Yemen

Name and identifying details have been changed for privacy and protection.

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

Yemen
© Bacila Vlad

My family and I fled from our home in a different governorate because of fighting and heavy shelling nearby. We are living in a small rented house.

My father suffered from a chronic disease that made him unable to work, and I became the breadwinner of my family. I worked at a store but the 1,500 Yemeni rials [about $1.50] I made each day didn’t cover our living expenses. We often ate only one meal a day. After the spread of the coronavirus, many businesses closed due to the quarantine, including the store where I worked. When my father was infected with COVID-19, his condition worsened quickly and he died soon afterward.

I tried very hard to find more work, but it was difficult. At the end of last year, when I was surfing the Internet on my mobile, I met someone who claimed to be an owner of a recruitment office. He promised that he would find a job at a good company for me.

I thought of suicide so my reputation and that of my family would not be ruined.

I started having feelings for him. He asked me to send him photos and videos of me not wearing a veil or abaya, which I did because I trusted him. He told me that he wanted to introduce me to the company’s manager and then asked me to go out with him for the job interview. It was then when I decided not to meet him or talk to him again, but he started threatening to publish the videos online.

Women here are covered in an abaya when going outside or engaging with the opposite sex, so to be seen dressed in a culturally inappropriate way would damage my reputation and that of my family. Others would think I was having an affair with him, which would be a scandal and a disgrace – I most likely would ruin my chances at ever getting married.

SEXTORTION

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Sensitive Content

This photo contains sensitive content which some people may find offensive or disturbing

Sensitive Content

This photo contains sensitive content which some people may find offensive or disturbing

Sensitive Content

This photo contains sensitive content which some people may find offensive or disturbing

Sensitive Content

This photo contains sensitive content which some people may find offensive or disturbing

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.

UNFPA Yemen
© UNFPA Yemen

The man started blackmailing me. If I didn’t go out with him and his friends, if I didn’t give into his desires, he would post my photos and videos online. In Yemen, sex before wedlock is taboo. For three months, I lived in extreme fear and shock. If my family knew, they would kill me. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t think I would find an escape and even thought of suicide so my reputation and that of my family would not be ruined.

One day I happened to see a Facebook post on psychological and legal counselling offered by the Yemeni Women Union [supported by UNFPA]. I immediately called and explained everything to a legal counsellor. I also received psychosocial support, first by phone then in person at a women’s and girls’ safe space so that I could meet with a lawyer.

My lawyer was able to identify the man by tracing his phone number. When I went to the police station to report him, I found out he had been doing this to other women. He was arrested, imprisoned for a week. His phone was taken and all photos and videos were destroyed. He is to never do this again to anyone and is being watched by the criminal investigation office.

After my case was over, I continued going to the safe space, where I took life skills courses and learned to sew. After receiving an economic empowerment grant from the safe space, I started a tailoring business designing dresses and sewing face masks to help with the pandemic.

I am more careful now on social media – not everyone is on there to help for free. There is a cost for everything.

9 countries

In a survey of women in nine countries in the Arab States, online harassment was the highest-ranked type of gender-based violence reported in the earliest months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

– UN Women

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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.