Syria/Turkey

Name and identifying details have been changed for privacy and protection

Photography used for representational purposes only and does not depict the story’s subject

Syria/Turkey
© Aladdin Hammami

I had an arranged marriage. I didn’t know what his personality was like before we got married. We were married for five years and had two children before divorcing.

He immigrated to another country and then started sending me threatening messages that he would share photos of me and kidnap the children. He said, “Be afraid of me". Women dress modestly in public; everything is covered except the face and hands. At home, we wear more comfortable clothes that don’t cover as much of the body – these were the photos that were secretly taken that he was planning to share. I blocked him from Facebook and WhatsApp, but he continues to reach me by using different numbers.

"He asked me to take off my clothes. I did not realize he was recording it."

He says things about me on Facebook – that I am a dirty woman and a bad wife. His messages are full of defamation and swearing. He also shared some private details about my life. Some people say, “If the woman is not guilty, the man would not do this, so there is something wrong with the woman.” Others said, “It is a shame for the man’s honour. How can a man do such a thing to a person with whom he has a past?

I started using the Internet more, checking if he might have shared something about me. I am always on alert, and I am afraid the whole time. I am constantly wondering if my neighbours see me on social media. I don’t want them to ask me anything so I do not go out.

Photography used for representational purposes only
and the does not depict the story’s subject

ONLINE HARASSMENT

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© Jakayla Toney
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.

UNFPA Syria
© UNFPA Syria

This has continued for more than a year. This situation is very difficult. I became ashamed. I don’t want to meet anyone. I can’t look at anyone's face. Psychologically, I was very, very bad. I was depressed. I just want to cry. I am afraid to open any messages. I even fear my phone ringing.

My biggest supporter is my father. He told me to keep the messages and photograph them. He told me I should not be weak in this situation and somebody should call this man to account for what he has done.

I called the Youth Centre, which is supported by UNFPA, where a health mediator directed me to a psychologist, who made an appointment for me at a law clinic. But nothing ever happened to [my ex]. The police and lawyers said we could not get any results because he lives in another country.

If a man does such a thing, he should suffer a heavy punishment for it. A woman's dignity, pride and honour are very important and we, as women, live for these. Someone cannot ruin it this way. Laws need to protect women more. If men and women are equal, then women should be given more rights than now.

Hayat is a Syrian refugee living in Turkey. Refugees often struggle to access justice where they have to learn new legal systems, and the cross-border nature of the harassment often puts justice out of reach.

Women are

27 times

more likely to experience online harassment than men.

– Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

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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.