Feminist reflection on internet policies

Changing the way you see ICT

Mapping the intersection of technology and gender-based violence

Sonia Randhawa
Sonia Randhawa on 14 December, 2011 - 10:00 · Arab States
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Sonia Randhawa is the member of GenderIT.org's pool of writers. She produces a community radio programme, Accent of Women, available at www.3cr.org.au, and a member of ISIS-International Manila. Sonia is based in Australia/Malaysia.
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To see country or technology platform specific data download the fulltext version of this article under 'Attachment' below.

Gender-based violence is still one of the most under-reported crimes. Reasons include shame that is associated with being a victim of gender-based violence, normalisation or daily tolerance and acceptance of violence against women, and that perpetrators are rarely brought to justice – epitomised in the case of Iraqi teenager Rand whose father murdered her for talking to a British soldier. The father says that not only does he not face prosecution, he was congratulated by police for his actions. This goes beyond impunity for murder.


Technology aiding abuse

In Argentina, a 16 year old girl faced a year of harassment from her teacher. The girl's mother had unsuspectingly invited the teacher into their home to give extra tuition. The teacher pressed sexual advances on the child, and began a series of harssing mobile phone calls and texts. It was only after a year of torment that the girl showed the messages to her mother and action was taken against the abuser.


Technology presents a powerful tool for ending gender-based violence, by allowing access to resources and support both online and offline. It helps to publicise abuses, which can bring pressure to bear on the authorities to take action. However, the anonymity of the web, and its ability to shrink distances, also mean that perpetrators can use it to harass, stalk and find victims. Technology also heightens problems of privacyi, evidence and recompense evident in traditional gender-based violence.


Take Back the Tech! (TBTT) is a campaign that aims to empower users to use new information technologies for ending violence against women. One important step in this is mapping the intersection between gender-based violence and technology. This allows campaigners and policyi-makers to get a sense of the scale of gender-based violence online, see which are the most prevalent abuses and come up with strategies for addressing the problem.


On 25 November 2011, TBTT has developed an interactive map based on Ushahidi that allows interneti users to share their stories, local news and personal experiences of gender-based violence using technology. This map was launched on the first day of the 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Womeni, which also marks the International Day on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. As of 7 December, it has recorded 103 stories from across the globe, with the majority of stories coming from Africa, Latin America and Asia.


What is monitored


The TBTT! map organised technology-related violence against women into 5 broad categories. They are:


1) Culturally justified violence against women which includes cases where culture or religion is used as a reason to justify, ignore or accept acts of violence against women, or when technology plays a role in creating a culture of violence against women.

2) Online harassment and cyberstalkingi which constitutes one of the most visible forms of technology-related VAW


3) Intimate partner violence where technology is used in acts of violence and abuse in intimate or spousal relationships


4) Rape and sexual assault where technology plays a role in tracking the movement and activities of the victim, to provide location information, posting of false solicitation for sexual violence or when the violence continues because of digital recording and distribution of the violence.


5) Violence targeting communities includes cases where communities face targeted online attacks and harassment because of their gender or sexual identity and political stand.


Aside from the types of violence against women, the map also monitors 4 other broad categories:


1) Act of violation, or what the abuser or violator did

2) Harm faced, ranging from physical harm to inability to participate meaningfully in online spaces

3) Technology platform which was implicated or used in the incidence of VAW

4) Abuser or violator, which range from known and unknown persons, to statei and non-state actors.


A snapshot of the stories so far


The TBTT map allows users to select multiple answers for each category. So, for example, a story was shared about marriage practices from the Karamajong people of Uganda which was flagged as involving three types of harm: emotional or psychological harm, sexual harm and limiting mobility. This means that each column will add up to more than 103, though based on 103 stories shared.


Type of technology-related VAW


Type of VAW

Total cases

Violation

Other

80


Online harassment & cyberstalking

39

Repeated harassment (24)

Threats of violence/ blackmail (12)

Monitoring & tracking (9)

Taking photos/ video without consent (6)

Faking personal information (6)

Sharing private information (6)

Accessing private data (4)

Stealing identity/ money/ property (4)

Other (3)

Sexual assault & rape

29

Repeated harassment (12)

Other (9)

Monitoring & tracking (5)

Sharing personal information (5)

Taking photo/ video without consent (5)

Threats of violence/ blackmail (4)

Accessing private data (3)

Faking personal information (2)

Stealing identity/ money/ property

Intimate partner violence

17

Sharing private information (5)

Other (5)

Repeated harassment (5)

Monitoring & tracking (3)

Taking photo/ video without consent (3)

Threats of violence/ blackmail

Accessing private data

Faking personal information

Violence targeting communities

14

Other (7)

Threats of violence/ blackmail (6)

Repeated harassment (4)

Taking photo/ video without consent (3)

Monitoring & tracking (2)

Sharing private information (2)

Faking personal information

Stealing identity/ money/ property

Accessing private data

Culturally-justified VAW

11

Other (4)

Repeated harassment (4)

Accessing private data (2)

Threat of violence/ blackmail (2)

Stealing identity/ money/ property

Faking personal data

Taking photo/ video without consent

Monitoring & tracking

Of all the cases listed, the most common violation is repeated harassment, with a total of 43 cases compared with 19 threats of violence or blackmail. The anonymity and burden of proof can potentially make repeated harassment easier online than offline. However, though as the case in the text boxi reveals this is not always the case – the large number of people who have access to an individual's private data also makes it easier for abusers to find loop-holes in security systems.


Online harm: A continuation of harm offline

A woman in South Africa was abused by the man she had come to love and rely on after finding that she was HIV positive. Nok'bekezela (pseudonym) was abandoned by her son's father after he discovered she was HIV positive, and thought she had found her 'true love' online through Facebook. But her lover read conversations between Nok'bekezela and her friends, accusing her of having affairs, publishing private information and pictures, and abusing her both physically and emotionally. Even after they no longer lived in the same town, he continued the abuse over Facebook. Nok'bekezela felt she had no choice but to wait until he tired of her – which he eventually did.


What is worrying from this table is the prevalence of sexual assault and rape, forming almost a third of all cases. This amply demonstrates the 'real-world' implications of what happens online – what starts online doesn't necessarily end there. It's also interesting to note the high correlation between sexual assault and rape and repeated harassment , suggesting a potential escalation of sexual violence beginning from repeated harassment. This indicates the need to pay serious attention to the prevalence of online harassment, and to take concrete measures in responding to these situation. One of the main considerations is greater protection and awareness on the issue of right to privacy.


What did the violators do


The most common offence was repeated harassment, which as noted above often coincided with emotional, physical or sexual harm. There were a total of 44 cases of repeated harassment. The second most common was threatening violence or blackmail, with 20 cases. Identity theft was the least common of the offences that TBTT offered as a choice to users.


Repeated harassment: A case from Malaysia

P was in the process of leaving her abusive husband when she received an SMS from him stating he had her phone records and accusing her of having an affair. P was very disturbed as she had not given him her new phone number. When she asked him how he had obtained her number, her husband refused to tell her.
Eventually she discovered that her husband had bribed someone at her mobile phone service provider. Using her private details, he had managed to secure a print out of all the calls she had made and received. He then proceeded to threaten all the people whose numbers were on the record.

When P found this out, she wrote to the service provider and demanded they change her number and make her records private. This ended the harassment and she proceeded with the divorce.


Harm faced


Type of harm

Total cases

Emotional or psychological harm

73

Harm to reputation

45

Physical harm

36

Sexual harm

26

Loss of identity

9

Mobility limited

6

Censorship

6

Loss of property

1


It is clear from these figures that the harm that is happening to women online is generally not the harm that is being addressed by international conventions on internet rights and related issues – censorship and identity loss form a small fraction of the cases reported.


Far more prevalent is harm that falls under more widely known areas of violence against women – emotional, physical or sexual harm. This suggests that despite the online nature of the violation, the harm that is faced has serious offline repercussions. Attention is urgently needed to address physical, emotional or sexual harm faced by women that is perpetrated through new technologies - an area that still receives relatively little attention in policy discourse around cybercrime or internet rights issues.


The other area of harm which is significant is harm to reputation.


Technology platform


The most common technology platform where the violence took place, or the ICT tool which was used to perpetrate harm is the mobile phone – 67 of the above cases, compared to 50 for Facebook and 51 other. "Other" is a category that was used mainly on reports of violence against women that was not related to ICT. This points to both the value of an accessible and open mapping platform to monitor and document cases of violence against women where women can report violence and harm anonymously, as well as a need for it, which the TBTT map addressed although this was not the focus of the platform. These cases were primarily from Congo and Bosnia Herzegovina.


A story without technology: Why more spaces are needed for online sharing

From the Congo, the story of Mamie

When she was 10 years old, Mamie was sent to the shops to buy drinks for some family friends who were visiting. On the way, a man – a friend of her father's – waylaid her, forced her into his car and took her to an isolated spot – the city cemetary. There, he slapped her and forced himself onto her. She was later found, in tears, by a family who came to the cemetary. They took her to hospital, where her family found her. The abuser was prosecuted and received a two-year sentence, while Mamie continues to live with shame and the inability to engage in loving sex well into her adult life.


Perpetrator/Violator


Abuser

Total cases

Type of violation

A group of people

21

Repeated harassment (9)

Other (7)

Taking photo/ video without consent (6)

Sharing private information (4)

Threats of violence/ blackmail (3)

Accessing private data (2)

Stealing identity, money, etc

Faking personal data

Monitoring & tracking

Governmenti/ State

10

Other (6)

Repeated harassment (3)

Threats of violence/ blackmail (2)

Taking photo/ video without consent

Internet platform

8

Repeated harassment (5)

Sharing private information (3)

Monitoring & tracking (3)

Accessing private data

Other

Taking photo/ video without consent

Faking personal information

Threats of violence/ blackmail

Someone known

53

Repeated harassment (28)

Other (11)

Monitoring & tracking (11)

Threats of violence/ blackmail (9)

Sharing private information (9)

Taking photo/ video without consent (9)

Accessing private information (5)

Faking personal information (2)

Stealing identity/ money/ property

Someone unknown

31

Repeated harassment (10)

Threats of violence/ blackmail (9)

Other (8)

Sharing private information (5)

Monitoring & tracking (5)

Taking photo/ video without consent (4)

Faking personal data (4)

Stealing identity/ money/ property (3)

Accessing private data (3)


From this table, we find that the abuser or violator is consistent with what is reported in offline violence against women: the person you're most likely to be abused by is someone known to you, not the stranger lurking on Facebook.


In cases where the abusers were a group of people, the cases were split between groups of people known to the victim (schoolmates, family, friends) and strangers. Often when abusers were a group not known to the victim, the abusers were targeting women due to their opinions, for example, journalists who have faced sexual abuse as a result of their work, or Eygptian bloggers who have been assaulted.


It is interesting to note that out of all the cases reported, 10 cited the government as the abuser/violator, while 8 named internet service or platform providers are being responsible for the violation. Most of these stories point to the failure by authorities to take action despite reports, ranging from reports to the police that were not followed up, to internet platforms like YouTube and Facebook lack of response when their platform is being used to publish and disseminate images, video or content that constituted an act of violence. This indicates that greater clarity and commitment is needed to establish proper accountability models to ensure that survivors of technology-related VAW are able to seek adequate redress and justice.


Conclusion


The picture that is emerging from the stories and experiences reported through the TBTT mapping platform provides invaluable insight into the dimensions of technology-related violence against women.


They provide a sense of what is the scope of the issue, the linkages between online and offline violence, the real and material harm faced by survivors and the need for greater measures to first, recognise the gravity of the issue, and secondly, measures to ensure that survivors are able to gain support and access to justice.


It also indicates that ICT and online spaces have become a significant component and extension of the reality of violence against women, and thus far, insufficient attention has been paid to it by state, non-state and civil society actors who are committed to addressing and eliminating violence against women, as well as who are engaged in debates around internet rights and policy.


The TBTT map is a pilot effort to provide a collaborative monitoring platform that focuses on the role and connection between ICT and violence against women. It is made possible through the commitment, engagement and participation of the campaign partners in Asia, Latin America and Africa who work on issues of violence against women as well as internet rights from feminist perspectives. Campaigners provided translation into their local languages, organised trainings and discussions on the issue and brought the mapping platform to their communities and partners through their Take Back the Tech!i 16 days campaign activities.


Beyond this year's campaign, it is hoped that the map will continue to grow and become a sustainable and useful platform for the documentation, monitoring and surfacing of experiences of technology-related VAW that women and girls face in different parts of the world, and stand also as a testimony to their stories of survival.

To see country or technology platform specific data download the fulltext version of this article under 'Attachment' below.

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201112_mapping_tbtt.pdf154.04 KB
 

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