Law enforcers downplay reports of online violence against women, report shows

In their report, the groups said cases of online violence against women are pervasive here and happen in many forms from private messaging to public platforms. — AFP pic
In their report, the groups said cases of online violence against women are pervasive here and happen in many forms from private messaging to public platforms. — AFP pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 13 — A recent report by local civil society groups to the United Nations (UN) revealed that law enforcers not only make light of online violence against women (VAW) as reported by victims, but also treat these incidents as “normal.”

The report explained that various laws already exist to deal with such cases, but law enforcers are often ignorant about them and fail to understand that online VAW can be as harmful as physical cases.

“Anecdotal cases have shown that where women did report instances of online VAW, their experiences are often trivialised and normalised. The failure of the police officer to recognise online threats and harassment as VAW or even as crimes under the domestic laws, affects women’s access to justice in a systematic way.

“Responses by police officers were either dismissive or condescending. Oftentimes the police would tell the victim that there is nothing they could do as it is a ‘private affair’ or that the victim should just delete his/her account,” read the joint submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on VAW.

The report was compiled by Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER), Bersih 2.0, Justice for Sisters, Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights, National Council of Women’s Organisations, Malaysia, and Women’s Aid Organisation.

The UN defines online VAW as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts.”

This includes sexual harassment, rape, violence and death threats, stalking, and even trolling, hacking and spamming.

In their report, the groups said online VAW cases are pervasive here, happen in many forms from private messaging to public platforms, and do not only affect women who are highly visible on the internet.

This issue is compounded by among others the view that whatever happens online is not as “real”, and therefore online VAW is often trivialised and deemed less harmless without any “real physical” impact, they said.

The groups said there are many agencies that ought to handle such cases: the Cyber Investigation Response Centre and the Sexual, Women and Child Investigation Division of the Royal Malaysian Police, the Communications and Multimedia Content Forum, and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation’s agency CyberSecurity.

Despite that, the report said victims of online VAW rarely report their cases to the authorities, and stories from those who have done so had instead discouraged women from doing the same.

In addition, the report suggested that women victims—whether transgender or otherwise—may even be subject to moral policing and judgement instead in such cases.

This is despite the existence of several laws handling VAW, including the Domestic Violence Act 1994 and the Penal Code, in addition to laws penalising information and communication technologies offences such as the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, Personal Data Protection Act 2010, and the Computer Crimes Act 1997.

“While having legislation in place that address online VAW is much required, it is important to note even in the presence of legislation, women’s access to justice is negated by the gender-based biases and discrimination on the part of duty bearers, the socio-economic status of women, and prevailing societal attitudes and stigmatisation of women’s voices, bodies and sexuality,” it said.

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