How to Protect Against Online Gender-Based Violence

According to the Association for Progressive Communications, research involving 1000 cases of technology-based violence from seven countries proved that women who are victims of cyberbullying are between ages 18 to 30. Most of these online-based gender violence can have negative consequences on the victims in real life. It has gotten worse with the rise of the covid-19 pandemic

With everyone at home having nothing else to do but surf the internet, they have been more victims of cyberbullying. To protect yourself from cyberbullying, make sure you connect to the internet using a good VPN. Thanks to the anonymity VPNs give, you would be safer amidst threats from bullies online. 

Also, the use of strong passwords would make it difficult for hackers to gain access to your social media accounts or bank accounts. This way, no one would post or send unauthorized content or message using your name. Your bank account would also be safe and not used as leverage to bully you. 

In this article, you would learn what Cyberbullying is, how to protect yourself from it, and also the laws that protect your rights online.

What is Cyber Bullying?

gender-based violence online

Cyberbullying involves picking on vulnerable people over the internet using digital technologies. It could take place on gaming platforms, social media, messaging platforms, or over the phone. The attacks aimed at causing fear in the minds of the victims as well as humiliating them.

Cyberbullying can take place by spreading embarrassing photos of someone. 

For example, Cynthia fell in mud while riding her bicycle home from school. It was embarrassing and her colleagues who witnessed it took photos of her while laughing. They then shared it to other colleagues who reposted it until it got viral. She was so embarrassed she stayed away from the internet. 

It also involves hacking into and sending fake emails. 

For example, John had always wanted to join the hockey team and was always made fun of by his classmates. They take it up a notch by hacking into the school email and sending John an email stating that he had been accepted into the team. He goes in for practice only to find out nothing of the sort happened. Imagine the embarrassment.

Real-Life Cases of Cyberbullying 

Ashlynn Conner

One of the most tragic cases of cyberbullying is that of ten-year-old Ashlynn Conner. She was severely bullied at school and begged her mom to teach her from home but of course, this request wasn’t granted. The bullying didn’t only end in school but also continued on social media.

Ashlynn was often called “fat” and “ugly”, and later called “slut”. She had even cut her hair to feel good about herself but her bullies didn’t let her be. They gave her another nickname “pretty boy”. She couldn’t take it and committed suicide as doing by her sister. She hung herself using a scarf. 

David Molak

David Molak was a good boy who fell victim to his bullying schoolmates. They sent him abusive and hurtful messages via social media and over time it got him depressed.

When his mental health got affected, he lost interest in everything. He finally took his life by hanging himself in his backyard to save himself from the torture he got.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, two teens reportedly had their private photos taken and posted on Facebook by their boyfriends. This was done without their consent. Also, in In Bosnia and Herzegovina, a young woman is pursued online by a stalker who claims they are meant to be. Another heartbreaking example of cyberbullying is this story from Pakistan. A human rights activist had her home address included in blog posts where readers were urged to kill her for being outspoken and defending human rights. She gets shot together with her husband in a drive-by attack.

How to Protect Yourself Online From Cyber Bullying

Ensuring you have digital security is ensuring your online identity is protected. With online gender-based violence taking place indiscriminately, women and girls must learn how to protect their online identities against cyberbullies and criminals.

Instead of self-censorship, women should know that they also have the right to be a part of every online community that isn’t gender-based. So rather than avoid some platforms, or leave the internet completely, women can rather protect themselves with the following tips:

  • Use strong passwords for all your online accounts. This way no one can gain unauthorized access to your social media accounts and make posts or send messages that would tarnish your image. Strong passwords are usually at least 8 characters long and consists of lower and uppercase letters, numbers as well as special characters. 
  • Have different passwords for every online account you use. Using different passwords makes it difficult to break into all your accounts in the event of a hack. With a single password for all your accounts, however, a single hack is a successful hack for all your accounts. 
  • Use a VPN to ensure you remain anonymous and hide your IP address location. VPNs work by routing your request through a selected server so that it appears to be coming from a different location. By doing so you protect yourself from bullies and their threats. 
  • Use two-factor authentication for your accounts. This is an extra security layer for your accounts, making it even more difficult for hackers to gain access. 
  • When not online, log out of your accounts. This is another way of preventing unauthorized access to your social media accounts by someone who picks up your phone. 
  • Only connect to public Wi-Fi over secure VPNs like LimeVPN
  • Use antivirus software such as Norton

Laws That Protect Your Rights Online

The Harmful Digital Communications Act

The Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 is implemented in New Zealand to deal with online abuse, harassment, and bullying. It also takes care of online gender-based violence. It tackles harmful uses of the internet to cause pain and hurt to other users. Its goal includes preventing the consequences of online violence and bullying. When such acts are aimed at an individual because of their gender, it’s a breach of the 10 communications principles as contained in the Act.

Human Rights Act

The Human Rights Commission is also available to help you deal with online gender-based violence. It protects citizens of New Zealand from being discriminated against in different ways as they go about their life. A part of the Human Rights Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person based on their gender, pregnancy status, or sex characteristics. Gender-based discrimination can take places in any of the following areas:

  • Education – 16-year-old Sanu is quoted saying “if my community had gender equality, it would be transformed.” This was after she and her 5 older sisters were forced to leave school and marry at a very young age. 
  • Activities in the government and public sectors – a survey by Stop Street Harassment shows that 38% of women have been victims of sexual harassment in the workplace. Statistics also show that women only make 82 cents for every 1 dollar a man makes in the US. 
  • Industrial and professional associations and training bodies – promotions for women come in less frequently than men. This is evident in the statistics that show below 10% of women as top earners in the standard and pope’s 500. 
  • Employment – women have a harder time getting jobs when compared to men. This is especially the case in Northern Africa and the Arab states where the unemployment statistics for women is more than 16%. This has made women less enthusiastic about participating in the labour force. 

Role of Internet/Social Media in Increasing Cyberbullying

Social media and texting have become popular ways by which teens make new friends and maintain relationships. It however leaves room for a lot of potentially troubling exchanges in the form of cyberbullying.

Name-calling is common among adolescents, and it’s one of the challenges every teen has to face. It’s even worse with the proliferation of smartphones and the internet. Name-calling doesn’t just end with face to face contact anymore but has transcended into social media as well. By this, the limit to bullying in the form of name-calling doesn’t exist anymore.

In a study by pewresearch, 42% of teens said they have been called offence names on the internet. 32% of teens also reported having false rumours of themselves spread on the internet. 21% have been asked personal questions such as their locations and who they are with, while another 16% have been threatened online.

Social media and the internet as a whole makes it possible for people to be bullied without end as the internet is always available. And so teens especially have to be armed on how to protect themselves from cyberbullying.

Tips to Protect Against Online Gender-Based Violence

Don’t Share Location Check-in Updates

Checking into your location while you are there gives the cyberstalker an upper hand over you. They can track you and find you with ease. So if you must show that you visited a place, check-in after you have left so that it’s not as easy for a stalker to find you.

Encrypt Your Sensitive Files

Doxing attacks are a type of cyberattack where your information such as photos, contact information, and other sensitive files would be stolen and made available on the internet to cause harm to your image. You can make this difficult for your attackers to carry out by encrypting all sensitive data you have on the internet. So even if they have the files, it would be useless to them because of the encryption.

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Use A Password Manager

Using an easy to remember password is good for you but doesn’t provide you with any form of security. The worst is using the same weak password for all your accounts online. To help keep hackers away from your accounts, use strong passwords. This usually includes upper and lower case letters, numbers, and special characters. It may be difficult to remember all your unique and strong passwords for all your online accounts. But with a password manager, you would only need to remember one password; the password for the password manager.

A password manager stores your passwords and makes them available when you need to log into an account.

Use Humor

One of the easiest ways to make an internet troll bored and back off is to use humour. With humour, you maintain your cool and show you are unbothered by their cyberbullying and name-calling. They like to feed off of people’s fear, but when you are not showing the anticipated response, they back off. This also buys you some time to report such bullies and cases of online gender-based violence.

Have A Safety Point Ready for Victims

The United Nations’ official colour for their campaign against online gender-based violence is orange. And so you can turn your shop into a support centre for those who have been attacked online and need a haven. This would come in handy especially due to the closure of support centres because of the covid-19 pandemic.

Censor Snaps

Deepfake bots have been abused recently and used to create nude photos of anybody. By posting your full-body beach photos, you would have provided cyberbullies with a canvas to work with. To restrict your full beach photos to only your family and close friends.

Recognize Grooming

Grooming is mostly targeted at girls and child abusers usually follow the same formula. When a child makes a post on the way they feel at the time, child abusers capitalize on this vulnerability. They meet the victim on a social media platform and take them to another less monitored and encrypted chat platform. Here, they can freely blackmail and force the child into pornography. Most children fall for this because they feel if they send a photo the cyberbully would go away.

Even though this online gender-based violence is mostly targeted at girls, women also commit this crime. So don’t look at every woman as a saint and only see men as suspects.

Hide Your Address

If you leave your address on online platforms, cybercriminals can use it to commit crimes that you would be blamed for if all goes wrong. your address can be used as the delivery address for hard drugs and if law enforcement gets involved, you would be in trouble. So it’s best to hide your address on every online platform to increase your safety.

Make Your Friends List Private

Some online platforms like Instagram allow you to add people to a private friends list. Here you can share private photos with those you trust. Check your social media platform and utilize privacy settings that help keep your posts within friends and family.

Look Out for Bot Accounts

A bot account you are in touch with could be used to steal your photos and make deepfakes about you. It could also be used by cybercriminals to monitor you. so check through your friends and followers on your social media account and look out for anything unusual. The following are pointers to a bot account:

  • You would get a direct message on Instagram when you follow such accounts back
  • They would have thousands of follows but very few followers
  • They post little, and randomly but get likes reaching thousands

Report Abusive Social Media Accounts

If you are experiencing any form of online gender-based violence on social media, report the offender. Many platforms would suspend the account as they investigate your claims. It could lead to temporary suspension or a permanent ban.

To report an Instagram account;

  • Tap on the three horizontal dots beside the profile
  • Tap on report 
  • Follow the instructions that come after

Keep Evidence of Blackmails

Many instances of online gender-based violence against women take the form of blackmails. The attacker could threaten to post your nude photos online as a means of extorting you or making you do what you wouldn’t normally do. When such threats come up, take screenshots of them and report them to someone. Don’t keep it to yourself as things could go bad. Seek help from a trusted person or an agency that handles matters of cyberbullying.

Seal Your Webcam

Don’t be too comfortable if your webcam light doesn’t come on. It’s no guarantee that it isn’t being used by hackers. Most cyberbullies hack into your webcam and get footage of you that would later be used to blackmail you. you won’t know this unless you check. Go to settings and check running processes to be sure if your webcam is being used or not.

Seal your webcam with a piece of opaque tape to prevent any unauthorized access to get private footage of you.

Check for Any Software That Could Be Used to Monitor You

Spyware goes unnoticed but could be used by the attacker to gain access to your messages, location, your internet activities, location, and other private data. When you jailbreak your phone, you also make it easy for attackers to gain access to your phone’s controls.

You would find most of the spyware on your apps list. So check your apps occasionally and take note of apps that are suspicious and that you don’t recall installing. Uninstall such apps and also use your antivirus frequently.

Protect Your Baby Monitor

A baby monitor could be used as a means to get into your home by an attacker. The most susceptible devices are those that are unprotected. And so you must include a VPN to your router to keep your devices that are connected to the internet safe from attacks. Don’t forget to always change the factory provided password to a strong and difficult to guess one. If they have been any attempts to break in, change the password.

Disable or Filter Comments On Instagram

It was discovered that 42% of online gender-based violence happens on Instagram. You can take away the power of bullies to troll you on your posts by disabling comments. Instagram allows you to filter comments that include some words that may be offensive to you.

Impacts of Online Gender-Based Violence On Women

https://youtu.be/W_ZPHPutN-c

1 in every 3 women has experienced gender-based violence at least once in their lifetime. Over 35% of women around the world have been victims of both physical, sexual and non-sexual violence in their life. 7% of women globally have also been assaulted sexually by a stranger. In a survey conducted by Web foundation, 52% of young women and girls were reported to have been abused online. This includes sharing private photos without consent, sexual harassment, and also getting threat messages. 

By constantly being bullied and threatened online, women’s voices tend to become silenced. The threats also go further to affect the safety of women offline as online violence could be a manifestation of the violence offline. All those fears and threats could ultimately hinder women’s performance as they go about their jobs, or worse silence them on matters that require their inputs. 

Conclusion

Online gender-based violence especially that against women has made the internet less safe for use by girls and women. Many attacks and blackmails have been targeted against women and force to commit crimes. Some laws like the Human Rights Act and the Harmful Digital Communications Act in New Zealand aim at protecting users of the internet. You can also help yourself further by ensuring digital privacy and securing your online presence. 

There are various ways you can protect your online presence including encryption and the use of a strong password and password manager. Block your webcams and scan your device regularly to remove malware. If you see any software that isn’t installed by you and appears suspicious, uninstall it. All devices that are used at home such as baby monitors should be connected to the internet through a VPN. there are various VPNs out there but not all provide you with the security and performance that you require. And so we highly recommend LimeVPN for the best performance.

A Complete gamer and a Tech Geek. Brings out all her thoughts and love in writing blogs on IOT, software, technology etc