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Technology-Facilitated Sexual Violence

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July 24, 2023

Why in news?

As internet access has become a basic human need, sexual violence facilitated using technology is an issue that requires immediate attention.

What is Technology-Facilitated Sexual Violence (TFSV)?

  • It is a digital violence committed and amplified through the use of information and communications, technologies or digital spaces against a person based on gender.
  • Forms
    • Sextortion - blackmail by threatening to publish sexual information, photos or videos
    • Image-based abuse -sharing intimate photos without consent, morphing
    • Doxing -publishing private personal information
    • Cyberbullying, online gender and sexual harassment
    • Cyberstalking, online grooming for sexual assault
    • Hacking, hate speech, online impersonation
    • Using technology to locate survivors of abuse in order to inflict further violence
    • Digital flashing, rape threats etc.,

Picture of TFSV

  • As per a research, online abuse disproportionately affected young women.
  • Out of 400 students surveyed from 111 Indian higher education institutions (HEIs), it is found around 60% of women experienced some form of TFSV compared to only 8% of men.
  • A global study by Economist Intelligence Unit found that 38% of women have had personal experiences of online violence, and 85% of women who spend time online have witnessed digital violence against other women.

What are the causes of TFSV?

  • Internet penetration- According to Statista, the internet penetration in India is 48.7% in 2022 from just 4% in 2007.
  • Safety concerns- Online platforms will steal the information from the mobile phone without one’s knowledge.
  • COVID-19 induced lockdown- The pandemic induced lockdown increased the rate of online abuse as there was no social interaction.
  • Lack of awareness- Many people who use internet are not aware of the online abuse and its impact.
  • Lack of reporting- It is witnessed due to fear of reporting and the stigmatisation associated with it.
  • Targeting the weak- Children, young women, LGBTQI+ are the most vulnerable.

What are the effects of TFSV?

  • Psychological issues- It leads to anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, suicidal thoughts etc.,
  • Impact on studies- It will lead to loss of academic or career prospects, social isolation, lack of concentration to focus on studies.
  • Disempowerment- It leads to self-censoring, reduced public participation due to safety and privacy concerns.
  •  Economic impacts- The work productivity is reduced and this has impact on the worker participation rate in the economy.
  • Magnifies existing social inequalities- As per research, it is found that only 22% of women surveyed felt safe online compared to 73% of men.

Steps Taken to Mitigate Technology-Facilitated Sexual Violence

  • Information Technology Act, 2000- Its objective is to create an enabling environment for effective use of the internet along with reporting the cybercrime in India.
  • Cybercrime cell- One can file complaint directly in the police station of the city where the crime has taken place.
  • Internal Complaint Committee- Employers are required to constitute an ICC at each workplace with 10 or more employees to receive and address complaints of sexual harassment.
  • It is constituted under Protection of Women from Sexual Harassment Act 2013 (POSH Act) which is based on Vishaka guidelines provided by the judiciary in 1997.
  • SHe-Box- It is an effort to provide a single window access to every woman, irrespective of her work status, whether working in organised or unorganised, private or public sector.
  • It facilitates the registration of complaint related to sexual harassment, provided under POSH Act 2013.

What are the challenges associated with TFSV?

  • Poor law enforcement - Foreign social media companies like Meta don’t adhere to Indian context laws.
    • Meta’s safety moderation algorithm is limited to only American English it doesn’t cover the abusive content in Indian languages.
  • Lack of institutional support-Internal Complaints Committees (ICCs) is a legally mandated mechanism to investigate incidents of sexual harassment, but many institutions struggle to form, train, and manage these committees.
  • Under-reporting- Students reported low awareness and utilisation of ICCs in their academic institutions.
    • Of the students surveyed, 44% were unsure whether they could report online sexual harassment to their college at all.

How to tackle TFSV?

  • Proper law enforcement- With the upcoming Digital India Act 2023, India should strengthen its regulations and make the social media companies accountable for TFSV.
  • Crucial intervention point- Students should be made aware institutional support mechanisms like ICCs to report the incidents related to TFSV.
  • Gender sensitisation programs- Conduct regular workshops, safety training, facilitated discussions, and designating student organisations to lead education and to empower their community.
  • Focus on survivor’s need- It is not just gender but too many factors like caste, religion, and ethnicity also widens the TFSV, hence address this discrimination present in the society.
  • Open discussions- This should be done without shaming or blaming survivors.
  • Awareness- UNFPA empower survivors and advocates for increased accountability and regulation through interactive feature “The Virtual Is Real and Bodyright Campaign”.

 

References

  1. The Hindu| Technology-facilitated online abuse
  2. UNFPA| Tech facilitated Gender based violence
  3. Statista| Internet Penetration
  4. UNICEF| Online abuse
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