The FBI is investigating death threats and online abuse that Feminist Frequency's Tropes vs Women in Games creator Anita Sarkeesian says drove her out of her home last month, a San Francisco police spokesperson confirmed to Polygon.
San Francisco police public information officer Albie Esparza told Polygon that Sarkeesian had filed a report with the police department about the threats she received online and that the police department handed the information to the FBI for investigation.
Esparza declined to release any other details, saying that doing so could compromise the investigation or the safety of the victim. He also noted that the FBI is the primary agency handling the case. An FBI spokesman told Polygon that the bureau's policy is to neither confirm nor deny any investigation they may be conducting.
Earlier this month, Esparza told publications that there was no complaint on file from Sarkeesian. When asked why and how that changed this week, the spokesman said he sent out a statement on Friday saying that it was reported to the police department and then forwarded to the FBI for investigation. He did not further clarify why his original statement contradicted that information.
On Aug. 26, Sarkeesian took to Twitter to write that "some very scary threats have just been made against me and my family. Contacting authorities now."
She later tweeted, "I'm safe. Authorities have been notified. Staying with friends tonight. I'm not giving up. But this harassment of women in tech must stop!"
The following day, Sarkeesian shared a particularly disturbing series of threats from one abuser, along with a trigger warning. "I usually don't share the really scary stuff. But it's important for folks to know how bad it gets."
Last month, Feminist Frequency published a new episode of Tropes vs Women in Games looking at the Women as Background Decoration trope, which Sarkeesian described as "largely insignificant non-playable female characters whose sexuality or victimhood is exploited as a way to infuse edgy, gritty or racy flavoring into game worlds. These sexually objectified female bodies are designed to function as environmental texture while titillating presumed straight male players." The episode has been widely praised and shared.
Earlier this month, the International Game Developers Association told Polygon that they were working with the FBI and bullying experts to help game developers deal with what they see as an increase in online harassment.
The FBI approached IGDA executive director Kate Edwards in July to discuss the online harassment of developers online, a spokeswoman with the San Diego office of the FBI confirmed to Polygon.
"We wanted to let Ms. Edwards know the FBI's capability," FBI spokeswoman Emily Yeh said at the time.
Yeh said all 56 field offices of the FBI help investigate a variety of cybercrimes, including harassment, adding that those who feel like they are being threatened should either contact their local police department or the FBI.
"Whichever they feel more comfortable with," she said.
Reached for comment this week, Sarkeesian said she wasn't able to talk much about the incident "because of the seriousness of the situation and because it is an active investigation."
"There are ongoing investigations in multiple municipalities regarding death threats targeting me and my family," she said. "Despite the seriousness of the situation, a group of obsessive cyberstalkers have started a witch hunt against me attempting to prove some sort of paranoid conspiracy theory about fabricated threats. This is unfortunately another example of how the aggressive denial of women's lived experiences online is not only sexist but can actually be dangerous. The witch hunt is irresponsible and has further compromised my privacy and my personal safety as well as serving as a distraction to authorities during an ongoing investigation."
Update: Updated the story to reflect that we spoke with the FBI.