A SHORT FILM and COMPANION GUIDE
dedicated to civil discourse and
the protection of women.

image of a woman's face with green eyes, the right side is partially blurred with digital blue/green splotches

Support
TORN is a sponsored project of
Film Independent,
a non-profit
independent media arts organization.

THE FILM

A harassed public health researcher must choose between her personal safety and her university career when she becomes the target of digital bullying and real-life terror.

woman looking out over university campus, setting sun, dusk

Story

A few years into the future, climate change is causing diseases to emerge in places that didn’t have them before. Disintegration of facts has spread. In the midst of this chaos …

a shooting camera for a film prep

Filmmakers

Meet the Director Satinder Kaur and Writer/Producer Terra Wellington. They share their artistic vision for the film and how the story came about.

The Themes

We get at the heart of what is happening to public health authorities, scientists, and journalists as they deal with the personal cost of online harassment …

Torn, a pyschological thriller film
Inspiration shot - The Place Beyond the Pines for Torn, a film about online harassment of women

Inspiration shot for “Torn” from drama/thriller “The Place Beyond The Pines”

STORY

Synopsis

A few years into the future, climate change wrecks havoc on ecosystems. Diseases emerge in places that didn’t have them before. Disintegration of facts has spread, further amplifying political divisions on health and freedoms.

In the midst of this chaos, a U.S. university public health researcher, Anna Benton, has continued the good fight. She advocates for science and disease protection. Anna and her colleagues are required to publicize their game-changing study that would improve public health and protect against the approaching diseases. It’s urgent, lives are at stake.

The new study presents personal dangers for Anna and others. Everything in Anna’s life is brought to the edge. She is torn between upholding facts and truth while protecting her own safety and sanity.

Tone: Psychological Thriller
Film Length: 13 minutes

Explore the Themes
Support
THE FILMMAKERS

Director
Satinder Kaur

The tension between self-preservation and social responsibility attracted me to the script. We live in a world where online violence and abuse are commonplace, and sometimes can have real-world consequences. The exploration of this tension lends itself so perfectly to the psychological thriller genre …

What will Anna do when the online threats start finding their way into her daily life? When the fear and paranoia starts coloring her every interaction? When the institutions and the people she relied on to protect her, fail her? TORN is an honest and raw exploration of one of the biggest challenges we face today.

Sati joined the Army right after high school with the goal to pay for college and study film.  Some detours and a war later, she’s finally living her dream telling stories about ordinary women doing extraordinary things. Her short film Blood and Glory premiered at Tribeca Film Festival, and won the Grand Prize in the Women in Media CAMERAderie initiative. She was selected as one of four writers to participate in the NBCUniversal Feature Writers Program, and had the opportunity to develop projects with Colin Trevorrow (“Jurassic World”). Sati has written and directed several award-winning and widely viewed shorts. Her film The Last Killing on police brutality in Punjab, India, won the Amnesty International Best Human Rights Short award. She’s a fellow of the Writers Guild Foundation’s Veterans Writing Project, and received her MFA in film directing from USC School of Cinematic Arts. www.satikaur.com

Terra Wellington in white sleeveless top, writer/producer for Torn, a film about online harassment of women
Terra Wellington in white sleeveless top, writer/producer for Torn, a film about online harassment of women

Writer / Producer
Terra Wellington

TORN has a personal origin for me. Not long ago, I published research online that prompted a strong response from a reader who disagreed with my findings. Initially, I tried to respectfully dialogue with him, thinking I was having a polite conversation. But I soon realized that was not his actual intent …

Yes, there was a disagreement of opinion between us. However, his true purpose was to belittle and demoralize me. I stopped responding. Yet, he continued. Each message gave me anxiety, made my heart race, and induced self-doubt and anger. The site refused to block him on grounds of fostering free speech, even with his sexist and derogatory comments.

Eventually, he stopped … after six months. But it left me wanting to stop all further research. And the demeaning words he used lingered in my head.

This is the abusive power of online harassment.

The Women’s Media Center says that “the purpose of harassment differs with every incidence, but usually includes wanting to embarrass, humiliate, scare, threaten, silence, extort or, in some instances, encourage mob attacks or malevolent engagements.”

Also, harassment disproportionately happens to women, and it’s escalating — especially toward scientists, journalists, and those in the public health field. Silencing women through cyberbullying and harassment is a powerful, insidious tool with wide-ranging cultural, health, and social effects.

To spotlight this issue, I wrote TORN, a psychological thriller short film.

TORN is part of a larger movement to highlight the need to reduce and contain bullying and online harassment of women. Currently, there is very little protection for those who are abused and dehumanized online.

My intention is that TORN would generate increased empathy for those who are abused online. Also, this story circles issues of mental health and climate change diseases. And the overall film’s project looks to foster discussions about solutions and positive change.

We look forward to sharing this film with you.

Terra Wellington is a producer, writer, and actor. Her writing and creative producing include creation of the television series “Magnolia Hill” and “What Dreams Are Made Of,” both fantasy dramas with female leads. Prior commissioned works include writer of the adapted feature screenplay “Yankees West” about the injustices and triumphs in 1930s Los Angeles, co-creator and writer on the children’s television series “Princess Zara,” and co-creator of the unscripted wellness series “Inside Out.”

Her published works include The Mom’s Guide to Growing Your Family Green: Saving the Earth Begins at Home (St. Martin’s Press). She is also chapter contributor to The Reducetarian Solution (TarcherPerigee). Alongside her writing, she has appeared in over 2000 media interviews and guest spots to talk about wellness and eco topics.  She continues to shape public opinion on how to take better care of the planet and each other. More at www.terrawellington.com.

Nina Martinek in black jacket and blonde hair, director for Torn, a film about online harassment of women

Composers

Alexa L. Borden and Connor Cook are an award-winning composition and singer-songwriter duo. Originally from Philadelphia, PA (Borden) and Boone, NC (Cook), both women hold an MFA in Music Composition for the Screen from Columbia College Chicago and are involved members of the Alliance of Women Film Composers (AWFC). Together they have composed music and songs for dozens of productions including films, podcasts, video games, and musical theater. Some of their most recent work includes scores for the critically acclaimed films Static Space and Balloon Animal, both currently in the festival circuit. More at www.lexaconmusic.com.

Nina Martinek in black jacket and blonde hair, director for Torn, a film about online harassment of women

Consulting Producer

Nina Martinek is a writer/director, originally from Australia. Her short films have screened at film festivals internationally including Sundance, LA Shorts, Mannheim/Heidelberg, Edinburgh, Vienna, Toronto Women’s Film Festival and Brooklyn Art Museum. Nina is an alumna of NYU Tisch School of the Arts Graduate Film Program. She has worked extensively as a documentary filmmaker in Africa for UNICEF and as a video producer/journalist for Reuters and the New York Times. Nina recently completed her debut narrative feature film “Happy Birthday Charlie” and is working on a documentary “What We Dream.” More at www.ninamartinek.com.

EXPLORE THE THEMES

Humanity vs. Technology

It is possible to reduce or end bullying and online harassment?

Online harassment of women takes place via social media, forums, and email. Its purpose is usually to demean and/or silence. From the Women’s Media Center:

“Online abuse includes a diversity of tactics and malicious behaviors ranging from sharing embarrassing or cruel content about a person to impersonation, doxing, stalking and electronic surveillance to the nonconsensual use of photography and violent threats. The online harassment of women, sometimes called Cybersexism or cybermisogyny, is specifically gendered abuse targeted at women and girls online. It incorporates sexism, racism, religious prejudice, homophobia and transphobia.”

Is there a difference between bullying and harassment? They have many similarities, the behavior often looks the same, and they are frequently used interchangeably to identify aggressor behavior. Legal definitions will classify harassment as taking the bullying a step further by attacking you because of your protected class, such as race, religion, sex, color, age, disability, or national origin. For example, because you’re a woman. And harassment will usually be more purposeful, malicious, consistent, and targeted. Harassment also often takes place in public, which is why social media or forums are an ideal platform for it to occur, since the harasser will often seek peer approval. Though, it can also happen in private messaging as well.

As the Royal Society of Canada has said, the public does not see all the shock that is piled onto the victims, the horror of the receiver, and how often it’s the anonymity of the abuser that amplifies the resulting fear.

Doxxing (or doxing) is an outgrowth of harassment and bullying. It is a serious form of Internet abuse and is explored in TORN. It’s a slang word for “dropping documents.” Doxxing is when your personal or employment details are made available to the public typically with the intent to punish or harm. This type of Internet abuse is growing. 21% of Americans have been doxxed, over 43 million people.

It’s important for women to be online. They need to work, access healthcare, and have their voices heard.

However, women are the ones most commonly bullied and harassed online across the globe, especially in personally abusive ways. At least 85 percent of women globally have had experience with online violence in one of several ways:

  • 38 percent of women have had personal experiences with online violence*
  • 65 percent of women have known other women who had been targeted online, from their personal and professional networks*
  • 85 percent of women have witnessed online violence against other women (including from outside their networks)*
  • The abuse is often coordinated, mob like, to silence women and drive them out of spaces both online and offline**
  • Online abuse is used as an attempt to weaken society** (and has a tremendous effect on dampening democracy)

This online abuse is a rapidly escalating trend if you’re a scientist, journalist, or work in public health and are public facing. Why is this? There has been a global trend to encourage scientists, journalists, and public health authorities to personally promote their research and writing. As part of this promotion effort, they are asked to tell their personal stories and be activists (this didn’t used to be the case) — putting them in a vulnerable, public-facing situation with few protections. Because it is too easy for online abuse to occur, bullies and harassers feel emboldened online to attack where there are few consequences.

This film TORN is based on this unfortunate trend of discrediting scientists, journalists, and public health authorities online. Engaging on the actual issues is not the intent from these abusers. And, as is presented in the film, racists and misogynist online comments are far too often the norm for women in these professions. Loud voices in echo chambers of misinformation and disinformation have amplified this problem, creating demeaning and dangerous gender-based violence situations.

*SOURCE: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2020, Study only surveyed 18+ (2020)
** SOURCE: Global Partnership Initiative “Renewing Democracy: A Global Partnership to End Online Harassment and Abuse” (March 2022)

TORN is set a few years in the future when climate change is causing new diseases. The film takes the view that environmental and public health policies have increasingly become politicized. And this has resulted in society’s waning interest in preventing new pandemics, especially due to environmental migration and upheaval.

Although TORN is speculative fiction, there is evidence that what it portrays could happen. More on this issue about climate and diseases here.

There are numerous articles about online harassment of women online. There are also guides about how to protect yourself from the worst forms of Internet abuse, such as doxxing. Here are resources we have found helpful:

Finding Strength

PTSD from bullying and harassment is real and difficult to recover from.

Numerous research points to online harassment of women being due to their gender. And the abuse is specifically gender based and discriminatory. In fact, this is what makes the abuse distinctly harassing, legally, versus just bullying.

For example, while both genders might be denigrated for promoting a science study online, women will get additional attacks — just for being women. The abuse will try to put them in their “place” and often include threats of physical harm or violent sexist remarks.

In a New England Journal of Medicine analysis article in May 2022, “One in six female physicians reported being sexually harassed on social media — and the rate is probably higher among women who are also members of minority racial or ethnic groups or other marginalized groups.”

The Pew Research Center found that over a quarter of all online bullying incidents result in feeling very or extremely upset. Because of the violent and denigrating nature of online harassment of women, females also experience lasting effects from the abuse.

Feelings you might have are fear, anger, embarrassment, depression, low self-esteem, and significant distress. If the online harassment becomes severe, such as if you are doxxed, the need to seek privacy and protection becomes increasingly urgent.

Online harassment of women takes its toll. But there are steps you can take to recover: 1) the logistics of blocking, reporting, and preventing, and 2) the self-care.

Most experts say to block and/or mute the harassment when possible so that the perpetrator has less opportunities to inflict harm. Documenting and reporting the harassment is also an important step.

If you are a public-facing authority or professional, look at these resources from the Royal Society of Canada. It’s important to talk with your employer about how to protect yourself while you do your job.

Remember you’re experiencing a stressful event. Pen America has an excellent list on how to take care of yourself emotionally and physically after being harassed. Psychologist and Neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett also has helpful tips — look at #7, which offers an objective viewpoint as to the harasser’s potential motivations, to potentially lessen the personal attack you are feeling.

IMPACT

Social Impact Campaign

TORN aims to help solve the biggest problem. And here’s how:

The biggest problem with online harassment of women is that people need to understand how big of a problem it is and that the problem is real. Far too often, online gender-based violence (GBV) is dismissed or not understood. But 85 percent of women across the world have either experienced online harassment or witnessed it firsthand. The result is that women are silenced, disparaged, and put in danger. Female scientists, journalists, those in public health, and politicians are particularly vulnerable.

And on a large scale, suppressing women’s voices overall becomes a wide-spread human rights, civil discourse, and democracy issue.

Through TORN, we aim to help solve the biggest problem by expanding awareness of the scope and damage of GBV to millions of women and men. The film uses the power of story to motivate you to want to know more. TORN instills fear, demonstrates the need to be heard, and gives us a window into compelling truths. Stanford University’s Democracy Challenge recently pointed to using a story’s ability to convey fear and empathy as a significant way to motivate people toward a more civil and democratic society.

Once the film is produced, we would submit it to festivals that give preference to female filmmakers and social issues, as well as Oscar and BAFTA qualifying. We would seek publicity through strategic partnership organizations, on issue panels, as well as press articles and interviews. We would also look for larger acquisition opportunities.

After the film is produced, a free online companion film guide would be available online. It would provide immediate actionable resources and solutions for the problem. We want to move the needle forward with solutions for a safer society. Our approach to the guide would be simple and easy to follow, with prevention and protection steps, as well as bystander tips. There would be additional links to a deeper dive of the problem and resources. We plan to have expert strategic partners be part of this guide.

Thank you for your contribution to TORN
#tornthefilm

 

Support
TORN is a sponsored project of Film Independent, a non-profit independent media arts organization. Film Independent will receive grants for the charitable purposes of TORN, provide oversight to ensure that grant funds are used in accordance with grant agreements, and provide reports as required by the grantor. Contributions for the charitable purposes of TORN must be made payable to Film Independent and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
Tax deductible contributions can be made online, via check, ACH/Direct Deposit, wire transfer, matching gifts. Gifts of over $10,000 are made via check/ACH/wire transfer. Tax deductible non-cash in-kind contributions are also accepted, such as for equipment rental, food, and accommodations.

Contact Us