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Women largest victims of online harassment: DRF

ISLAMABAD: The Digital Rights Foundation has received 2,473 new complaints of Cyber Harassment out of which the highest number of victims were women constituting 58.5 percent.

The DRF released its seventh annual Cyber Harassment Helpline Report for 2023 on Thursday. The Helpline has completed seven years of operations since its launch in December 2016 and has received a total number of 16,849 complaints from across Pakistan. In 2023 alone, a total of 2,473 new complaints were received on the helpline with an average number of 206 new complaints received each month and February 2023 having the most complaints in the year.

The helpline report is a compilation of the data from complaints received by the Helpline through its toll-free number (0800-39393), email and DRF’s social media platforms from Monday to Sunday, 9am to 5pm. The report also contains case studies feedback from Helpline callers and recommendations for policymakers and law enforcement agencies (LEAs).

In 2023 women were the highest reported victims of online harassment constituting 58.5pc of complainants. The Helpline also noted that like the previous year this year the transgender community was subjected to an orchestrated online hate campaign and these complaints made up approximately 1.6pc.

Moreover, the report highlights that the highest number of complaints received in 2023 were from Punjab (1,724), followed by Sindh (261) and KP (112). This geographical breakdown of data will help in mapping the accessibility of law enforcement agencies and other remedial resources. The FIA, which is the designated law enforcement agency under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), has cybercrime wings in only 15 cities. While reports can be submitted through their helpline and online complaint form, feedback from multiple complainants shows that these methods are unreliable and the most efficient way to submit a complaint is through in-person complaints.

The Cyber Harassment Helpline is the region’s first dedicated helpline addressing tech-facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV) with gender-sensitive, confidential and free services. It provides legal advice, digital assistance, and basic psychological assistance and offers a proper referral mechanism. The helpline operates 7 days a week to cater to a growing number of requests over the weekend.

Nighat Dad, Executive Director of DRF, noted, “There’s been a significant rise of complaints relating to technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV) against women and marginalized groups in 2023. These instances of violence are also leading to a rise in potential offline violence for these groups. Another alarming thing that we noted through the helpline near the elections was the use of generative AI content being used to exacerbate violence against women in the public sphere, particularly women journalists. These growing numbers are alarming and grow to show how online spaces are perpetuating identity-based attacks on women and marginalized groups.”

Source: The News