Culture of victim blaming in cyber space

Published : 19 Jun 2021 08:40 PM | Updated : 20 Jun 2021 12:10 PM

News of women being frequently victimised in cyberspace come as no surprise in our society where the way women dress is routinely cited as an incitement to rape. There are people (many of them are highly educated and many of them have prayer bump on their forehead!) in our society who try to justify rape blaming the victims for their clothes. All too often, rape victims are put to shame for the crime that happened to them.  

The recent incident regarding Pori Moni shows how thirsty we are to blame the victim. Of late Pori Moni posted a status from her Facebook page claiming that she was subjected to harassment, attempts of rape and murder. It is shocking to see that a huge number of people reacted ‘Ha Ha’ on her facebook post where she sought justice. In the comment section of the same post, netizens blamed her lifestyle, questioned her character and integrity. The culture of victim blaming is so deeply ingrained in our mindset that we regardless of gender blamed her and bullied her on social media. 

According to media sources, 80 percent of cybercrime victims in Bangladesh are women and such figure highlights the vulnerability of women in Bangladesh, no matter how they dress, what they do and where they go. Cybercrime is diverse, ever-evolving and it can take many forms. Women are often lured by hoax messages and faux identities and they fall prey to offenders not only in cyberspace but also in the real world. Cybercrimes that are commonly prevalent in the social media are cyber obscenity, pornography, cyber stalking, cyberbullying, cyber defamation, and privacy infringement. 

Reportedly, in the seven months since the Police Cyber Support for Woman (PCSW) wing of the Police Headquarters was launched, it received at least 15,000 complaints related to such cybercrimes. Experts are of the opinion that the main challenge in dealing with such cases and arresting the culprits is the delay in reporting to police. Many victims do not want to take help from the law enforcers fearing that their identities would be revealed.

Wiping out cybercrimes from the cyberspace is not an easy task indeed. But we can take steps to make people aware of their rights and duties reinforcing the application of laws to check cybercrimes. We need to sensitise people about the problem. It needs no emphasising that women are today and in the future going to be the main victims of cybercrime in Bangladesh. This is both threat and opportunity for those working to safeguard women in physical as well as cyberspace. 

Not only women but also children and adolescents fall prey to cyber crime so easily. Bangladesh has seen a dramatic increase in the amount of technology available to and used by children in the last decade. A widespread intervention of technology not only has changed the way our children used to behave, think and interact but also reshaped the entire system in which they live. Our youngsters today are part of a digital generation that has grown up in a world surrounded by technology and the internet. Needless to say, children are increasingly getting afflicted to the usage of internet and thus internet is occupying a key part of our children’s growing up while helping them develop an identity and connect with the virtual world.

Internet helps children to exploit a new communicative paradigm. But using it is not always safe for children and there has to be a guideline for children to make them able to utilise internet potentially for the betterment of their intellectual development. Reportedly, in Bangladesh, more than 32 per cent children who have access to internet face cyberbullying and online-harassment. Cyberbullying can cause profound harm as it can reach a wider audience and can remain accessible online indefinitely. However, we can reduce the chances of online violence and cyberbullying by ensuring strict implementation of the cyber security law. The government of Bangladesh formed Digital Security Agency for overseeing the overall cyber security for protection of children from being harassed and sexually abused, through appropriate utilisation of laws and updating them according to the need. Now what is needed is to build awareness about the impact of cyberbullying and online-harassment among the parents, teachers and children. Capacity building of teachers, parents and children, for identifying, preventing and responding cyberbullying and online-harassment has become more than necessity. Also, a guideline should be incorporated to teach not only students but also the parents on how to be responsible and safe towards their activities over the internet.

More than 80 million people in Bangladesh currently use internet. Considering the emerging number of online users, cyber security needs to be integrated in every aspect of policy and planning. The government should devise immediate measures to make the digital world safer for all.

We not only have gained huge success in the ICT sector over the last years but also experienced numerous instances of cybercrimes. We have experienced misuse of social media driven by propaganda and unauthentic information but  identifying the actual source of evil activities has still remained a challenge for Bangladesh. In this regard, mechanisms so far used for cybersecurity should be made more inclusive, and the question of rights and freedom in cyberspace needs to be duly addressed as well. Bangladesh should frame an appropriate and updated cybersecurity policy, create adequate infrastructure and foster closer collaboration between all those involved to ensure a safe cyberspace. Also, we need to deploy special cybersecurity watchdogs and equip them with advanced technology.

Though internet is perceived as a great equalizer for giving us equal access to information at the same time we can term it as a double-edged sword since numerous lives are  being destroyed regularly when the power of internet is abused. We need to promote a truly diverse and inclusive internet and  encourage people around the world to use the power of internet to make the world a more inclusive place. 

Sayeed Hossain Shuvro works as Editorial Assistant at Bangladesh Post.