‘Almost three quarters of women (73%) online have been exposed to some form of cyber violence’ says the new report released by United Nations broadband commission on Thursday. It urges governments and industry to work harder and more effectively together to better protect the growing number of women and girls who are victims of online threats and harassment.

The report notes that despite the rapidly growing number of women experiencing online violence, only 26 per cent of law enforcement agencies in the 86 countries surveyed are taking appropriate action.

Entitled Cyber Violence Against Women & Girls: A Worldwide Wake-Up Call, the report was released at an event at United Nations Headquarters in New York by the Commission’s Working Group on Gender, which is co-Chaired by UNDP Administrator, Helen Clark, and UN Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

Without concerted global action to curb the various escalating forms of online violence, an unprecedented surge of ‘cyber violence against women and girls (cyber VAWG)’ could run rampant and significantly impede the uptake of broadband by women everywhere, the report contends. It notes that cyber VAWG already exists in many forms, including online harassment, public shaming, the desire to inflict physical harm, sexual assaults, murders and induced suicides.

“The rapid spread of the Internet means that effective legal and social controls of online anti-social and criminal behaviors continue to be an immense challenge. And in the age of the social Internet and ‘anywhere, anytime’ mobile access, cyber violence can strike at any time, and can relentlessly follow its targets everywhere they go” says the Report.

Key findings of the report :

  • An estimated 73 per cent of women have already been exposed to, or have experienced, some form of online violence.
  • Women in the age range of 18 to 24 are uniquely likely to experience stalking and sexual harassment in addition to physical threats.
  • Nine million women in the European Union’s 28 countries alone have experienced online violence as young as 15 years old.
  • One in five female Internet users live in countries where harassment and abuse of women online is extremely unlikely to be punished.
  • In many countries women are reluctant to report their victimization for fear of social repercussions.
  • Cyber VAWG puts a premium on emotional bandwidth, personal and workplace time, financial resources and missed wages.

The report presents a set of Key Recommendations, proposing a global framework based around three ‘S’s – Sensitization, Safeguards and Sanctions.

Key Recommendations:

  • Sensitization– Preventing cyber VAWG through training, learning, campaigning and community development to promote changes in in social attitudes and behavior.
  • Safeguards –Implementing oversight and maintaining a responsible Internet infrastructure through technical solutions and more informed customer care practices
  • Sanctions– Develop and uphold laws, regulations and governance mechanisms to deter perpetrators from committing these acts.

The report argues that rigorous oversight and enforcement of rules banning cyber VAWG on the Internet will be an essential foundation stone if the Internet is to become a safe, respectful and empowering space for women and girls, and, by extension, for boys and men.