(Click here to read the original article, by Leila Mohammadi )
As the COVID-19 global pandemic continues, many measures have been taken to reduce the infection and the spread of the virus. One of the most important actions that has been adopted is “social distancing” in the real world which produces a larger social presence in the virtual world. The growth of Online Social Presence (OSC) facilitates cyber violence, especially against women and kids. This article is a brief overview of the current situation of young women regarding cyber violence during the pandemic and some possible solutions for this issue. According to the United Nations, during COVID-19, violence against young women is manifested in different forms, including economic, health, unpaid care work, and gender-based violence. Cyber violence takes place in a context of widespread systemic gender-based discrimination (see UN Women). As stated by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), women and girls face various and repeated online violence more often than men. A report by the European Unionshows that in Europe, one in 10 women has experienced cyber violence between the ages of 15 and 29.
During the pandemic, women’s presence in cyberspaces has increased for various reasons, including work, study, health-related procedures, family and social interactions, entertainment, etc. In this context, because of the digital gender gap, due to their lack of online experience and appropriate skills, women who have less access to the internet are at a higher risk for cyber violence including sexual harassment, sex trolling, bullying, manipulating, threats of violence and harmful sexist content, Zoombombing and hacking. Furthermore, the COVID-19 circumstance provides a broader space for the locked-down harassers to reach young women and communicate with them. Apart from avoiding visual contact with women, virtual spaces eliminate many restrictions for the harassers, including the time constraints, space issues, shyness, fear, and the quantity and variety of women they wish to harass. Studies about cyber violence against women show consequences such as severe depression, anxiety, trauma, and self-confidence problems. In the lockdown situation and due to the exceptional economic, social, and family-related situations, these consequences can have a more intense impact on young women who are experiencing cyber violence. This may cause self-restriction and self-censorship in order to avoid online violence/harassment. This can be a serious problem during a pandemic in which the majority of the activities take place online. Therefore, providing an affordable and secure cyber space will prevent the risk of an increase in mental health issues as well as produce a decrease in the gender digital gap.
Since the beginning of COVID-19, various services have been developed by different organizations in order to improve digital security practices and to support women in emergency violent situations. In addition, some platforms created protective tools or safe online spaces to improve the privacy of users, especially regarding online violence against women. Certainly, to inform women about these new services is very important. Although the number of campaigns, online communities, and research centers which are trying to raise the awareness of women about online harassment and inform them about the solutions has been increasing, the majority of young women still suffer from a lack of knowledge in relation to online harassment, and the potential solutions that might help them to avoid the related online violence. Providing more helpful services is essential to end the ongoing online harassment as well as improving the communication and use of more appropriate channels to optimize the usage of the existing services.
Young women must be aware of the definition of online harassment and of examples of cyber abuse through the channels that they use the most. Governments should inform them about the available protocols, about where to report cases of online harassment and violence, and also about how to access essential online services during COVID-19. Social media can be a great channel for young women to receive the information about online harassment during COVID-19. This information can provide tips, tools, and resources on how to identify, document, and report online harassment, and also to inform them about their rights. It can also introduce them to links to relevant organizations, and online communities who share experiences, workshops and information that can be very helpful for young women. Other appropriate channels to transfer information to young women are schools, universities, and work online platforms as nowadays women are spending many hours working or studying online during the pandemic. Furthermore, internet intermediaries such as social media platforms, meetings applications, etc., can also play a very crucial role to reduce online harassment while sharing clear information on related privacy and digital security issues, as well as complaints procedures connected to online violence against women.
Cyber violence cases will very likely rise due to the increase in the number of young women using the internet, even after the state of emergency. Therefore, it is very important that the civil society organizations and internet intermediaries provide accessible information and inclusive training sessions for young women who are experiencing online harassment.
MOHAMMADI, Leila. Cyber violence against young women during COVID-19. COMeIN [online]. September 2020, no. 102. ISSN: 2014-2226. DOI: https://doi.org/10.7238/c.n102.2060