Let's join hands to protect women from violence in the digital age

As the world marked Safer Internet Day with the objective to create awareness for a safer access and responsible use of internet for children, youth and adults, I could not help but ponder on the exposure that technology has brought to all.

The ever-advancing technology influences almost every aspect of our everyday lives.

It has been a game-changer in uniting global communities with the use of internet, improving efficiency in all spheres such as collaboration, communication, banking, transport, safety, agriculture, access to information, food and other basic needs, healthcare, socialisation and productivity.

In addition, technology has been a catalyst to change and economic growth, driving the rapid rise of the digital economy that has opened new avenues for economic activities where businesses thrive, increasingly connecting the world. Digital literacy is therefore essential in today’s world.

However, its usage has caused more harm than good. Just a few weeks into the new year, media outlets have reported killings of women partly caused by online social interactions. Young men and women have met online, through dating Apps and other social media platforms, and the actual physical meetings have turned into death traps. In January, two young women were found brutally murdered serviced apartments commonly known as AirBnBs.

Tech-facilitated gender-based violence has been fuelled by ‘sextortionists’, child traffickers, robbers and cyber bullies. For instance, a person may purchase an item online only for the seller to turn out into a kidnapper, a robber or a perpetrator of sexual assault or harassment. 

Secondly, one may hail a taxi from an online App where either the driver or the passenger may become a victim of assault. Our children in particular, are gradually becoming ‘tech-savvy’ as they adopt into this digital space.

From online-gaming, watching shows, to using Tiktok Apps to showcase their talents, sharing private information with strangers online on a variety of social media platforms, they are at a high risk of tech-facilitated GBV.

Some online users sign up with pseudonyms accounts to body shame others. Others use derogatory language that negatively impacts on victims’ mental health and lowers one’s self esteem. Users also lure unsuspecting online followers or ‘friends’ to sharing their home or private locations. In most cases, this results in reports of missing children or adults, sexual and physical assault, and unfortunate cases of death. 

Protecting children in the digital space should be a top priority in building their capacity to understand online risks before engaging to allow them to have a safe digital experience. As parents, guardians and teachers, it is important to supervise the use of tech gadgets to protect children from harmful content.

Fostering open conversations with them will also reduce their vulnerability. While we caution them from the risks, it is vital to teach them to be kind with others online, by staying away from hate speech, body shaming and incitement.

There is need for enhanced regulatory frameworks to prevent online violence, by prosecuting and punishing the perpetrators. The Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act 2018 prevents the unlawful use of computer systems and facilitates the prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution and punishment of cybercrime. These offences include child pornography, publication of false information, computer fraud, cyber harassment, identity theft and forgery among others.

The recently launched tools ‘Take it Down’ and ‘Thorn’ by social media tech firm Meta and National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to prevent online sexual exploitation of children is commendable. These platforms allow teens, parents and teachers to get access to resources in an anti-sextortion campaign as they explore the internet.