Written by Amy Beecham
A new study by psychologists has uncovered that, in some situations, ghosting occurs is to avoid a potentially violent response. But what exactly is ‘rejection violence’?
In 2022, ghosting is widely considered the ultimate social faux-pas – an easy out for those wishing to avoid the inevitable awkwardness of the “I’m just not that into you” talk. But while modern dating is typically an exercise in avoiding being ghosted, many of us are also guilty of it too.
In 2016, Forbes reported that more than 80% of millennial singles had fallen victim to the silent treatment. In 2018, data from CreditLoan, a financial advice site, found that women were more than 150% more likely to ghost than men. While popular reasons included avoiding embarrassment or being too scared to express how they truly felt, according to new research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, there could also be much more concerning grounds.
According to lead researcher Gili Freedman, safety concerns may also motivate people, particularly women, to engage in ghosting out of fear of a violent response. Freedman noted that during the study, a pattern emerged in online forums where men would write about how they were frustrated that they were being ghosted, and women would respond by saying that when they engaged in explicit rejection, men would respond in aggressive ways. Ghosting, for them, felt like the safer and less risky option.
Defined as instances where men react violently toward women who reject their expressions of romantic or sexual interest, the experience of “rejection violence” is not a new one. In 2019,actor Jameela Jamil tweeted about her negative experiences of rejecting unwanted advances, which prompted thousands of women to respond with their own anecdotes.
“Was out at the shops with my friend,” Jamil wrote. “Man ogles me. Man then approaches me to give me his number. I explain I have a boyfriend but thank him for the offer. Man then threatens my career, saying I better remember that I rejected him. And then shouts at me that I’m low class,” she shared.
Indeed, in 2019 ABC News reported that women on dating apps are commonly being abused for simply saying no. A similar studyby the US-based Pew Research Centre found nearly half of all women aged between 35 and 49 who used online dating had someone continue contact after they said they weren’t interested – nearly double the rate among men.
In a world where sexual harassment has been declared a “shadow pandemic” by the United Nations and women are forced to change their everyday behaviours in order to protect themselves, it’s easy to see how ghosting can provide a secure and lower risk out for dating app users.
Freedman’s research ultimately found that participants were more likely to choose to “ignore them until they get the picture” due to their concerns of what might happen once the relationship ends.
Earlier this year, online dating giant Tinder declared that women’s safety was at the heart of their app, announcing safety services through which abusive and harmful messages are now automatically detected, with senders asked “Are you sure?” and recipients “Does this bother you?” According to the company, this led to an increase of 50% in people reporting things that they may not like.
Similarly, in2021, Bumble launched a joint project with the National Domestic Violence Hotline, to highlight all kinds of abuse within relationships — including digital abuse. However, with 37% of dating-app users have reported someone for inappropriate behaviour, there is clearly still a very long way to go until women can say no without fear of the repercussions.
Charities including Solace Women’s Aid, Glitch and Refuge offer support and guidance for victims of online dating abuse.
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