- With access to the Internet becoming a basic human need, sexual violence facilitated using technology is an issue that requires our immediate attention.
What is Technology-facilitated sexual violence (TFSV)?
- Technology-facilitated sexual violence (TFSV) refers to the range of sexual and gender-based harmful behaviors carried out through information and communication technologies.
- TFSV is especially frequent among youth and particularly women. For instance
- A recent survey of 400 students from 111 Indian higher education institutions found that 60% of women experienced some form of TFSV compared to only 8% of men.
- Various forms of TFSV: TFSV can take many forms, such as morphed nude images, sexualised blackmailing and bullying, digital flashing, rape threats, and explicit comments and messages.
- It pervades every social media and messaging platform, but Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp are the ones especially culpable.
Concerns associated with TFSV
- Abuse is linked to an individual’s name and online profile, and can remain on the Internet forever.
- Affects emotional wellbeing of survivors: Many survivors experience depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.
- Tangible consequences to online abuse includes loss of academic or career prospects, social isolation, and violence and ostracisation by one’s own family.
- Aside from gender, factors such as caste, religion, sexual orientation, class, and region heightened their vulnerability online.
- Lack of effective regulation: India’s IT Act of 2000 criminalizes some forms of TFSV, but ambiguities in the law can deter survivors from reporting.
- Lack of motivation from tech giants: Technology giants are unmotivated to overhaul their safety features beyond the bare minimum.
- For example, Meta’s safety moderation algorithms are trained mostly in American English, so abusive content in Indian languages is less likely to be detected.
- There exists low awareness and utilization of ICCs in academic institutions.
- TFSV magnifies existing social inequalities because the ability to safely access the Internet is crucial to women’s mobility, and economic development.
- Facilitate open discussions: Openly discussing TFSV without shaming or blaming survivors is essential step and is part of an ongoing movement to improve India’s levels of sexual violence, from harassment to rape.
- Focusing on the needs of survivors who are the most affected is needed. Stigmatization and trivialisation of their experiences should be avoided.
- Anonymous helplines: Schools should provide anonymous helplines and reporting options, mental health services from trained counselors.
- Grassroot solutions: Hosting regular workshops, safety training, facilitating discussions, and designating student organizations to lead education and response efforts is needed.
- Conduct gender sensitisation programmes: Although Legal regulations mandate that Institutions of higher education (IHEs) to conduct gender sensitisation programmes and empower students to engage their community, it has to be implemented with utmost care.
- Constitute ICC: IHEs must constitute,train and manage Internal Complaints Committees (ICCs) to investigate incidents of sexual harassment.
- With the upcoming Digital India Act, the government should utilize the opportunity to strengthen its regulations for technology platforms and compel social media companies to take accountability.
- Raising widespread awareness of TFSV and implementing solutions is vital while the problem is still within our control.