On October 9, an Austrian judge hands down a controversial verdict. A young woman, called Sigrid Maurer, has to pay €4,000 to Albert Lastufka, the owner of a craft beer shop. The allegations: defamation. But what happened and why are so many Austrians so upset about this?

It all started when 33-year-old Sigrid Maurer, a former MP for the Greens, walked by a craft beer shop in Vienna’s 8th district (Strozzigasse) on her way to work in May, 2018. On the sidewalk in front of the store, some men were smoking cigarettes. When Maurer passed them by, they muttered sexually suggestive comments. Maurer ignored them and went to her office. Then, she logged into her Facebook account and discovered the following message in her inbox (translated from the German original, mistakes included):

“Hello Today you walked by my store and looked at my dick as if you’d want to eat it ,

Please When you come by the next time you can put It into your mouth without saying anything and suck it dry to the last drop,I’m paying three euros more if you do not waste anything !!! Your fat ass turned me off but since You are prominent, I will fuck you in Your fat ass , so you can come you little dirty bitch!”

First, she asked her lawyer whether there was anything she could legally do against these vulgar insults. When she was informed that there was no legal redress for this kind of situation in Austria, she took matters in her own hands and published the Facebook message including, the name of the craft beer shop and its owner, on Twitter. She wrote: “I am back (on Twitter) & want to tell you something about Mr. Lastufka. Mr. Lastufka has a small business for craft beer at Strozzigasse 11, where I must walk by every day. Yesterday, he talked to me in an unpleasant way and sent these messages #mindyourcraftbeer”.

Followed by the screenshot showing their chat history:

What happened thereafter was a classical #shitstorm. People wrote insults on the craft beer owner’s Facebook page, they made his Google rating drop drastically and came by his shop to give him the finger, in one incident people even threw eggs and used tampons on his windows. Several passersby called him a “sexist” and an evil man without respect for women. His reaction: “This is lynch law. It wasn’t me. These messages were sent by someone else.” He said that at this date and time he had left his store and had been at the supermarket for twenty minutes. In that time, someone must have used his computer to write the messages, he claimed.

So, Lastufka decided to sue Maurer for defamation. The first day of her trial took place on September 4, the second on October 9. Both days in court were followed closely by Austrian media, with live coverage from the courtroom. The trial was widely seen as a test case for how Austria’s judiciary deals with sexual harassment against women. The verdict, then, was a rude awakening for many observers: Maurer was found guilty of damaging Lastufka’s reputation. She will have to pay €4000 to Mr. Lastufka, in addition to having to cover all legal charges of the trial. When word of the verdict reached the public, a wave of outrage swept the media and online community. Journalists and activists are referring to the whole incident as an example of victim-blaming. We compiled and translated some of the most salient reactions for you:

If you follow the reasoning of the verdict, you can’t be sure about that the sender of any message is truly the sender, no matter how it was delivered.

Harassed women learn today: Don’t fight back! Endure and remain silent. Why? Neither police nor the courts care. And if you should dare, you will be harmed. #sigimaurer

If the #Maurer verdict stands, that’s a carte blanche for troll factories, manipulators, robber barons, thieves, cheaters, vandals and #hateontheweb.
A carte blanche for hostility to democracy.
Not to mention sexism, misogyny and discrimination.
#sigimaurer

Established law now makes a new business model possible in Austria:
1. Sexually degrade a woman in the worst possible way.
2. Hope that she will somehow defend herself publicly.
3. Sue her.
4. “Cash” to account “It was my pleasure” 4,000 € to book
#sigimaurer

So, am I also allowed to insult and threaten various men on Twitter and Facebook now or do these laws only apply if men insult women? #SigiMaurer

So, I am obliged to ensure safe workplace conditions, so that nobody can misuse any of my data. Unless a woman was harmed, then it’s the woman’s fault. Then all I have to do is say “It wasn’t me, nothing was secured, anyone can get access to that” #sigimaurer #teamsigi

The scandal in the story is that #SigiMaurer has and had no legal means whatsoever to take action against these sexist messages. Just like many other women don’t have any legal means. Oider, that’s finally got to change!!
#sexism

Great. Sexually harassing, insulting and threatening women on the internet is not a problem. Just say someone else had the electronic device. Exactly the right message in times when women get targeted only by posting something online. #sigimaurer

This verdict is game-changing. It is a kind of carte blanche for men who want to harass, degrade and bring down women with messages. Now, they can do this officially without having to fear any consequences. This is really happening.

The web is no extralegal space. The verdict is unacceptable and the court’s reasoning absolutely arbitrary. #maurertrial

But Maurer, who is a former politician and used to be in the Austrian Green Party, does not want to give up. She is going to appeal.

I fight back against extremely sexist, humiliating messages and I get sued for it. The judge decides that Mr. L. lies and he believes everything I say. Nevertheless, I am convicted. All right, then we will appeal. We will fight this case until it ends up [at the European Court of Human Rights] in Strasbourg, if need be. 💪🏼💪🏻💪🏾

In the meantime, she is still getting emails like this:

“So, now listen up you little whore. You can suck my dick

and then I will fuck Your ass with it. That will be good for you because you have not been fucked properly in a while. That is why you

have these

fucked up ideas. Aber it doesn’t matter, when I am done with You then you will only think when does he fuck me again. Ich would suggest to

nicely

pay what You own and to not open your mouth (just for blow jobs). Should my friends get you at night, it is over anyways. Think about how you wanna play this.

Bye.”