The

Background

UNFPA has long worked toward ending gender-based violence wherever it is perpetrated – which is increasingly online. Here, a few initiatives addressing digital violence.

SUPPORTINGSURVIVORS

In Ukraine, UNFPA supports the National Toll-Free Hotline on Prevention of Domestic Violence, Trafficking and Gender Discrimination, which has been operating with NGO La Strada Ukraine, since 1997 (national since 2017) and reports an increase in digital violence complaints from women under 30 seeking psychological and legal counselling during the pandemic. According to the hotline specialists, “Young women who sent nude photos to men in other countries, especially Turkey, France and the United Arab Emirates, often call. The men are demanding money for not publishing these photos. Also, ex-partners tarnish the reputation of their ex-wife/partner by writing abusive things, accusations, and providing personal contacts often on social networks.”

Another UNFPA-supported hotline in Yemen, operated by partner Yemeni Women Union, provides psychological and legal support to women experiencing gender-based violence and has helped facilitate the punishment of perpetrators. As a legal counsellor said of one survivor, “The pressure was devastating mostly affecting her mental health, with online violence linked to depression and in some cases suicide.” Survivors are then referred to UNFPA-supported women and girls safe spaces that offer other services like vocational training and life skills.

As part of its gender-based violence prevention and response in Palestine, UNFPA shelters provide legal and psychosocial support. During the pandemic, partners have responded to the rise in cyberbullying cases by awareness interventions (radio spots, distributing information at schools and universities, and social media/SMS messages) and strengthening referral pathways and coordination with law enforcement and judicial systems.

Last year, in partnership with youth-led organization Junior Information Systems Security Association of the Philippines, UNFPA began work on Project ROSETTA (Real-time Online Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking Tracking and Alert System), which uses keyword-based technology that crawls suspected online trafficking platforms and sites to capture, organize and visualize data for evidence-based programming and policy advocacy. A ticketing system aids service providers in tracking cases. This year, in partnership with civil service and youth organizations and the Commission on Human Rights, UNFPA established an online support group to provide tailored interventions to young people who are survivors of online gender-based harassment and violence. It also provided grants and mentoring support in partnership with the Canadian Embassy to youth-led innovative solutions to address technology-facilitated gender-based violence.

RAISINGAWARENESS

In Turkey, UNFPA partners with NGO Common Knowledge and Communication Association on an initiative called “Combating Digital Violence” to increase awareness and lay the groundwork for evidence-based knowledge production. This year, the initiative produced the first digital violence report in the country and conducted a webinar on digital violence and a workshop with the aim of producing content for the digital violence page on Wikipedia.

There have been publications and webinars in Bolivia and in Argentina, where digital violence has been part of comprehensive sexuality education to empower young people to make informed decisions about their bodies and sexualities.

As a result of its 2019 study that found 4 out of 5 women in Tunisia had experienced online violence, the Centre for Research, Studies, Documentation and Information on Women (CREDIF) partnered with UNFPA to launch a 2020 campaign encouraging survivors to report abuse.

An award-winning UNFPA-created video is being used in India to sensitize stakeholders on the issue of online harassment and making online spaces safe for women and girls. It has been used in capacity-building sessions to expand the concept of sexual harassment in the workplace given more people are connecting online as they work from home during the pandemic.

DIVINGDEEPER

UNFPA is in the midst of a research project among young girls about gender-based violence in the virtual space in Serbia. Among its objectives is determining if girls have enough information to recognize and report digital gender-based violence; identifying the actors responsible for the online safety of girls; examining how online risks escalate to real-world violence; and empowering young women and girls from three large municipalities to work with youth on preventing offline and online gender-based violence through public advocacy actions.

ABOUT 16 DAYS

© Andras Vas

Since 1991, from 25 November (International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) until 10 December (Human Rights Day), the international community has observed the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.

UNFPA’s 16 Days campaigns have raised awareness, mobilized advocacy and inspired action to combat gender-based violence in its many forms: sexual harassment, child marriage, female genital mutilation, intimate partner violence and rape, among other atrocities.

But this work is never over. UNFPA, created in 1969, operates in more than 150 countries and territories to stop violence and support survivors. In 2020, UNFPA provided essential services to more than 967,000 gender-based violence survivors, including those with disabilities. Over 1.7 million girls received prevention or protection services related to child, early or forced marriage, and From 2018 - 2020, 350,630 girls were prevented from undergoing female genital mutilation.

In line with the Sustainable Development Goals, UNFPA is committed to ending gender-based violence and harmful practices by 2030.

DIGITAL VIOLENCE TERMS

Doxxing

Posting personal and sensitive information including home and work addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses and family names without permission.

Cybermob

A large group of online attackers who threaten, insult and verbally abuse a target, often in an organized and coordinated manner.

Image-based abuse

The use of imagery, often sexual in nature, to objectify, exploit, humiliate or harass. Examples include non-consensual sharing of intimate imagery aka non-consensual porn and child sexual abuse material (showing minors in sexually explicit situations).

Online impersonation

Creating a fake profile and assuming someone’s identity for nefarious purposes, including destroying someone’s reputation or threatening her safety.

Sextortion

A type of electronic blackmail, the demand for money, sex/sex acts, or additional explicit images in exchange for not exposing intimate images or private information.

Cyberstalking

Persistent, unwanted and/or threatening surveillance, contact and/or pursuit by technological means. Cyberstalking can turn to offline stalking and vice versa.

Cyberbullying

A form of online harassment, the constant and intentional infliction of damage through digital technologies to undermine a target’s self-esteem.

Online harassment

Repeated conduct that threatens, pesters, scares or abuses someone by sending degrading, offensive or insulting comments or images. Online sexual harassment mainly affects women, girls and LGBTQI individuals.

Revenge porn

A form of image-based abuse; a preferred term is non-consensual sharing of intimate imagery. While commonly used, “revenge porn” is objectionable as it suggests consent from and wrongdoing by the survivor to provoke retribution.

Shallowfake

A manipulated image, often done with editing software, such as attaching someone’s face to someone else’s body. A more believable, sophisticated deepfake is done with machine learning.

Disrupt digital violence

Take Action

A virtual world free of violence is possible. UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, supports the right of all women and girls to live without fear of gender-based violence or abuse in all spaces, including online. Everyone plays a role in making this more than a hope but a reality.

WHAT CAN I DO?

For everybody:

DO more

Anyone who shares another’s intimate images without her consent – even if a sharer is not the original perpetrator – is committing violence against women. Let the disruption start with you. See people attacking, bullying or threatening someone online? Don’t join in. Post positive messages to counter the negative. Report the abuse to the technology platform. One cybermob attack survivor said she felt seen and supported by people who defended her.

For technology companies:

DO better

UNFPA joined the World Wide Web Foundation in its call to Facebook, Google, TikTok and Twitter to prioritize the safety of women online, holding them to the pledges made to do so during the 2021 Generation Equality Forum in Paris. But there are many more platforms. In the words of Thorn, which works to end online child sexual abuse, “We won’t achieve the goal of building an Internet that is safe until every platform with an upload button has adopted proactive detection measures.”

For lawmakers and law enforcement:

DO RIGHT

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, “In 64 of 86 countries, law enforcement agencies and courts appear to be failing to take appropriate  corrective actions to address online violence against women.” Lawmakers need to recognize the pervasive and prevalent nature of the violence and support legislative and regulatory responses that meet the needs of women and girls, including creation and resourcing of independent monitoring and regulatory bodies. For example, Australia’s Office of the E-Safety Commissioner is serving as a model for countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom in addressing online safety. Seeking justice should not have to be another traumatizing experience.