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Online Gender-Based Violence

The internet has transformed our ability to obtain information, communicate with others, express our views, share our experiences and engage in conversations about any topic of our choice. Technology has made it possible to reach vast audiences at once, or just individuals or small groups. In turn, this accessibility and freedom of expression play a major role in enabling a wide range of human rights. 

However, the internet’s open and relatively ungoverned nature has resulted in high levels of online violence, with women, girls and sexual minorities being disproportionally targeted.

The risks

Online violence experienced by women, girls and SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) communities includes:

  • Threats of physical sexual and other violence
  • Sexual or other types of harassment
  • Cyberstalking
  • Sex and gender trolling
  • Sexting
  • Publishing intimate images, videos or audio clips without consent
  • Accessing private data through hacking
  • Creating and disseminating fake news about the targeted individual
  • Attempted and successful attempts at blackmail
  • Doxxing (accessing an individual’s private information and sharing it online)
  • Zoombombing (pornographic images shown during video calls or meetings, by uninvited parties)

Any of the above can, and do result in serious and completely unacceptable consequences to the individual ranging from at best, embarrassment, to at worst, loss of dignity and serious mental trauma leading to isolation, self-harm and even suicide. Notably, victims also frequently withdraw from using the internet, losing not only access to all of its benefits but their sense of empowerment and access to basic human rights.

This can be made even worse by the fact that frequently, victims of online violence become the target for blame, simply because of their views, private behaviour or the fact that they have attempted to defend or counter the abuse.

Online gender-based violence may take the form of a one-off incident or, more likely, a persistent, targeted campaign. It may be confined to online channels such as email, SMS, direct messaging, social media or websites, or be perpetrated alongside ‘real world’ versions of the same kind of violence. The main difference between the two is that owing to the viral nature of the internet, perpetrators can disseminate the violence far and wide.

It is not only those who initiate the violence who are to blame for the harm done, but also those who either join them in directly targeting the victim, or spread it via their own channels, including via word of mouth in their own communities (sometimes unaware of their part in the chain).

The incidence of online gender-based violence has increased substantially since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The recent increase in economic hardship, restricted movement, social isolation and mental health issues has, unfortunately, created ideal conditions for perpetrators.

What to do if you are targeted by gender-based violence

 Talk to a family member, friend, colleague or educator that you trust not to judge you or spread or report your concerns to the wider community.

  • Report incidents to the appropriate authorities.
  • Do not respond or express a reaction to the perpetrator or those responsible for spreading the violence, as this will only provoke further incidents including spontaneous intimidation.
  • Block the perpetrator and those spreading the violence.
  • If the violence takes the form of intimate content shared online, report it to the website or social media platform concerned, request that it is removed and the offending user blocked.
  • You can report online bullying, image-based abuse or other forms of online abuse to the Police.
  • Report threats of physical harm, blackmail, stalking, hacking or sharing of private content to the Police.
  • If you have been traumatised by online gender-based violence, you can seek professional psychological help. You should be able to find information by searching online. There are also a number of relevant help communities on social media platforms, but make sure that any you join are genuine.

If you are tempted to target anybody with any of the above forms of abuse, either initiated by yourself or somebody else, think twice, consider the effect on the intended victim and also that you may be committing a criminal offence. The same applies to forwarding or otherwise sharing this type of content to others, either on or offline.


See Also...

Jargon Buster

A Glossary of terms used in this article:


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