Responding to Violence Against Women and Girls in the Cyber Age: Expert Consultation
Recognising Choice and Consent project, jointly coordinated by BLAST and James P. Grant School of Public Health (JPGSPH),
The internet is a part of life, a basic necessity as many will argue. It has been an empowering tool for many, connecting them to the people and resources they need to improve the quality of their lives. Yet, this same internet is a space of a new kind of violence, violation, harassment, especially against women and young girls. From “trolling” to identity fraud to photoshopping pictures to sending inappropriate messages, all fall under the larger idea/concept around cyber crime/harassment. Yet how much of these violations do female users fully comprehend? How do they seek assistance and more so, how to protect oneself from a crime that is spread out to millions in matters of seconds?
To understand these critical and complex issues of cyber crimes which is at a rise in Bangladesh, an expert meet was organised by Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) and CGSRHR at JPG School of Public Health, BRAC University on February 18, 2016 under the wider work of on-going project: Realising Choice and Consent. Representatives from the Daily Star newspaper, Ain O Shalish Kendra, BNWLA, Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Dhaka University, Maya.com.bd, and Article 19 shared their insights and cases on cyber and digital crimes.
BLAST lawyers’ panel provided the legal background and gaps in the existing laws addressing digital spaces and activities. Along with gaps in the laws, there is a general lack of awareness by internet users on how to protect their content and information or where to seek help when a cyber crime is committed. Law enforcement agencies have a hard time fully comprehending what entails as cyber crimes and how to extend their assistance, resulting to being dismissive or non-responsive in such cases.
Participants discussed extensively on the violent and offensive languages that are usually used against female leaders, public figures and other derogatory terms that are posted targeting women. There is a high level gendered hate speech that can be found on the net whereby usually male users feel they can state anything online with the comfort of no repercussions or identification.
Three of the participants shared their own experiences of being victims of cyber crime and how that affected them in different ways. It was important for the participants to learn from their experiences of the process they followed to get support and legal assistances in these cases.
Help apps, hotlines and referrals are ways in which these cases are being handled and that too many of the positive outcomes are that within urban areas because of proximity to services and resource persons who have some understanding of what entails as cyber crimes. The vast violations that are happening at the rural and peri-urban areas remain unreported and further traumatising and silencing of the victims. There are also issues of rights defenders themselves having limited understanding and tools to address issues of cyber crime.
This was the start of an ongoing discussion that will feed into bigger advocacy, internet literacy, and awareness building activities around issues of cyber bullying and harassments.