Port Louis — Cyber violence is on the increase, yet remains inadequately addressed in most countries. While young people are at a greater risk, both women and girls are especially vulnerable to violence perpetrated via the internet and new media platforms. Preventing technology-related gender based violence (GBV) is an important component in ending violence against women and children.
On social networks like Facebook, Skype and other chat platforms there are thousands of sexual predators seeking out easy and unassuming prey. Cyber violence ranges from stalking, threats, defamation, unauthorized use of video and photos, to child pornography and pedophilia. All it takes is one simple click.
Accepting friend requests, instant messaging and video chats can become a perverted rite of passage for young victims of cyber violence who are just looking to make new friends. Many teenagers and children do not understand the dangers of the internet and fail to see the consequences of online ‘games', where they are convinced to expose their bodies, strip and engage in online sex.
Online predators often record these videos and then use them to perpetrate further abuse and harassment by blackmailing their victims and threatening to broadcast it all over the internet. In many cases, this abuse goes beyond the World Wide Web and people are tricked or coerced into meeting their perpetrators in person and then go missing.
Teenagers and children seldom report these cases and suffer in silence due to fear of the perpetrators and potential reactions from their guardians or parents. Furthermore, women and girls who do fall victim do not know how to stop the abuse and what channels to follow to seek help.
Cyber violence is therefore difficult to regulate and cases are very difficult to prosecute due to under-reporting and the sheer vastness of the internet. Perpetrators also conceal their identities and operate from all over the world.
The Mauritius Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) recognises the gravity of cyber violence and is tasked with implementing new surveillance technologies to stay one-step ahead of criminals. In 2012, CERT reported that a staggering 41% of cybercrimes involved online harassment cases. In recent years the Mauritian Cyber Crime and Forensic Investigations Unit has recorded high cases of social media harassment.
However, cyber violence comes in many forms and is not only perpetrated by online sex predators. Family members, partners, peers and colleagues use smart phones and numerous social network platforms to harass and bully people.
In August this year, a 15-year-old British girl hanged herself because she was unable to cope with the cyber bullying she experienced on social networks. In April, a 17-year-old Canadian girl took her own life after men gang raped her and the attackers posted photos of her ordeal on social network platforms that ended up surfacing at her school.
She was subject to more abuse after her rape; school peers and community members judged, bullied and sexually harassed her. This forced her and the family to move to another region and new school. But, because her ordeal went viral on the internet, the abuse continued. The pressure was so much and it eventually killed her.
In Mauritius, just two months ago a woman in her twenties attempted suicide after her boyfriend blackmailed her using photos that he had in his possession after they broke up. He demanded Rs75 000 ($1500) to keep the photos private. The young woman could not afford to pay so much money, and instead set herself on fire to escape the shame.
To avoid harassment and cyber violence, psychologist Veronique Wan Hok Chee recommends that parents keep computers in a public area at home and keep communication open with their children, maintaining balance of watchfulness and respect for their privacy.
Wan HOK Chee says that with the proliferation of multimedia technologies caution is key, “Even if you are in love and lose your head, never agree to be photographed either scantily clad or naked by your boyfriend. Dare to say no. If your relationship should falter, you will have no worries about sexual blackmail on the internet. Love should never be stronger than reason.”
In many countries, policies, regulations and services that respond to these new forms of violence do not exist or are inadequate. Therefore strengthening cyber violence laws, regulation and implementation needs to be a priority.
This must go hand in hand with providing adults and children with information about the dangers of the internet, the importance of reporting cyber violence, and how to seek help. Cyber criminals are not above the law and like all perpetrators of GBV must be tracked down and jailed.
Laura Samoisy is a journalist in Mauritius. This article is part of the Gender Links News Service, special series on 16 Days of Activism, providing fresh views on everyday news.