Violence has migrated to the online environment as a result of unlimited access to technology and the Internet, and women are constantly becoming its victims. By sharing a photo, video, personal chat/discussion, or just a rumor, their reputation and dignity are degraded in a fleeting moment. Not only has the COVID-19 pandemic increased domestic violence, but it has also increased online bullying. And the two are inextricably linked since it only takes minutes for online aggression to escalate into a physical assault.
Impersonation, hacking, spam, stalking, spying, and malicious exposure of personal conversations, images, and videos are all examples of gender-based violence on the Internet. It is critical to be sufficiently informed and familiar with them in order to recognize them and know who to contact when witnessing or experiencing violence online. Zonta Bulgaria's project "NO to cyberviolence against women and children" aims to prevent cyberviolence in all of its forms through a large-scale public awareness campaign and legislative amendments.
Cyberbullying is described as online behavior that intentionally or not harms or threatens a person's physical, psychological, or emotional well-being. Cyberbullying can take several forms, including:
- Written or verbal (phone calls, text messages, e-mails, chats, blogs, social media, websites etc.)
- Visual - publishing, distribution, or sharing of compromising photographs and videos
- Exclusion - deliberate removal of someone from an online group
- Theft and disclosure of personal information, as well as the use of another person's identity or account, are all examples of impersonation
Cyberstalking entails a series of occurrences that, while each one may or may not be harmful on its own when taken together, undermine the victim's sense of security and create distress, fear, or anxiety. What methods are used to commit online harassment?
- Sending offensive or threatening emails, text messages (SMS), or instant messages
- Posting offensive remarks about the victim on the internet
- Sharing intimate photos or videos of the victim without her consent on the Internet or via mobile phone
To be considered cyberstalking, these acts must take place repeatedly and be perpetrated by the same person.
Sharing sexually explicit photographs or videos without the permission of the victim. Abusers employ the following methods to carry out their actions:
- Posting and distributing sexually explicit photographs or videos online without the victim's consent
- Revenge porn - cases where people (mainly men) publish sexually explicit content of their partners (mainly women) as an act of revenge after a breakup. They often publish the victim's contact information, including phone number, email address, Facebook profile, and home address, along with the materials for the purpose of humiliation and revenge, which results in women being bombarded with harassment, humiliation, and threatening messages from strangers.
- Creep shots or upskirting - sharing and distributing sexually explicit photographs/videos obtained without the victim's consent
- Creating and distributing deepfakes - images, videos, or audio recordings of a person saying or doing things he has never said or done in real life. The fact that the person did not actually do the crimes still affects his reputation, as the recordings or images that have been transmitted appear to be authentic.
- Recording and distributing sexual activities committed without the victim's consent (e.g., rape)
Exploitation, coercion, and online threats (grooming or sextortion)
Sexually threatening or forcing victims to engage in sexual activity online, or blackmailing them with sexual content
- Pressuring the victim to disclose sexual photographs or engage in sexual activities online or offline
- Threatening to disseminate sexual content (pictures, videos, or rumors) as a form of threats or extortion (so-called sextortion)
- Threats of physical sexual harassment on the internet (e.g. threats of rape)
- Persuading others into committing sexual violence via the internet
- Encouraging someone to engage in sexual activity and then sharing evidence of it
Receiving inappropriate sexual demands, comments, or content. This can include a variety of behaviors, such as:
- Sexualized comments (e.g. on photos)
- Pressuring victims to participate in viral sexualized campaigns
- Sending sexual content (photos, emojis, texts) without the victim's consent
- Unwanted sexual interference or requests for sexual services
- Sexualized jokes
- Peer assessment of attractiveness / sexual activity
- Changing victim's image for the purpose of sexualization
Unwanted pornography is one of the most common and harmful types of cyberbullying that women are facing. In these cases, offenders send random and unsolicited emails or text containing sexual photographs or videos, infamously referred to as dick pics. According to statistics, 90 percent of the time, women obtain such images from men without their consent. The victims claim that this was a traumatic experience for them. Unwanted pornography on the internet is frequently dismissed, yet specialists believe it is closely linked to the same offline behavior known as exhibitionism.
Criticizing people online, most often women and girls, who are thought to break sexuality-related expectations of behavior and appearance e.g. breaking the dress code by clothing in ways that are viewed as sexually provocative; requesting access to birth control; premarital, adulterous, casual, or indiscriminate sex or prostitution are examples of slut-shaming. Unfortunately, slut-shaming often includes accusations of victims of rape or other forms of sexual violence.
Cyberviolence by former/current partners
This form of cyberbullying includes the following acts:
- Using technology to monitor and regulate the partner's behavior and actions
- Using the partner's password to gain access to his or her email or social media accounts without permission
- Installing tracking devices or software to spy on the partner's location, or using digital media to inflict emotional violence and verbal threats during or after the relationship has ended
Why is cyberviolence against women becoming more common?
It is simple to remain anonymous on the Internet, which is one of the most important prerequisites for committing crimes; it is much easier for perpetrators to go unpunished in the digital world. Constantly expanding technologies and their widespread availability also contribute to the rise in incidents; a person can be viewed or tracked by another person even if they have little or no technical skills. Photos, slander, rumors, and other misogynistic content are extremely inexpensive and easy to distribute. The ability to communicate with anyone on the globe broadens the range of potential victims while decreasing the possibility of criminals being identified and punished.
The impacts of cyberviolence on the victims
According to studies, victims of cyberviolence experience emotional distress, depression symptoms, low self-esteem, and higher levels of social anxiety than those who have not encountered it. Sadly, suicide is a common outcome for women who have been subjected to cyber violence and shaming. Whatever content a person publishes on the Internet becomes a permanent part of his online and, in certain situations, offline identity. Cyberbullying may have a severe effect on victims' emotional and physical health, as well as their social and personal relationships. Even after recovery, the memories and traumas of what happened in many cases last for a lifetime.
Prevention is crucial, and it can only be accomplished by raising awareness from a young age. As a result, Zonta Bulgaria's project involves a large-scale public awareness campaign, as well as a series of educational sessions for students, teachers, employees of businesses and non-governmental organizations, and parents.