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The online world is not a safe space for women - S&Ds call for legislative action at an EU level to combat gender-based cyber violence

Date

01 Dec 2021

Sections

Justice & Home Affairs

With the rise of new technology and social media, more and more women and girls are experiencing harassment, stalking and other kinds of threats whilst online. It is estimated that 1 in 10 women in the EU have been victims of sexual harassment via digital tools since the age of 15.

Cyber harassment can involve trolling, cyberbullying, flaming, hate speech and other text and message-based forms of gender-based cyber violence. Particularly dangerous is a growing phenomenon of cyberbullying and trolling towards adolescents and children, with 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 mental health consequences.

Still, the growing phenomenon of gender-based cyber violence is not properly addressed. EU member states react and act differently, often inadequately, and although it is a cross-border issue, there is currently no common definition or effective policy approach to combating gender-based cyber violence at an EU level.

That is why the S&Ds today supported a call for legislation at an EU level to combat gender-based cyber violence in the upcoming Directive that addresses violence against women. The own-initiative legislative report adopted in the civil liberties (LIBE) and women’s rights (FEMM) committees calls on the Commission and member states to establish minimum rules, including a common definition of gender-based cyber violence*,  and related sanctions, to prevent and combat various forms of gender-based cyber violence, as well as ensure that victims have effective access to justice and specialised support services in all member states.

 Robert Biedroń, S&D MEP and negotiator of this file in the FEMM committee, said:

“The Internet can be a very dangerous space for women. Full of traps and ‘opportunities’ for perpetrators, predominately because of the prevailing impunity, as well as a slow and inadequate criminal justice response. So far, the EU has not done much to ensure that women and girls - who remain the main victims of gender-based cyber violence - can feel safe online. I hope that with this report, things will finally change. It is about time that the Commission steps up its efforts and presents without further delay a comprehensive Directive covering all forms of gender-based violence, including online.

“When female politicians receive death or rape threats on the Internet they are often told to ignore them. However, these online threats and attacks can translate into physical acts, such as the killing of parliamentarian Jo Cox in 2016. This must not happen again. As the Progressives, we demand a zero-tolerance policy for gender-based cyber violence.”

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

“More needs to be done to tackle the harassment and other threats experienced by women and girls online. Our laws have not adapted to respond to these issues, so we are calling for new EU-wide actions to respond to gender-based violence, online and offline. We need new laws that will enhance 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 promote education in digital skills will be crucial - such as cyber hygiene and netiquette to ensure the respectful use of technology - as is regulation to prevent the use of spyware and other monitoring applications to ensure the protection of citizens’ fundamental rights.”

Notes to editors:

Currently, there is no common definition on gender-based cyber violence. The report adopted today recommends the following definition:  “Gender-based cyber violence is a form of gender-based violence and is defined as any act of gender-based violence that is committed, assisted or aggravated in part or fully by the use of ICT, such as mobile phones and smartphones, the Internet, social media platforms or email, against a woman because she is a woman or affects women disproportionately, or against LGBTI people because of their gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics, and results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm, including threats to carry out such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, in public or private life”.

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