The internet can be a great place to communicate, exchange ideas and get inspired. Sometimes, however, people will abuse these opportunities to harass others. Especially women can be confronted with anything from insults to threats of violence or rape.
The European Parliament adopted on 28 April a report called “Gender equality and empowering women in the digital age”, which among others contains proposals for tackling the problem.
The report points out that nine million people have been the victim of online violence in Europe, while 18 % of women in Europe reported having suffered some form of online harassment from people they know.
Report author Terry Reintke said in an interview on the Parliament website that freedom of speech was not the same as having the right to abuse people: “Freedom of speech, especially when it concerns expression on the internet, is the absolute foundation of our societal discourse, nonetheless freedom of speech naturally ends where threats abound. It is not freedom of expression to consciously intimidate people on Facebook and Twitter, especially women, insult them, express the wish to rape them or to threaten physical harm. One has to act on this even across borders at the European level.”
However, she did not blame internet for the phenomenon: “Violence against women did not start on the internet; it is just a new platform on which violence against women often becomes an ever bigger problem. The virtual world is an expression of a society in which there is a lot of violence against women. Women, especially those who are very active on the internet, may be threatened, stalked or harassed and this can go all the way to real physical violence.”
Her report proposes various measures for dealing with online abuse, such as the European Commission launching and supporting e-literacy and training programmes as as well as awareness campaigns and member states increasing funding for support lines for the victims of cyber-bullying. It also calls for ensuring that a framework is in place guaranteeing that law enforcement agencies are able to deal with digital crimes effectively, taking into account the challenges related to online anonymity and the potential transborder nature of such crimes and abuse. EU countries should also allocated the resources necessary to implement existing laws against cyber-violence, cyber-bullying, cyber-harassment, cyber-stalking and hate speech.
The adopted report will now be forwarded to the European Commission so that it can take it into consideration when drafting new legislation.