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Online Abuse, Cyber Harassment, Expressive Role Of Law, Online Engagement, Sexual Privacy, Expressive Theory, Cyber Civil Rights


A central aim of online abuse is to silence victims. That effort is as regrettable as it is successful. In the face of cyber harassment and sexual privacy invasions, women and marginalized groups retreat from online engagement. These documented chilling effects, however, are not inevitable. Beyond its deterrent function, law has an equally important expressive role. In this article, we highlight law’s capacity to shape social norms and behavior through education. We focus on a neglected dimension of law’s expressive role—its capacity to empower victims to express their truths and engage with others. Our argument is theoretical and empirical. We present new empirical research showing cyber harassment law’s salutary effects on women’s online expression. We consider the implication of those findings for victims of sexual privacy invasions.


Published article adapted from:

Jonathon Penney, "When Law Frees Us to Speak" (2019) U of Maryland Legal Studies Research Paper No 2019-01.