Last Saturday, Susie Verrill had a barbecue. She invited a load of her closest friends and family – people drank wine; the kids played in the garden – and at midnight everyone settled down in front of a big outdoor screen to watch Susie’s boyfriend, Greg, compete in the final of the Olympic long-jump.
As a 2012 gold medal-winner, expectations for Greg to win gold again were high, but when he came third, Susie’s phone lit up. With congratulations from many quarters, but also this.
And then this.
“During the Olympics, I suspected morons would tweet me,” Susie tells me. “One guy kept going on about how I’d ruined Greg and let down the country, and another even copied Greg in to berate him and let him know he’d still ‘bang his missus'. So at least I’ll have some offers should I ever become single.”
If Susie sounds jaded, it’s probably because she is. Her boyfriend is, of course, Olympic long-jumper Greg Rutherford, and apparently that simple fact is enough to make her a target for Twitter hate – specifically, sexual hate.
“When Greg gets trolled it's either violent or ginger-based. When I get trolled it's nearly always sexual. If Greg's been in the papers about something, you can guarantee I'll have been on the receiving end of someone telling me they plan on giving me a seeing-to.”
Last year, after the boxer Tyson Fury was nominated for Sports Personality of the Year despite his sexist and homophobic comments, fellow nominee Greg tried to pull out of the competition in protest. And Susie’s social feed immediately filled up with rape threats.
“I think,” muses Susie, “men who send me sexual hate are frustrated by the fact a woman – yes, a woman with a vagina – can run rings around them. There’s an odd misconception that you can’t have a brain and be an attractive woman. We’ve seen it with Helen Skelton-gate over the Olympics. It’s a shame that so many men like this exist.”
Sometimes it seems that everyone on Twitter is the sort of charmer who’ll tell you you’re “tidy” one minute, then the next – when you fail to fall over yourself in the rush to give them a blow-job – fly into a rage and call you a brainless slut.
I think men who send me sexual hate are frustrated by the fact a woman – yes, a woman with a vagina – can run rings around them
The sad truth is we all know the unwritten rule: if you’re a woman with a Twitter account, you’ll either have received or seen misogynistic abuse. Especially, somehow cruelly, if you speak out about it. It happened to Caroline Criado-Perez in 2013 – when she commented publicly about abuse and misogyny, that’s what she received on Twitter: a campaign of death and rape threats that led to a conviction. And it’s still happening in 2016 – actor Leslie Jones had Twitter trolls fling reams of racist and sexist rants at her, and Labour MP Jess Phillips received 600 rape threats in a single night. A single night.
“The only time I find social media difficult is when Milo’s brought in to the mix,” admits Susie. “When we’ve been weathering particularly awful backlash, Greg’s and my almost two-year-old, Milo, receives threats of his own – and it of course doesn’t rest easy with me at all. I’d gladly kill for him.
“A few months ago, we were told someone would rip Greg’s head off in front of Milo and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find that unsettling.”
Again, these sorts of threats are worryingly common. In June, Labour MP Yvette Cooper received this tweet for speaking out for the Remain campaign before the EU Referendum.
So how do you bounce back when you know that people who think it’s OK to say this sort of stuff are out there in the world?
“My general opinion is that if you’re out to make another individual feel bad, you’re harbouring some issues. I actually think a lot of the people who send me abuse on social media would be charming in real life, or at least a tad sheepish. Plus Greg takes regular breaks and I think that stops him getting too bogged down.”
But, says Susie, it’s important not to let the fuckers get you down.
“Greg and I treat most things with humour. He’s very ginger, and I grew up with NHS glasses and teeth like Stonehenge, so humour has always been how we deal with things. This goes for social media, too. And we both retweet abuse only to find it’s been deleted within seconds because the person who sent it can’t take the retaliation.
“On balance, the positivity I get from social media far outweighs the abuse and cock pics. The overriding vibe during this year’s Olympics has been a great one. I know I have a wider audience now, and that my throwaway comments could be picked up by larger sources, and I’m sure Greg was on the receiving end of some standard ginger put-downs, but they’re so unoriginal that we don’t count them.
“I rest easy knowing we’re actually OK people who mean well. So I keep it light-hearted, and if people don’t like that, I work hard not to let it bother me."