Gender-based Cyber Violence Exists – And We ALL Need To Do Something About It!

gender-based violence and cyber bullyinh

In my capacity as the coordinator for the YSAFE network, I was given the opportunity to participate in a workshop on cyber empowerment organised by the young Socialists and Democrats and the Digital Leadership Institute. The workshop was organised by the CEO of the Digital Leadership Institute, Cheryl Miller. Going into the workshop I expected that, as a minimum, I would gain some new skills on how to promote gender equality through technological and online means. I ended up with a lot more. I left the workshop with a sense of urgency, that was caused by the fact that that I had just been presented with a fundamental obstacle to gender equality – yet for some reason, very few people were doing anything about it.

Seventy-three percent of women have experienced abuse online. Online abuse is a form of cyber violence.  The U.N. defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts.” Cyber violence extends that definition to include acts like trolling, hacking, spamming, and harassment online.[1] Internet and social media platforms allow people to hide behind anonymous usernames or twitter handles often causing the abuse to be even crueler than would be the case offline.

Women and girls who spend their time online in areas that are very male dominated, such as online gaming platforms, experience this more frequently. Comments such as: “You are a girl gamer, you’re probably fat” are not uncommon in these fora.

Cyber violence can take the form of picture sharing online.  It is often naked or intimate pictures, predominantly of women, that are shared without the person’s consent on social media or on “revenge porn” sites.

In 2013, the young Danish feminist Emma Holten experienced a particularly cruel form of gender-based cyber violence. Her e-mail was hacked and naked pictures of her were shared on social media. When reporting this to the police, she was told that there was nothing they could do. They simply told her to turn off her computer. Emma has since become famous for being a spokesperson against gender-based cyber violence. We can be thankful to her for the attention that she has brought to the issue, however, there is still a long way to go.

For years, organisations working in the area of technology and cyber empowerment and feminist organisations, seemed to have been “missing each other”.  Although working on the same issue, gender equality, they broached it in different ways, with little to no cooperation.

Gender-based cyber violence is in part an expression of a culture. The culture exists offline and then manifests online, where it is unfortunately often unchecked and unregulated. Even though this issue is a question of virtual and non-real behaviour, it very much affects real women in a very real way. As frequent users of internet and social media, young women are left especially exposed. As feminists we need to address all forms of gender-based discrimination and violence. This means acknowledging the importance of addressing and ending gender-based cyber violence too.