ISLAMABAD: Cyber harassment is posing a persistent challenge and online harassment and violence have seen a steady rise in Pakistan in recent years, says a report on cyber while sharing its 5-year findings.
According to the report, in 2021 alone the Cyber Harassment Helpline received 4,441 cases with an average of 370 a month while overall the helpline has received 11,681 cases in the last five years.
68pc of complaints are by women
The Cyber Harassment Helpline report launched by a non-government organization (NGO) Digital Rights Foundation’ (DRF ) which is working for protection of women against harassment reveals that during the last five years 68 per cent of the calls received were by women while 30 per cent were received by men and 1 per cent by gender minorities.
The cyber harassment helpline launched on December 1, 2016 is the region’s first dedicated helpline addressing online violence with gender-sensitive, confidential and free services.
The report launch marks the five-year milestone of the helpline on combating online violence and harassment.
A wake-up call
Nighat Dad, the Executive Director of DRF stated the pace at which the cases of cyber harassment are increasing is alarming and must serve as a wake-up call for us to take appropriate action to make the internet a safe and equal space for everyone.
Unless all key players take the measures for structural change, we will continue replicating the same discriminatory behaviours against vulnerable groups that we see and experience offline, she said.
The most frequently mentioned platform in case of harassment was Whatsapp followed by Facebook, the report stated.
Manager, Cyber Harassment helpline Hyra Basit was of the opinion that along with the rise in engagement with digital spaces, there was a rise in harassment that reflected its patriarchal and misogynistic roots in the offline world.
The report highlights data collected by the helpline on cases of online harassment, where it stems from and the helpline’s intervention to help individuals facing online violence. The report also contains recommendations for policymakers and law enforcement agencies (LEAs) along with stories of women journalists and the abuse they’ve faced online.
The helpline provides legal advice, digital assistance and basic psychological assistance through a proper referral mechanism.
The toll-free number ‘080039393’ is available from Monday to Sunday, 9 am till 5 pm and extends its services over email and DRF’s social media platforms.
Complaints of misuse of images, blackmailing received
The helpline data also indicated that 893 complaints received on the helpline in the year 2021 were of blackmailing whereas 727 cases on the helpline were of the non-consensual use of images in 2021.
The report includes a set of recommendations for policymakers and LEAs’ regarding online violence and its reporting in the country.
The report also recommends decriminalizing online defamation by repealing Section 20 PECA which is regularly used to silence survivors of harassment and assault.