a statement. "More difficult, more painful, less joyful, less full of love.

"I and Jo's friends and family are going to work every moment of our lives to love and nurture our kids and to fight against the hate that killed Jo."

In a BBC tribute to Ms Cox, Nick Robinson, presenter of the Radio 4 Today programme, wrote: “Her death is a reminder that our elected representatives, who are so often demonised for living separate lives from the rest of us, actually all too often live in our communities, in our streets worrying about the same things that we do.

“Unlike us, though, they open themselves up not to just to criticism and abuse but to assault by those who disagree with them.

Four out of five MPs have been victims of intrusive or aggressive behaviour, a study by psychiatrists working with the Home Office found in January.