Violence against women and the use of information and communications technologies in Jamaica

10 March 2016

By Dhanaraj Thakur, Lloyd Waller, Shinique Walters, Stephen Johnson

Executive summary

Existing research points out that a large number of women and girls in Jamaica suffer from gender based violence. In fact, violence against women (VAW) is a problem throughout the Caribbean region. At the same time, the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) have grown rapidly in recent years. We note that there is now some evidence, particularly
from the media, to suggest that ICTs are being used to undermine the rights of women and girls and to promote violence online and offline.

However, there is a lack of research in Jamaica on this topic that can inform policy-makers and those in support services. This research project addresses that gap through the collection of empirical data that included a national survey of internet users, interviews with survivors of abuse, focus groups, and expert interviews.

Some of the main findings from our survey research include:

  • People start using ICTs at a relatively early age. More importantly, the median age at which persons start using the internet is 16 years.
  • Approximately 65% or two-thirds of respondents report observing some kind of abuse or harassment online.
  • In sum approximately 20% of respondents said they had experienced some form of harassment or abuse online. However, the group that was most likely to experience some form of harassment or abuse were women aged 18 to 29; 30% of these respondents reported experiencing online abuse.
  • Approximately 18% of respondents said that they had abused another person online. Men were more likely than women to physically threaten someone online or to communicate with someone in a way that made them uncomfortable.
  • 13% of respondents said they had received and forwarded a nude video of others online and 48% said they had watched a video online of someone being physically abused.

The research also highlighted the ways in which social media and phones are used as tools of control, particularly in abusive relationships. Social media is also used to directly attack the reputation of the individual. This includes the use of “revenge porn” or distributing sexually related material of someone online against his or her will. We should also recognize that social media is used to threaten homosexuals by “outing” them publicly. People in the trans-sexual community can also be singled out via socialmedia as well.

Finally, they noted the ways in which online interactions are linked with offline sexual violence. To address these challenges they outline several practical strategies to keep individuals safe online. These include:

1. A starting point is being careful on what materials you share online.

2. Ensure that you know how to manage the privacy settings of whichever app or website you are using.

3. Be careful about whom you share information with on social media applications.

4. Practice good digital security including using effective passwords and anti-virus software.

5. Knowing that it’s NEVER your fault. Indeed, the only person to blame is the harasser.

At a public level we highlight the need for action through several policy and other recommendations:

  • As a first step the government, civil society, and the public in general need to recognize that this is a problem; which will only grow as most Internet users are young.
  • One way to address this is to have a national campaign to raise awareness and educate users about the implications of our online activities and what we can do to be safer – ideally using social media.
  • Another recommendation is to have workshops that target young girls in the secondary school system. We were given anecdotal evidence that this is a significant group as they are singled out for online harassment
    and for sexual violence offline.
  • Given the number of women who make up their membership, churches are an ideal venue to not only raise awareness about the problems and strategies to address online harassment, but to also have broader discussions about VAW in the country.
  • Another issue of particular importance is to improve the state’s legal apparatus to deal with sexual violence. However, addressing the problem of online harassment will require a multi-sectoral approach and it should not be defined as a “gender” problem that only a handful of agencies should address.
  • Finally, we recommend that more research is needed on this issue – specifically with regard to how children (those under 18 years who were not included in this study) use the internet.

Table of contents

1. Executive summary………………………………………………1
2. Background – VAW and ICTs in Jamaica……………………………..3
3. Research questions and conceptualization………………………….5
3.1. Conceptual model……………………………………………..5
4. Research design ……………………………………………….6
4.1. Methodology………………………………………………….6
4.1.1. National survey…………………………………………….6
4.1.2. Structured interviews ………………………………………7
4.1.3. Focus groups ………………………………………………9
4.1.4. Expert interviews ………………………………………….9
5. Research findings – The relationships between ICTs and VAW in Jamaica……………………10
5.1. Online activities …………………………………………..10
5.1.1. Technology habits …………………………………………10
5.1.2. Online interactions………………………………………..12
5.1.2.1. Observing abuse online …………………………………..13
5.1.2.1. Experiencing abuse online…………………………………15
5.1.2.2. Committing abuse online ………………………………….15
5.2. ICTs and risk factors for VAW ………………………………..21
5.2.1. ICTs as tools of control …………………………………..21
5.2.2. Using social media to inflict harm…………………………..21
5.2.3. Online Interactions and Offline violence……………………..22
5.3. Practical strategies for individuals…………………………..23
6. Policy recommendations – How to address the challenge of cyber-violence and online harassment in Jamaica ………………………………….26

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