Women Fight Assault Over Internet

Kara Santos

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 4 (IPS) — Millions use Facebook to keep in touch with their friends, post photos of reunions and parties and share links to interesting articles and videos. But for 24-year old Maria (not her real name), the popular social networking site became a source of public shame when a former boyfriend posted nude photos and videos of her in an account he had created under her name.

As if that weren’t enough to humiliate her, the spurned boyfriend also mailed a copy of the video to the girl’s Muslim parents.

In a separate incident, the ordeal of a 17-year old nursing student who was gang-raped by at least four schoolmates was captured on a camera phone and made its way into cyberspace.

While modern innovations have made lives easier for millions of women worldwide, they have also led to a rise in cases of electronic violence against women or ‘eVAW’, according to a recent forum organized by women’s rights groups.

“Violence against women is mutating because of technology,” says Cheekay Cinco of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC). “The Internet has opened up private lives into new avenues of potential violence.”

Cinco says that anyone who maintains a blog or has a Facebook or Twitter account is in danger of becoming a potential victim.

“If there are malicious people who want to stalk you, there is so much information they can get online. People have access to your friends, your email address and mobile phone number just by ‘friending’ you on Facebook,” she says.

The two cases made the news following a highly publicized sex scandal between Filipina actress Katrina Halili and cosmetic surgeon Hayden Kho. The actress claimed that video footage of their intimate acts together was taken and uploaded without her consent. The video, which went viral in 2008 was hawked openly on street DVDs and was one of the most downloaded videos on the Internet.

In December, after months of court hearings and investigations, a local court threw out the case on the basis that the prosecution failed to give proof that it was indeed Kho who had uploaded the said sex video to the Internet.

Cases of cyber harassment and stalking, online pornography, unauthorized recording, and reproduction and distribution of images and video are becoming more rampant in the country partly due to the popularity of camera phones and social networking sites.

“What’s alarming is that we’re seeing more cases of women being blackmailed with intimate photos,” says Cinco. “They take these photos with the full trust that the other person will use it privately but it is being used to keep young girls in relationships that they don’t want to be in any more.”

The Philippines currently has the sixth largest population of Facebook users in the world – with over 19 million users as of December 2010. The country is also said to have the highest social media engagement in the Asia-Pacific region according to Internet marketing research firm ComScore.com. Mobile phone penetration is also high, with roughly 80 percent of the 92 million- strong Filipino population owning mobile phones, according to the National Telecommunications Commission.

“Since our office was established in 2003 to deal with Cybercrime cases till the present – there really has been an increasing trend,” agrees Chief Inspector Efren Fernandez of the Cybercrime Unit of the Philippine National Police’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.

Though cases remain highly underreported, Fernandez said more people are coming forward to report cases. “The awareness of the people is increasing.

They already know they have become victims of Cybercrime,” he tells IPS on the sidelines of the forum.

According to a report by security software firm Symantec, as many as 87 percent of Filipino Internet users surveyed are falling victims to online criminal activities and malicious attacks every year – including online harassment and sexual predation.

But groups like the Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA), one of the forum organizers, believe that technology can be a double-edged sword. The non- profit group is spearheading a global campaign for women to take control of technology.

Through their Feminist Technology Exchange (FTX) program, they provide a venue for women to better understand new technology and its potential and impact on their rights and lives.

“Those who have more control over technology – control meaning they understand it, they know how it works, they know how to change it from a deep technical level – have more power over those just using it,” says Cinco, who serves as an FTX trainer.

The first FTX session focused on teaching women working on women’s and children’s rights issues how to secure online communications since perpetrators have used these sites to track movements and harvest information from women. Another session provided women an opportunity to create digital stories to raise awareness on violence against women.

“Technology can victimize you but it can also be the solution to your victimization. If you understand how to use it, the potential to be victimized is lessened,” says Cinco.

The FTX is part of the Take Back the Tech campaign, being implemented in 12 countries globally by the Association of Progressive Communications Women’s Networking Support Program (APC WNSP), which calls for women and girls to take control of technology to end violence against women.

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