Actress and comedian Emily Atack reveals how online abuse has left her fearing for her life

london, england november 23 emily atack attends itv palooza at the royal festival hall on november 23, 2021 in london, england photo by karwai tangwireimage
Emily Atack opens up on sexual harassment onlineKarwai Tang - Getty Images

Emily Atack has opened up about how her mental health has deteriorated following years of digital abuse, harassment, and cyberflashing.

The actress, comedian and presenter will share her experiences in a BBC Two documentary, Emily Atack: Asking For It?, which takes a deep dive into what it’s like being on the receiving end of such messages and threats, including unsolicited sexual images and rape threats.

Atack says she receives thousands of explicit messages a day – which increased over lockdown – leaving her fearing for her own safety. Speaking in an interview with Radio Times, Atack said: “I’m terrified at times. The second I hear a bump in the night I go, ’Oh, that’s it. I’m about to be raped and killed’. I’m scared of being alone physically a lot of the time.”

Atack further explained how it’s “frightening” how much online abuse has been “normalised” and “how accustomed we are as women to it.” The actress said she's likely to receive “about 10 penises I have not asked to see” before breakfast.

Speaking to The Times, she also said: “It feels like sexual assault – and I have been sexually assaulted, so I know what that feels like. I feel like I’m being sexually assaulted hundreds of times a day.”

“There were so many other things going on. People were dying. People were in care homes having to wave at loved ones through windows. I didn’t feel I could come out and say, ‘Can you stop sending me pictures of your dick?’ So I bottled it up.”

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The 33-year-old says her documentary will investigate what urges men to sexually harass her and others online, and will in turn peel back the layers of her own personal experience. “I want people to be shocked by it,” she said. “I want people to wake up and go, ‘This isn’t something that I’m prepared to tolerate or live with any more, and nor should any woman.’”

Atack believes that cat-calling and abuse should be made a “public health issue”. “At least it will show that the Government is taking it seriously, and not putting women’s safety to the back of the pile,” she said.

Atack has previously joined a campaign against cyberflashing – where people send explicit, unsolicited images online. She spoke about the issue in Parliament last year.

The British government has pledged to tackle the issue of digital abuse, downblousing and upskirting, deepfakes and cyberflashing in the Online Safety Bill, which is making its way through the House of Lords.

Atack has also stepped back from her social media activity, in the days leading up to the documentary release.

“As women, we should be able to celebrate our own bodies without being sexually assaulted or harassed, without horrific consequences,” she said. “I’m going to carry on doing that.

“I’m not going to start wearing blouses done up to the top of my neck. It’s my body, my choice, my celebration of my life. That is me, and I should be able to live my life freely without devastating consequences.”

Emily Atack: Asking For It? will air on Tuesday 31 January on BBC Two and iPlayer at 9pm

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