Contextualising cyber harassment | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 16, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, January 16, 2018

Contextualising cyber harassment

Technological advancement in ICT has provided diverse opportunities for empowerment and participation of women in various sectors. Unfortunately, along with the endless opportunities brought about by modern technology, new means of violence have appeared too. 

Cyber harassment can take place in any digital medium where communication with others via internet is possible. The biggest concern regarding cyber harassment is women being its major targets and victims. Due to a less surprising currency of female images in digital world and their swift transgression, many a times females log into internet and find their faces placed on pornographic sites or unwanted Facebook pages. The images and videos of rape are used for sustaining the cycle of violence and threatening to silence the rape victims. Cosmopolitan technologies have also enabled construction of fake and inappropriate images and videos of females. Recently, “revenge porn” has come into force as a means of harassment which includes individuals posting their or other's intimate videos, mostly used as a tool to defame women. Together with email bullying, spoofing, impersonation etc. these incidents have raised a question of doubt inside every internet using female around the world that whether or not, the cyber space is masculine in nature.

In order to find a moderate answer to the above question, it is decisive to find out what characteristics of internet offer perpetrators a stronger motive to use it as a means of harassing women and why and how women and girls become easier preys of cyber harassment. Most of the times, victims prefer not to report of the harassment owing to the fact that even if they do it, the orthodox social context throws the question back at the conscience of the victim on not using the internet more safely.

The most significant concern here is in fact the existence of any sort of law intercepting cyber harassment. The Act that deals with digital world and all its activities in Bangladesh is the Information and Communication Act, 2006. A closer look at the Act reveals that it is silent on the notion of cyber harassment and individual protection against it. Ideally, it should have dealt with different notions of cyber harassment on personal scales, recognising and offering redress to cyber harassment cases. Similar interventions can be made regarding the Pornography Control Act, 2012. This Act does not put any effort on setting a standard form of technology-tracker which eventually makes it very difficult to reach the perpetrators who circulate pornography through internet. Section 509 of Penal Code 1860 recognises “word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman” as punishable. Though it doesn't mention the cyber space but it does provide the legal redress against any such actions. Adding to it, section 10 of Women and Children Repression Act 2006 authorises penalty for sexual oppression, encompassing indecent gesture.

Abusing and harassing women is not new but crime this time has a newer face and a stronger platform to propagate. There is no way that such acts should be condoned as a result of poor personal judgment and age old social context regarding rights of women. In an era where 52% of the online gaming audience around the world is women and 76% of total Social Networking Services (SNS) users in the United States of America are women, there is no justification for regarding internet as a masculine space. As the positive uses of internet are more significant than its abuses, fewer problems created by a small portion of internet community should be tackled with safe governance at both public and private levels.

Shahrima Tanjin Arni, Student of Law, University of Dhaka  

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