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Make the internet a safe space for women! We demand legislation with harmonised sanctions to fight gender-based cyber violence

Date

16 Dec 2021

Sections

Justice & Home Affairs

With the strong support of the Socialists and Democrats, today the European Parliament demanded legislation at an EU level to fight gender-based cyber violence in the upcoming Directive that addresses violence against women.

With the rise of new technology and social media, more and more women and girls are experiencing harassment, stalking, cyberbullying, flaming, hate speech and other text and message-based forms of gender-based cyber violence. It is estimated that one in ten women in the EU have been victims of sexual harassment via digital tools from the age of 15.

Still, the EU lacks harmonised measures to tackle this growing phenomenon. Although it is a cross-border issue, there is currently no common definition or effective policy approach to combat gender-based cyber violence at an EU level. A strong EU directive is necessary to tackle all forms of gender-based violence, including cyber violence. For this, we need to establish a common criminal law definition of gender-based cyber violence, as well as to harmonise sanctions against offenders and to ensure that victims have effective access to justice and specialised support services in all member states. 

Maria Noichl, S&D MEP and spokesperson on women’s rights, said: 

“Anyone can experience cyber violence; however women and girls are disproportionately affected and targeted in a specific way. Women active in public life, such as politicians, journalists, bloggers or human rights defenders, are particularly at risk; because some men still can't stand women speaking out, claiming their rights or simply being listened to. But what happens when online does not stay online? Cyber harassment, stalking or threats too often spill over into physical acts, such as the killing of British MP Jo Cox in 2016.   

“Women often withdraw from the public out of fear for themselves; or out of fear for their loved ones. The goal of cyber violence against women is to silence women. This starts already from an early age with the at least 12.5% of school bullying cases happening online. This involves both boys and girls, but the prevalence of young women and girls among victims is higher, leaving strong and lasting mental health consequences.

“This has to stop. The Commission must finally present a comprehensive directive to fight gender-based violence, once and for all!” 

Marina Kaljurand, S&D MEP and negotiator of this file in the LIBE committee, added:

“The internet should be a safe space for everyone, regardless of their gender, but the statistics tell us a very different story. A recent survey revealed that almost 40% of women worldwide have suffered online harassment, while 85% have witnessed violence against women online. Our laws are clearly not fit to respond to these issues, so we are calling for new EU-wide action to deal with gender-based violence, online and offline. We need new laws that will improve capacity building, education and training for all relevant professionals, helplines and accessible reporting mechanisms, as well as effective remedies for victims of gender-based cyber violence.  

“Further measures to tackle the harassment and abuse experienced by women and girls online should include promoting education in digital skills - such as cyber hygiene and netiquette to ensure the respectful use of technology - alongside regulation that prevents the use of spyware and other monitoring applications to protect citizens’ fundamental rights.”

Notes to editors:

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) published a study in March 2021 (conducted in 2020) to measure the global prevalence of online violence against women. Nearly 40% of women surveyed have had personal experiences with harassment online and a large majority (85%) have witnessed online violence. Link to study: https://onlineviolencewomen.eiu.com/

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