Tunisia
Tunisia
© Islam Hakiri

When I was 23 years old, my Facebook account was hacked. The hacker created an account on a pornography website using my name, Photoshopped my face from Facebook photos onto naked bodies and began chatting with people and giving them my phone number.

I sent an email to the pornography website with a copy of my ID, and they removed the account, but after a while, I discovered that another account was created – not with my name – but my photos were there with the photos of other girls who apparently were victims of the same situation.

I felt like a cheap girl. I couldn’t sleep, and I could not focus on my studies. I started questioning everything and suspecting everyone around me. It was mentally hectic.

Sharing my story with others, including my family and people I knew, did not help a lot. Everyone showed empathy, but no one offered serious help. It stopped at “Wow! This is terrible,” then nothing more.

I solicited the police to uncover the aggressor’s identity, but the legal procedure was very long and costly, and back then I had no means to do it. Clear legal procedures need to be set urgently in this regard.

Some people blamed me for posting my photos on social media or blamed me for chatting and not deleting the conversations. I did not respond. Under patriarchy, women are always blamed, and it is not easy to change this mindset. It is a mentality that needs to be addressed by raising awareness, which will take many long years.

“I became more powerful in that I started to care less for what people say.”

I eventually convinced myself that ignoring it would bring me peace.
I became more powerful in that I started to care less for what people say. I also learned to be careful with my use of social media. I share less personal information, my posts are private and I secure my accounts by changing my passwords frequently. I also stopped accepting people I don’t know on my friends list and messaging private stuff on chat platforms like Messenger and WhatsApp. I make calls instead.

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© Velizar Ivanov
SHALLOWFAKE
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.

Islam Hakiri
© Islam Hakiri

I never found out who did this. Justice would be taking cybersecurity seriously and tracking the aggressors and dealing with them. Justice would be setting an easy legal procedure and free assistance for victims of cyberviolence and harassment.

Cyberviolence is a very serious issue especially with the growing number of teenagers using social media. It is crucial that people believe and empathize with the victim in order to empower her.

Digital violence is not a secondary issue to address. It reflects the violence women are subject to in real life.

Ms. Belkis is sharing her name because, “It is time that fear changes sides. It is not for the victims to be afraid but for the harassers to be ashamed for their acts. Using my real name will help people relate to my story.”

96%

of online deepfake videos are pornography, all of women.

– Sensity AI, research company

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WHAT CAN I DO?

For everybody

do more

For technology companies

do better

For lawmakers and law enforcement

do right
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.