Marina Kaljurand



  1. Foreword: objectives of the paper
  2. International organisations and cyber VAW
  3. Research and expertise about cyber VAW
  4. Definitions of cyber VAW
  5. Targets/victims of cyber VAW
  6. Psychological aspects of cyber violence
  7. Policies dealing with cyber VAW
  8. General remarks about laws regulating cyber VAW
  9. National laws regulating cyber VAW
  10. Accountability of Internet intermediaries in the context of cyber VAW
  11. Role of NGOs, academia, civil society, including interventions in fight against cyber VAW
  12. Conclusions



The WB Group’s Women, Business and the Law (WBL) project measures differences in the law based on gender in 189 economies around the world.

WBL is intended to further country level or cross-country research efforts on linkage between legal differentiations and outcomes for women. This data is used to inform and influence policy-makers to identify gender-differentiated laws in their countries and particular areas where gender inequality may be especially pronounced, elaborate appropriate policies and propose/adopt appropriate laws.

Among the seven topics currently covered in the dataset is protecting women from violence.

WBL is working with UN Women and the OECD’s Social Institution and Gender Index (SIGI) to develop and test a new methodology for Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Indicator 5.1.1 – whether or not legal frameworks are in place to promote, enforce and monitor equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sex.

One of the five areas to be covered under SDG indicator 5.1.1 is violence against women.

While information and communication technology (ICT) has helped to open up women’s access to financial services and market opportunities it has also made women more vulnerable to online forms of abuse and violence[2].

As cyber VAW increases, governments are starting to pay more attention to the subject, including adopting legal frameworks and other measures such as awareness raising, education, training etc.

The objective of the paper is to describe the nature of cyber VAW, provide background information about the current thinking on cyber VAW, and outline the actions undertaken by international organizations as well as nationally in tackling cyber VAW. That entails looking at established guidelines, policies and legislation.  

The paper will aim to advise the future WBL Reports, also – to propose additional questions about cyber VAW to the WBL 2018 Report and WBL 2020 Report (Annex).

The paper addresses mainly VAW, but in some context also reflects on VAWG (violence against women and girls), as it is widely recognized that the victims of cyber violence are also children from an early age, especially girls and in many cases. Also in many cases the term VAW covers/includes VAWG.



Summary: Cyber VAW has been recognized recently as a new phenomenon and problem by the UN and other international organizations. Although UN could be considered a global leader in this field, there still exists lack of comprehensive guidance, recommendations, policies etc. Despite the emergence of political statements the question has not been elevated to the higher level in the agenda of UN and other international organizations, especially against the attention that has been recently paid to the „ICT revolution“, use of ICTs as an enabler of economic, political, social, cultural development and use of ICTs by women.

In 2003, the World Summit on the Information Society reinforced that the development of ICTs will provide opportunities for women’s full and equal participation in all spheres of life.[3]

In March 2013 the Commission on the Status of Women agreed conclusions on the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls, adopted at its 57th session (2013) and urged governments and relevant stakeholders to develop mechanisms to combat the use of ICT and social media to perpetrate violence against women and girls, including the criminal misuse of ICT for sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, child pornography and trafficking in women and girls, and emerging forms of violence such as cyber stalking, cyber bullying and privacy violations that compromise women’s and girls’ safety[4].

In 2013, the UN Working Group on Discrimination against women in law and practice, in its first thematic report, included specific reference to the internet as “a site of diverse forms of violence against women.” The Working Group expressed concern that for “women who engage in public debate through the Internet, the risk of harassment is experienced online, for example, an anonymous negative campaign calling for the gang rape of a woman human rights defender, with racist abuse posted in her Wikipedia profile.”

The Working Group further recommended that states support women’s equal participation in political and public life through ICTs, including by ensuring gender-responsiveness in the promotion and protection of human rights on the internet, and improving women’s access to the global governance of ICTs.[5]

At the end of 2013, the UN General Assembly adopted a consensus resolution on protecting women human rights defenders with language on tech-related human rights violations[6]. The resolution acknowledged that information-technology-related violations, abuses and violence against women, including women human rights defenders, such as online harassment, cyber stalking, violation of privacy, censorship and hacking of e-mail accounts, mobile phones and other electronic devices, with a view to discrediting them and/or inciting other violations and abuses against them, are a growing concern and a manifestation of systemic gender-based discrimination, requiring effective responses compliant with human rights.

More recently, the UN Special Rapporteur (UN SR) on VAW, in her report to the 29th session of the Human Rights Council (2015)[7] on her mission to UK, expressed concern about “women aged between 18 and 29 being at greatest risk of threatening and offensive advances on the Internet. „The special rapporteur referenced a recent study which found that “many women and girls had been exposed to harmful behaviors online, including humiliation, harassment, intimidation and ‘sexting’ as a form of bullying.” The Report also stated in paragraph 23 that “women aged between 18 and 29 are at greatest risk of threatening and offensive advances on the internet.”

In her report to the 32nd session of the Human Rights Council (2016)[8] UN SR on VAW set out the priorities of her intended action and outlined her vision on the exercise of the mandate entrusted to her. Online VAWG was mentioned among other priorities: SR proposed to look into online violence against women and adolescent girls as a new form of gender-based violence. „In the view of the SR, there is a need to examine this recent phenomenon, and the applicability of national laws to it, and to make recommendations for States and non-State actors to fight online violence against women and girls while respecting freedom of expression and the prohibition of incitement to violence and hatred, in accordance with article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights“.[9]

So far UN SR on VAW has not addressed in her annual reports specifically neither cyber VAW nor more generally use of ICTs by women. At the same time it has to be noted, that in the report the Human Rights Council in 2016 she expressed the intention to address cyber VAW during her mandate.

In July 2015, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) adopted the General recommendation 33 on women’s access to justice that highlights the important role of ICTs in transforming social and cultural stereotypes about women, as well as in ensuring effectiveness and efficiency of justice for all women. [10]

UN Women contributed to CSTD’s (UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development) 10-year review of WSIS (World Summit on the Information Society) outcomes by discussing the recognized potential of ICT for women. UIN Women made a strong statement on the SDGs and recognizes online VAW as a phenomenon that has to be addressed and studied: „Better connect and heighten understanding of online and offline realities and surface underlying factors that hinder women’s engagement in the information society. This also includes linking rights offline with enjoyment of rights online and ensuring that harmful practices online – such as violence against women – are prevented or addressed“.[11]

UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development published in 2015 a very detailed Report „Cyber Violence against Women and Girls: A World-wide Wake-up Call. The Report argues that digital „platforms“ for violence, if unchecked, could run the risk of producing a 21st century global pandemic with significant negative consequences for all societies in general and irreparable damage for girls and women in particular and provides statistical data about online VAWG.[12]

Some findings from the UN Broadband Commission Report:

  • 30% of all Internet traffic constitutes porn. 88,2% of top rated porn scenes contain aggressive acts and 94% of the time the act is directed towards a women
  • 85% of women say that Internet provides them with more freedom; 73% of women have experienced online abuse
  • Women are 27 times more likely to be abused online than men
  • Women between 18-24 are at heightened risk of cyber VAW; they are “uniquely likely to experience stalking and sexual harassment, while also not escaping the high rates of other types of harassment common to young people in general”, like physical threats
  • In the European Union 9 million women (18%) have experienced a serious form of cyber VAWG since the age of 15.

OECD lists „Innovation“ and „Internet“ among priority topics, but they are addressed only from economic, scientific, technological, educational etc. perspective, not from gender perspective and not from online violence perspective. OECD’s Social Institution and Gender Index addresses cross-country measure of discrimination against women in social institutions (formal and informal laws, social norms, and practices) across 160 countries and includes and covers five dimensions of discriminatory social institutions, spanning major socio-economic areas that affect women’s lives: discriminatory family code, restricted physical integrity, son bias, restricted resources and assets, and restricted civil liberties. Violence against women is addressed under „restricted physical integrity“, but it does not explicitly include online VAW.[13]

ITU and UN Women have started conferring GEM awards for “outstanding contributions from women and men in leveraging the potential of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to promote gender equality.” [14] The initiative has been very successful and might inspire/lead to recognition of persons, companies, and organizations etc. who dedicate themselves to the fight against. It will serve several purposes, including raising awareness about cyber VAW and emphasizing the importance of dealing with new challenges, like cyber VAW, that accompany wider use of ICTs.


  1. RESEARCH AND EXPERTISE ABOUT CYBER VAW: Association of Progressive Communication (APC); European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE)

Summary: In recent years a number of detailed and wide scope researches of cyber VAW have been conducted and made available by NGOs, academia and experts. The aim of the paper is not to give an exhaustive list of all researches done on the cyber VAW, but to refer to the studies and publications that were most frequently quoted and referred to in the sources of the paper – the ones conducted by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) in 2015-2015 and to a very recent the study by European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) that was published in 2017. Outcomes of the researches conducted by both institutions are very similar, although the studies conducted by and for APC are more thorough and specific.  


APC is a network and an organization. APC’s mission is to empower and support organizations, social movements and individuals in and through the use of information and communication technologies to build strategic communities and initiatives for the purpose of making meaningful contributions to equitable human development, social justice, participatory political processes and environmental sustainability. [15]


One of the researches often quoted by experts is the Research by the APC “Cases on women’s experiences of technology-related VAW and their access justice” that was carried out in 2012-2014 and reveals many examples of online VAW.[16]


Take Back The Tech, a campaign launched by APC in 2006 has an online map that includes data about cyber VAW, stories of survivors, pictures, instructions how to report online VAW etc.[17] Take Back The Tech calls on all users of information and communication technologies – especially women and girls – to take control of technology and strategically use any ICT platform at hand (mobile phones, instant messengers, blogs, websites, digital cameras, email, podcasts and more) for activism against gender-based violence. The campaign has been active since the launch and celebrated 10th anniversary in 2016. Campaigners have successfully encouraged governments to pay more attention to technology-related violence against women, trained law enforcement and other professionals on how to support victims/survivors and, perhaps most important, taught women and girls skills like digital storytelling and secure mobile phone use.


APC mapping platform reported 470 technology-related violations, the majority related to repeated harassment (100), threats of violence and blackmail (58), abusive comments (43). APC mapping platform is an Ushahidi platform[18] that is building evidence on the nature and extent of technology-related forms of VAW by documenting, reporting, monitoring and analyzing cases.

The platform is part of APC project End Violence: Women’s rights and safety online and is supported by the Dutch MFA Funding Leadership and Opportunities for Women (FLOW). The project was implemented in seven countries: Bosnia HerzegovinaOne Worldsee, ColombiaColnodo, Democratic Republic of CongoSi Jeunesse Savait, KenyaKICTAnet and the International Association of Women in Radio and TV), Mexico, PakistanBytes for All, PhilippinesFoundation for Media Alternatives

The case summaries are based on in-depth case studies mapping women’s experiences of technology-related VAW and their attempts to access justice either through domestic legal remedy or corporate grievance mechanisms. The original case studies were documented as part of the APC seven-country research initiative, “From impunity to justice: Exploring corporate and legal remedies for technology-related violence against women”, conducted in the mentioned 7 countries. The project explored the adequacy and effectiveness of domestic legal remedies and corporate policies/redress mechanisms to address the issue of technology-related violence against women.


Some outcomes of the APC research:

  • A reliable and effective system of reporting and evidence collection in 7 countries that strengthens leadership of women to address technology related VAW.
  • Remedies and policies that address technology related VAW are developed through research and advocacy by women leaders and women’s rights organizations.
  • Women leaders are effectively engaging private sector (social networking providers, webhosting companies and mobile phone companies), in partnership with other expert NGOs to develop company user policies that protect the safety and security of women and girls.
  • Women and girls are leading campaigns to mobilize users to create an online culture that does not tolerate online behavior that is harmful and violent to women and girls.
  • Institutional capacity of women’s rights organizations to address technology related VAW is strengthened in a sustainable way.

5 top findings of the APC research:


  1. 41% of perpetrators are known to the survivors/victims
  2. 60% of cases are not investigated by authorities
  3. Action was taken by the Internet service provider in less than 1/3 of reported cases
  4. Legislation need to focus on redress and remedies over criminalization
  5. Social media are lacking transparency over reporting and redress processes.[19]


European Institute of Gender Equality (EIGE)[20] underlines that the increasing reach of the Internet, the rapid spread of mobile information, and the widespread use of social media, coupled with the existing pandemic of violence against women and girls (VAWG), has led to the emergence of cyber VAWG as a growing global problem with potentially significant economic and societal consequences. EIGE conducted recently a desk research that aimed to identify and analyze the existing research on different forms of cyber VAWG and assess the availability of survey and administrative data on the phenomenon. The research concluded that data on cyber VAWG in the EU is scare and consequently very little is known about the actual percentage of victims of cyber VAWG and the prevalence of harm. The best information available at EU level comes from the European Agency for Fundamental Rights’ (FRA) European Survey on Violence against Women of 2014, which included questions on cyber stalking and cyber harassment. However, as this survey was the first to collect data on these forms of cyber VAWG across the EU, there is no means by which to trace the evolution of the phenomena and trends in victim numbers over time. Apart from one (2008 Danish) survey, it was not possible to identify any nationally representative surveys at Member State level on the prevalence of cyber VAWG. EIGE research also indicated the need for additional research in the following areas:

  • Use of online adverts or postings to lure women into potentially harmful situations (recruitment)
  • Assessment of the severity of harm experienced by victims of forms of cyber VAWG, and the impact on their lives
  • Good practices in police and justice responses to cyber VAWG, including from a victim’s perspective
  • Identification and analysis of risk factors and risk assessment procedures, to prevent harm and re-victimization.



Summary: Cyber VAW is a new phenomenon and today there is no exhaustive list of definitions of cyber VAW. Different bodies have different definitions and categorizations. New types of cyber VAW are still emerging and therefore have to be added constantly to the existing definitions/categorizations. There is a general understanding that cyber VAW are a new form of VAW and should be addressed accordingly. On one hand it is important to define as clearly as possible what constitutes cyber VAW and on the other hand there has to be enough room to take into account new possible violations that emerge with the development and wider use of ICTs.  

According to the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Technology-related VAW – technology-related forms of VAW encompasses acts of gender-biased violence that are committed, abetted or aggravated, in part or fully, by the use of ICTs, such as phones, the Internet, social media platforms, and email.

Different organizations/reports/researches have different classifications, categorizations and definitions of cyber VAWG. There are even some disagreements on definitions, e.g. revenge porn, which will be discussed later.

All experts agree that it is very important to have definitions of cyber VAW. It raises awareness about the topic, improves understanding of the topic and helps to clarify what constitutes cyber VAW. Experts also agree that the lists of definitions are not exhaustive, as new forms of cyber VAW are still emerging.

Three different categorizations are listed below as an example: one compiled by VAW learning network (Violence against Women Learning Network at the Centre for Research and Education on Violence against Women and Children at the University of Western Ontario) [21] , second compiled by the APC Women’s Rights Program[22] and the third by the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) [23].


VAW learning network identifies six broad categories of cyber VAWG:


  • Hacking: the use of technology to gain illegal or unauthorized access to systems or resources for the purpose of acquiring personal information, altering or modifying information, or slandering and denigrating the victim and/or VAWG organizations, e.g., violation of passwords and controlling computer functions, such as freezing the computer or logging off the user.


  • Impersonation: the use of technology to assume the identity of the victim or someone else in order to access private information, embarrass or shame the victim, contact the victim, or create fraudulent identity documents; e.g. sending offensive emails from victim’s email account; calling victim from unknown number to avoid call being blocked.


  • Surveillance/Tracking: the use of technology to stalk and monitor a victim’s activities and behaviors either in real-time or historically; e.g. GPS tracking via mobile phone; tracking keystrokes to recreate victim/survivor’s activities on computer.


  • Harassment/Spamming: the use of technology to continuously contact, annoy, threaten, and/or scare the victim. This is ongoing behavior and not one isolated incident; e.g., persistent mobile calls/texts; filling up voicemail with messages so no one else can leave a message.


  • Recruitment: use of technology to lure potential victims into violent situations; e.g., fraudulent postings and advertisements (dating sites; employment opportunities); traffickers using chat rooms, message boards, and websites to communicate/advertise.


  • Malicious Distribution: use of technology to manipulate and distribute defamatory and illegal materials related to the victim and/or VAWG organizations; e.g., threatening to or leaking intimate photos/video; using technology as a propaganda tool to promote violence against women. E.g. ‘revenge porn’ – an individual posting of either intimate photographs or intimate videos of another individual online with the aim of publicly shaming and humiliating that person, and even inflicting real damage on the target’s ‘real-world’ life (such as getting them fired from their job). This is also referred to as non-consensual pornography.


The APC challenges the term “revenge porn” as misleading, because what it describes is an act of violence, and should not be conflated with pornographic content. It refers to the motivation of wanting to get back (usually at a woman) or to take revenge for rejecting a marriage proposal, spurning advances, or ending a relationship, for being seen as “loose” or amoral, being seen with someone else or someone outside of the caste or religious community, etc. – outside the male’s control. In many ways these reasons are similar to those for which women are targeted for acid attacks in countries such as India and Pakistan.


A study conducted by the APC Women’s Rights Program identified the following technology-related forms of violence:


  • Taking and/or uploading and distributing intimate photos and/or videos without consent: the woman agreed that the photographs be taken for personal consumption, but did not consent to sharing the photographs; the girl/woman was unaware she was being videotaped during a sexual act, then the video was uploaded and distributed online.


  • Altering photos/videos and uploading in pornography sites: a photo of the woman’s face was attached to the naked body of another woman and later uploaded to pornography sites, then tagged with the woman’s profession and city.


  • Harassment: women receiving insulting text messages (sexting); receiving comments and messages online using sexualised insults.


  • Stalking: activities monitored online.


  • Blackmail/threats: a girl receiving messages asking her to have sex or her family will be harmed; a woman threatened that her intimate photos will be made public unless she goes back to having a relationship with the perpetrator.


  • Accessing and/or dissemination of private data: email account hacked; accessing a woman’s social network account and messaging her contact list without her knowledge; leaking private documents and information to the public.


  • Creation of fake profile/identity theft: profile containing the name and picture of the woman but with derogatory descriptions such as “stripper”, “Durex tester” and “professional whore”.


  • Hate speech: calling for women to be murdered, raped, etc.


  • Child pornography: children forced to pose naked and perform sexual acts using video-chat.


  • Rape/sexual violence: woman forced to have sex.


IGF[24] compiled the following non-exhaustive list of online conduct and/or behaviour that potentially constitute abusive behaviour has been identified as practices that are seen as constituting forms of online VAWG. Note that while conduct has been divided into categories for ease of reference, these categories are by no means mutually exclusive:

Infringement of privacy

  • accessing, using, manipulating and/or disseminating private data without consent (by hacking into your account, stealing your password, using your identity, using your computer to access your accounts while it is logged in, etc.)
  • taking, accessing, using, manipulating, and/or disseminating photographs and/or videos without consent (including revenge pornography)
  • sharing and/or disseminating private information and/or content, including (sexualised) images, audio clips and/or video clips, without knowledge or consent
  • doxing (researching and broadcasting personally identifiable information about an individual without consent, sometimes with the intention of providing access to the woman in the ‘real’ world for harassment and/or other purposes)
  • contacting and/or harassing a user’s children to gain access to her

Surveillance and monitoring

  • monitoring, tracking and/or surveillance of online and offline activities
  • using spyware without a user’s consent
  • using GPS or other geolocator software to track a woman’s movements without consent
  • stalking

Damaging reputation and/or credibility

  • deleting, sending and/or manipulating emails and/or content without consent
  • creating and sharing false personal data (like online accounts, advertisements, or social media accounts) with the intention of damaging (a) user’s reputation
  • manipulating and/or creating fake photographs and/or videos
  • identity theft (e.g. pretending to be the person who created an image and posting or sharing it publicly)
  • disseminating private (and/or culturally sensitive/ controversial) information for the purpose of damaging someone’s reputation
  • making offensive, disparaging and/or false online comments and/or postings that are intended to tarnish a person’s reputation (including libel/ defamation)

Harassment (which may be accompanied by offline harassment)

  • “cyber bullying” and/or repeated harassment through unwanted messages, attention and/or contact
  • direct threats of violence, including threats of sexual and/or physical violence (e.g. threats like ‘I am going to rape you’)
  • abusive comments
  • inappropriate jokes that serve to demean women
  • verbal online abuse
  • unsolicited sending and/or receiving of sexually explicit materials
  • incitement to physical violence
  • hate speech, social media posts and/or mail; often targeted at gender and/or sexuality
  • online content that portray women as sexual objects
  • use of sexist and/or gendered comments or name-calling (e.g. use of terms like “bitch”/”slut”)
  • use of indecent or violent images to demean women
  • exposing women to unwanted imagery that may impact them negatively
  • abusing and/or shaming a woman for expressing views that are not normative, for disagreeing with people (often men) and also for refusing sexual advances
  • counselling suicide or advocating femicide
  • mobbing, including the selection of a target for bullying/ mobbing by a group of people rather than an individual and as a practice specifically facilitated by technology

Direct threats and/or violence

  • trafficking of women through the use of technology, including use of technology for victim selection and preparation (planned sexual assault and/or femicide)
  • sexualised blackmail and/or extortion
  • theft of identity, money and/or property
  • impersonation resulting in physical attack
  • grooming

Targeted attacks to communities

  • hacking websites, social media and/or email accounts of organisations and communities
  • surveillance and monitoring of activities by members in the community
  • direct threats of violence to community members
  • mobbing, including the selection of a target for bullying/ mobbing by a group of people rather than an individual and as a practice specifically facilitated by technology
  • disclosure of anonymised information like address of shelters, etc.

Limiting women’s access and/or use of technology

  • limiting women’s access to the Internet and/or online services that men are allowed to use

Theft or abuse of intellectual property

  • stealing, manipulating and or abusing a women’s intellectual property online, including ideas and/or content.

Some experts also suggest additional form of cyber VAW – counseling suicide – convincing target to end her life. Many experts underline that the Internet also facilitates other forms of violence against girls and women including trafficking and sex trade.



Summary: Cyber VAW is a global problem that can affect women from different social, economic, educational, geographical backgrounds. It could affect women from developed countries who have access to the Internet and use it professionally, socially or privately. It could also affect women from developing world where mobile services are affordable and widely used.

Because of the nature of cyber VAW the victims and potential victims of cyber VAW come from countries that have accessible Internet and use ICTs either professionally, socially or privately. In other words – women who have access to the Internet and who are encouraged to use ICTs are more vulnerable to cyber VAW than women who do not have access to ICTs. At the same the situation is changing as more and more countries recognize the benefits of the ICT for economic development. They encourage the use of ICTs at work, promote working from the distance using ICTs, create favorable conditions for women to have access to the Internet, etc. If in the developed countries we see wide use of personal computers, then in developing world the mobile phones are more affordable to women and are used more widely. This means that cyber VAW is not only a problem for developed countries but on the contrary – it has become a global problem and affects more and more women from developing world.

The APC’s analysis of findings from over a thousand cases reported on the Take Back the Tech! Online map revealed that the 3 general categories of women who experience tech-related VAW were:

  1. Women in an intimate relationship whose partner had become abusive;
  2. Survivors of physical assault – often from intimate partner abuse or rape;
  3. Professionals with a public profile involved in public communication (e.g. writers, researchers, activists and artists).

According to Jan Moolman women bloggers, journalists and leaders are regularly subjected to online abuse and violent threats that attack their sexuality and right to express an opinion, especially when it is related to fields where men have traditionally been held as experts, such as gaming, politics and technology.[25]

A study of online violence in India concludes that compared to men, women who are active on social media and in the blogosphere receive more threats or comments that directly attack their gender, their safety, and their very right to express opinion in male-dominated spaces.[26]

They use social media to keep supporters up to date with what they are doing. Once personal data is/are in the public sphere, it is impossible to control who sees them. Personal data, including address could be used for incitement to VAW, threatening e-mails and letters etc. Some women activists have increased security measures of their homes and office, moved to other places, restricted information about their organizations in public domain.

News Agency Inter Press Services reported about a conference “Women, Democracy and Technology for Social Change” that emphasized women’s leading role in social change, based on the use of information and communication technologies. They drew attention to the fact that when women bloggers manage to get their voices heard, that is when they start receiving the most pressure, threats and smear campaigns because when power feels it is under attack, it reacts against the voices that provoke debate.[27]

The US Presidential elections of 2017 showed that the presidential candidate Clinton received abusive tweets at a rate almost twice that of Sanders. Of 4.27m tweets mentioning Clinton, 2.08% were found to be abusive, compared to 1.12% of 3m tweets mentioning Sanders. Three-quarters of the abuse of either candidate was by men. Abuse of Clinton ramped up in recent weeks as her selection as the Democratic presidential candidate became more of a certainty.[28]

When UN Women’s Ambassador Emma Watson launched the “He for She” campaign and spoke up for feminism, gender equality and challenging gender norms — both masculine and feminine — she was met by online attacks and harassment. This included threats to leak nude photographs of her in an attempt to humiliate her. Though a hoax, the threat still exists and acts like these can serve as silencing mechanisms for young women around the world. In contrast to this type of attitude and behavior, the “He for She” campaign has shown the commitment of hundreds of thousands of men to speak out against such misogyny.[29]

Ashley Judd addressed the topic of online VAW in a TEDTalk[30] delivered at the TedWomen conference in October 2016. More than 1,3 million people have viewed the Talk as of May 2017. Judd refused to sugarcoat the nature of the abuse and its consequences. “It started the minute I went online.” Ashley Judd has been on Twitter for six years, and for six years she has endured unrelenting abuse at the hands—the typing fingers, to be specific—of misogynists. It began with those who tried to undermine her voice when she was promoting her 2012 memoir, All That Is Bitter and Sweet. It continued when she considered a run for the U.S. Senate in 2013. But it wasn’t until a cyber-mob unleashed a torrent of vitriol, in response to a tweet from the sidelines of a 2015 Kentucky Wildcats basketball game, that she decided to dedicate herself to ending online gender violence.[31]

Rafia Shaikh argues that out of 4,000 cases of cyber stalking reported since 2000, 70% of the victims are women users. Women increasingly face sexual and violent threats on all of these sites. „Gamergate“, where gamers around the world sent rape threats to a female game developer, is just one recent example. While the Gamergate community wants to bar any major female involvement in gaming (except having sexualized female figures in every other gaming title), the regular violence and sexual harassment on social networking sites is not necessarily targeted to just gamers or only vocal women. Indeed, women who are more vocal, share political or social opinions, are accomplished in their respective fields attract more harassment.[32]

Cyber violence has also been a topic of interest in the field of psychology. Experts have researched correlations between gender, age, race, demography in the context of cyber violence. According to K. Jaishankar[33] the majority of cyber stalkers are men and the majority of victims are women; however there have been several highly publicized cases of female stalking men and same- sex stalking. Unlike male stalkers, female stalkers are more inclined to stalk and harass ex-partners and are less likely to stalk strangers. Female stalkers are also likely to target other females in the hope of establishing an intimate relationship with the victim. Female stalkers are very similar to male stalkers in regard to demographic profiles and psychiatric status; however, male stalkers are more likely to have a history of criminal offence or substance abuse. Nearly four out of five victims are female, and female individuals are eight times likely to be the stalking victims of ex-partners or acquaintances.

Another question that haunts researchers is, “Why are women the targeted majority in the SNWs[34]?” Among several factors that push women to become victims on SNWs, the ignorance of the policy guidelines and safety measures stands out first and foremost. A small study was conducted in 2007 with a small sample size of 20 on the awareness of female members of Orkut, a popular social networking website. It was found that most respondents never read the policy guidelines before registering with the SNWs; many checked available safety tips only after they were victimized themselves or after hearing of friends’ experiences. Another factor was scheming ways to hide perpetrator’s real identity under camouflaged profiles that put women members of SNWs at increased risk.[35] The study is far from being representative and conclusive but gives some idea additional food for thought why women are more often victims/targets of online violence.



Summary: Cyber-bullying is a pervasive behavior which has come to the attention of psychologists over the last decade. As a growing field, cyber-bullying research has explored various aspects of the behavior, with the focus of the psychology and gender of the individuals involved. Gender plays a great role in predicting cyber-victimization- boys tend to bully in physical ways while girls use emotional tactics. Cyber-bullying is also frequently associated with psychological distress. Cyber bully/victims, the most common participant role, endorsed more psychological symptoms, more psychopathic traits, and were high sensation seekers, compared to the rest of the groups, whereas cyber-victims scored higher on empathy. Cyber victims tend to have increased rates of depression, anxiety and insomnia, whereas cyber bullies are more likely to have problems with outward aggression, hyperactivity and substance use. Although there is not much psychological research conducted specifically about cyber-bulling as a form of cyber VAW, the cyber-bullying researches give a general picture about the bullies/victims e.g. online bullying versus offline bullying.


Cyber-bullying is a pervasive behavior which has come to the attention of psychologists over the last decade. As a growing field, cyber-bullying research has explored various aspects of the behavior, with the focus of the psychology and gender of the individuals involved. Although there is not much psychological research conducted specifically about cyber-bulling as a form of cyber VAW, the cyber-bullying researches give a general picture about the bullies/victims e.g. online bullying versus offline bullying.


Cyber-bullying is frequently associated with psychological distress. A study was conducted to investigate the psychological profile of 430 Greek university students who reported cyber-bullying/victimization experiences. Participants completed a self-report questionnaire, measuring cyber-bullying, cyber-victimization, Internet frequency and use, personality characteristics, and psychological symptoms. Results indicated that 58.4% of the sample had participated in a cyber-bullying incident assuming any role. Cyber bully/victims, the most common participant role, endorsed more psychological symptoms, more psychopathic traits, and were high sensation seekers, compared to the rest of the groups, whereas cyber-victims scored higher on empathy. Cyber-bullying was predicted by callous/unemotional and impulsive/irresponsible traits, depression, Internet use, as well as lack of social skills. The latter four variables also predicted cyber-victimization along with gender.[36]


Personality traits can be important predictors of computer-mediated behavior. A study was conducted among college students (N = 227) and the main focus was to examine the relationships between the Dark Triad personality traits[37] and self-reported cyber-bullying behaviors. College students (N = 227) completed a questionnaire and reported on their trait Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism, and the degree to which they cyber-bullied (i.e., both visual and text based bullying) others in the past year. Correlations revealed that all three Dark Triad traits were related positively with cyber-bullying. However, multiple regression analysis revealed that of the three Dark Triad traits, psychopathy emerged as the unique predictor of cyber-bullying. These findings reinforce extant research suggesting that personality traits are important predictors of computer-mediated behavior.[38]


Dr Elias Aboujaoude concluded in 2015 that cyber victims tend to have increased rates of depression, anxiety and insomnia, whereas cyber bullies are more likely to have problems with outward aggression, hyperactivity and substance use. A major concern is the increased risk of suicide, considered stronger than in traditional bullying. Bully-victims—individuals who are attacked and transition to become cyber bullies or vice versa—seem to have more accompanying symptoms and more behavioral problems than those who are only victims or only bullies.[39]


As it was shown in the study conducted by Kokkinos, Antoniadou & Markos (2014), gender plays a great role in predicting cyber-victimization[40]. Most studies regarding gender differences in cyber-bullying are researched among college and high school students. Conclusions have been distinct. On one side researchers have concluded that compared to female students, male students were more likely to be bullies and victims in both physical and cyber-environments. Like for an example a study examined the relationships between cyber and traditional bullying experiences regarding gender differences. Also, the contributions of frequent and risky usage of internet to cyber-bullying experiences were examined. The participants were 276 adolescents (123 females, 151 males and 2 unknown) ranging in age from 14 to 18 years. The results revealed that 32 percent of the students were victims of both cyber and traditional bullying, while 26 percent of the students bullied others in both cyber and physical environments. The multivariate statistical analysis indicated that cyber and traditional bullying were related for male students but not for female students. Moreover, the multiple regression analysis revealed that both frequent and risky usage of internet account for a significant variance of cyber-bullying but their contributions differ based on genders[41].

On the other side according to girls are almost twice as likely as boys to be both victims and perpetrators of cyber bullying. There are many reasons behind this, most of them due to the innate differences between boys and girls. Girl bullying often differs from that of boys because girls in general have different ways of interacting with one another. Boys tend to be more aggressive than girls and are often more involved in physical bullying. In general, boys tend to bully in physical ways while girls use emotional tactics. Girls tend to be sneakier and more covert in their bullying tactics, which may be why hiding behind a computer screen or a cell phone seems so appealing[42].

A research conducted in the southeastern university in US produced several important findings in regard to the occurrence of cyber bullying. The results indicated that females were more likely than males to post gossip online about others to hurt them. This finding confirms previous literature that asserted females participate in bullying that involves emotional and psychological abuse, which involves gossiping and spreading of information (whether true or untrue)[43] . Females prefer participating in behavior that is not physically confrontational, and by hiding behind the protection of a computer, they can be more brazen with their behavior[44].

The previous can also be supported by the fact that female cyber-bully victims are more likely to inform adults than their male counterparts. A survey study of 264 students from three junior high schools was conducted. The results show that close to half of the students were bully victims and about one in four had been cyber-bullied. Over half of the students reported that they knew someone being cyber-bullied. Almost half of the cyber-bullies used electronic means to harass others more than three times. The majority of the cyber-bully victims and bystanders did not report the incidents to adults. When gender was considered, significant differences were identified in terms of informing adults concerning cyber-bully victims[45].

Another form of cyber-bullying is the combination of traditional bullying and cyber-bullying. The individuals experiencing this combination become global victims. In the case of those who are victimized in multiple ways and environments, there is a higher probability of an outbreak of extreme stress[46]. Campfield characterizes these victims’ cases as a double whammy and her research confirms the presence of a whole range of problems caused by double bullying: social problems, behavior problems, perception of negative evaluation by peers, low self-esteem, and loneliness.[47]



Summary: Despite evidence showing an increase in violations involving technology, there is very little corresponding recognition of technology-related forms of VAW by states, international organisations, intergovernmental institutions and other actors responsible for ending VAW exists. Experts recommend that the UN and its bodies should take the leading role in addressing cyber VAW, including awareness raising, adopting policies and recommendations, advising states etc. Cooperation with private sector, including social media platforms, academia and civil society is of utmost importance. Policies and strategies aiming at tackling cyber VAW should be inclusive and comprehensive, include awareness raising, preventive measures, law enforcement, training of officials etc. Experts suggest that changing social norms/norms of behavior is of utmost importance in order to change harmful beliefs and behavior.  

Although it is generally recognized that in recent years cyber VAW has become an increasing problem and cyber VAW has been addressed more seriously on international and domestic level, there is also certain criticism how the problem is dealt with. Experts suggest that cyber VAW is not taken seriously enough by international and national institution, there is not much research conducted in the field, there is not enough awareness and information about cyber VAW.


Consequently, it is not prioritized in prevention and response strategies, budgeting and evidence-based policy making, and women who experience these violations have little or no redress[48].

One of the difficulties in tackling online VAW is to explain that online VAW is as serious as VAW generally and should be approached that way. For example, Internet Governance Forum suggests that when speaking of VAW online, one is likely to be told that this is not real VAW, not like the other issues being discussed under that topic at the UN. Part of the solution in dealing with the problem is getting people to recognize that the continuum of VAW includes both offline and online actions, and that online VAW results in real, persistent harm. Changing that viewpoint is important and necessary as part of finding mitigations and solutions for the problem.

It is also argued that since these offences use technological means, often the incidents are not taken seriously. This is most often the case in countries where there is a culture of impunity and lack of accountability, and where cases of rape and sexual assault are infrequently reported and prosecuted. In these circumstances, incidents of technology-related VAW are doubly trivialized, with factors such as class, caste, ethnicity and race playing a role.[49]


Experts recommend that the UN and its bodies should take the lead in defining, drafting and introducing policy recommendations that then will be followed by states and incorporated in national policies, strategies and laws.

UN Broadband Commission also suggests that the UN system – and importantly the ITU and UN Women as respective leads on ICT regulations and cyber VAW – is in a unique position to bring industry together with governments to bring about much needed clarity and provide the necessary incentives, resources and political will to champion and address cyber VAWG.


An important policy step is the UN Commission on the Status of Women that in 2013 committed states to „support the development and use of ICT and social media as a resource for the empowerment of women and girls, including access to information on the prevention of and response to the VAW and girls; and develop mechanisms to combat the use of ICT and social media to perpetrate VAW and girls, including the criminal misuse of ICT for sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, child pornography and trafficking in women and girls, and emerging forms of violence such as cyber stalking, cyber bullying and privacy violations that compromise women’s and girls’ safety.”[50]


Majority of experts underline the importance of holistic and comprehensive approach to the fight against cyber VAW that engages all stakeholders: governments, private sector, academia, civil society and addresses all policies that have even the slightest connection to cyber VAW: education, human rights, law enforcement etc.

UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women in Law and Public Life states that effective responding to and preventing technology-related forms of VAW require multiple strategies and actions by different actors, including strengthening the capacity of women’ rights organizations, activists and users to use technology safely and contribute towards building evidence and understanding of this emerging form of violence; calling on states and non-state actors to recognize and address technology-related forms of VAW and be accountable for developing, supporting and encouraging online environments and prevention and service responses that foreground women’s rights and realities, including effective and responsive complaints mechanisms, laws and policies; raising awareness amongst all users about the issue of VAW.[51]

Along the same lines other experts suggest that strategies, laws and policies must demand a concerted effort that includes education, awareness raising, sensitization and community mobilization. They must also contribute to tackling discriminatory stereotypes and attitudes, and they must mandate the research and knowledge-building necessary to support policy development.


It is widely recognized that in order to effectively combat cyber VAWG, personnel and officials working in the field must have the skills, capacity and sensitivity to apply the spirit and letter of the law in a fully comprehensive manner. This requires that inter alia appropriate resources be devoted towards equipment and technological education of personnel employed in public institutions, such as schools and police forces. Individuals, teachers, parents, police, prosecutors and judges need to educate themselves about the technology, the behavior and the harm inflicted. Police forces should be trained, properly resourced and given the necessary powers to reach out to victims to ensure all forms of VAWG in varied settings are recognized, recorded and acted on expeditiously.


UN Broadband Commission advocates for multi-level approach in tackling cyber VAWG, because most policy and practice fall into one of three categories of action[52]:


  • Preventive measures through public sensitization and consciousness-raising.

It means preventing VAWG through change in societal attitudes and norms: through changing norms, training, learning, campaigning, and community development; integrating cyber VAWG into all criminal and cyber-security trainings.

Experts have agreed that there is no one single factor to account for violence against women. Several complex and interconnected institutional, social and cultural factors have kept women particular vulnerable to the violence directed at them.

OECD experts suggest that in order to tackle harmful social norms, interventions need to create new shared beliefs within an individual’s reference group, which in turn change expectations around behaviour. Whilst not all forms of violent behaviour are held in place by specific social expectations about the behaviours themselves, all forms of VAWG are sustained by gender norms that embody gender inequality and unequal power relations. VAWG interventions that aim to transform these gender norms and inequalities have proven more effective at reducing violence than those that only address individual attitudes and behaviours without tackling harmful gender norms (such as harmful notions of masculinity) which perpetuate VAWG. Although social norms are different from individual attitudes, factual beliefs and behaviours, they can be diagnosed, measured and evaluated by amending existing research strategies and methodologies, such as qualitative focus groups and quantitative surveys. Therefore it could be concluded that emerging evidence and insights from practitioners suggests that in order to shift harmful social norms programs need to: a) shift social expectations not just individual attitudes, b) publicize the change and c) catalyze and reinforce new norms and behaviors.[53]

In this context it is useful to recall that Article 5 of the CEDAW[54] declares that States have an obligation to “take all appropriate measures to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women”. This language is critically important, and its operationalization truly impactful in terms of changing behaviors.


  • Promotion of safeguards for safety and equality on the Internet for women and girls.


Over the years, traditional VAW safety measures have evolved to include women’s shelters, crisis centers, helplines and education. In light of the new challenges in the dynamic ICT environment, the digital world also requires safety measures, and in order to keep up with a rapidly changing Internet, this will necessarily require resources, attention and active participation of industry, civil society and governments. Oversight and monitoring to minimize risks for women and girls are of crucial importance. They should include inter alia industry’s obligation to maintain responsible Internet infrastructure and customer care practices, to promote due diligence and duty to report abuse.


  • Putting in place and enforcement of sanctions, starting from developing and adapting laws, regulations, governance mechanisms and finishing with implementation and application of the same laws and regulations.


Each one of these pillars supports the others, and will need consistent, collaborative action at multiple levels.


UN Broadband Commission also emphasizes that no matter the platform employed, growing cyber-crime calls for an explicit incorporation of the relevant and human rights conventions and constitutional laws into Internet governance.


Regrettably another Report by UN Broadband Commission – Policy suggestions by Broadband Commission Working Group on the Digital Gender Divide[55] (established in March 2016) include very little information about cyber VAW and recommendations how to tackle it.

Part 2 of the report sets out the Working Group’s recommendations for action to address the gender gap in Internet access and use. One of the areas addressed in this Part includes measures to address the barriers faced by women, that has a following recommendation for addressing threats that prevent access and use: researching and understanding threats; increasing awareness of threats and how they can be addressed or reduced; developing safety applications and services; and strengthening protection measures and reporting procedures. The recommendation further analyzes affordability of the Internet, reducing the cost of devices and services, improving network coverage and quality. Cyber VAW is not included into this or any other recommendations of the Report.[56]

All experts stress the importance of awareness raising among girls and women about the cyber VAW and potential risks related to the use of ICTs. In some cases the very simple steps of cyber hygiene can prevent from becoming target/victim of online VAW. For example, in response to stories about women vulnerabilities and risks when communicating online, BC Rural Women’s (Canadian Women’s Health Network) sponsored Online Safety Toolkit that gives advice about essential safety, website safety, chat safety, privacy rights etc.[57]

Next to global effort, regional efforts are also very important. For example, EIGE recommends that the EU should aim towards agreeing on definitions of forms of cyber VAWG and incorporate these forms into EU legislation. Also, it mentions the importance for EU level institutions and agencies combatting cybercrime to tackle gendered forms of cyber crime.



Summary: Cyber VAW as a form of gender related crimes is not a propriety for police and a culture of impunity prevails. Online nature of cyber VAW makes collecting evidence and attribution more complicated than in the case of offline VAW. Complaints are often trivialized and police officers are often unaccommodating. Experts suggest that cyber VAW cover a range of actions and therefore both civil and criminal remedies should be available. Proper implementation of laws is crucial, so that relevant laws are not only bills but rather acts.

In 2008, the UN Secretary-General launched a multi-year global campaign called UNiTE to End Violence against Women.[58] The Campaign recognized the power of the law: one of its five key goals was for all countries to adopt and enforce, by 2015, national laws that address and punish all forms of such violence, in line with international human rights standards.


The initiative was accompanied by „Handbook for Legislation on Violence against Women“ prepared by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs/Division for the Advancement of Women (DESA/DAW) and intended to assist States and other stakeholders to enhance existing, or develop new laws to protect women. [59]


Although the Handbook provides useful recommendations and commentaries it does not address specifically technology-related VAW.


In the introduction to the Handbook Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migirio undelines that „States throughout the world are still failing to live up to their international obligations and commitments to prevent and address violence against women. Too many perpetrators are not held accountable. Impunity persists. Women continue to be re-victimized through the legal process.


Comprehensive legislation provides the foundation for a holistic and effective response. Such legislation must be consistently enforced and monitored, and adequate resources must be allocated to address the problem. Personnel and officials working in the field must have the skills, capacity and sensitivity to apply the spirit and letter of the law. Laws must inform a concerted effort that includes education, awareness raising and community mobilization. They must also contribute to tackling discriminatory stereotypes and attitudes, and they must mandate the research and knowledge-building that are necessary to support policy development. “

This statement remains relevant today, also when addressing technology-related VAW.

APC’s research on domestic legal remedies for cases of technology-related violence against women revealed a prevailing culture of impunity.

The findings from the APC study led to the following conclusions:

  • In most countries there is a need for specific provision for technology-related VAW criminal offences;
  • Both civil and criminal remedies are necessary;
  • Law enforcement only deals with “serious” or more technical crimes;
  • Gender related crimes are not a priority for police;
  • There is only the existence of bills, rather than acts, or non-functioning cyber-crime units in most countries etc.[60]

The case studies analyzed in the research illustrated the perceived notion of a complete breakdown in the criminal justice system, including the investigation, prosecution and adjudication of cases involving VAW. The non-efficacy of the laws and the lack of government action were aggravated by gender insensitivity on the part of enforcers and service providers, which served to silence women instead of encouraging them to assert their rights.

Relevant laws, in several instances, were essentially dead letter legislation – i.e. laws that were no longer being enforced. The excessive time taken to file charges, delays in the investigations, and the number of years that passed before a case was properly considered were all factors that made women survivors desist from “wasting their time” by filing a complaint.

In most countries, what is required is an overhaul of all laws relating to sexual assault, violence and harassment. If the experience of women and others who are vulnerable because of gender or sexuality is taken into consideration, then all forms of violence, including those mediated by or related to technology, will be listed, and thus recognized in the law.

In countries where it is possible to file complaints for technology-related VAW either under new laws or older laws on defamation and obscenity, such complaints are often trivialized. When women report to the police, the police can be unaccommodating or dismissive. When they bring their concern to the authorities, it is hard to even get a police report filed, because of the failure of the authorities to recognize online threats and harassment as VAW or possible crimes. There is also the added social stigma of making such a complaint, disapprobation from family and community, and often disregard for the privacy of the complainant both in the media coverage and by the police. The hetero-patriarchal culture that does not value the autonomy or sovereignty of women and other vulnerable people, like transgender or inter-sexed persons, needs to be combated through raising awareness, legal change and other tools.

Cyber VAW covers a range of behaviors and actions, and ideally both civil and criminal remedies should be available.

In order to efficiently tackle cyber VAW it is crucial to implement relevant laws and regulations. This means, inter alia, additional financial resources as well as training for officials dealing with cyber VAW.

Referring to Ängla Enkvist from the Swedish Institute of Internet and Law: “People need to understand that the law will apply to abusive behavior online just as it does offline. You cannot hide behind anonymity or a screen.”



Summary: this chapter provides some examples about different national laws dealing with cyber VAW and commentaries based on information from APC, research conducted by Carly Nyst, EIGE and other experts. It includes references to the laws/legal systems of the following countries: South Africa, Canada (province of Nova Scotia), India, Philippines, US (California), Germany, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Pakistan, DRC, Kenya, Colombia, Mexico, Myanmar, New Zealand and some EU member states. These are the very first studies and much more needs to be analyzed in order to have better understanding of national laws/legal systems related to cyber VAW.  

According to APC Review of Domestic Legal Remedies for Technology related VAW: Review of related studies and literature[61] some legal innovations to address technology-related VAW have emerged in countries such as South Africa, after extensive consultations with local women’s groups and civil society. A possible remedy against online and offline harassment is under the Protection from Harassment Act 2010, under which victims can apply to court for a protection order for up to five years. Here, harassment is defined to include both online and offline harassment, whether within domestic relations or by others.

Similarly, the Canadian Province of Nova Scotia provides for a protection order in the case of cyber bullying, which includes punishment through a fine and confiscation of electronic devices. Cyber bullying is also a tort, which offers the option of recovering damages from the offender, although only through a lengthy civil trial.

In India and the Philippines, episodes of revenge porn have led to amendments of the law to accommodate voyeurism and other instances of technology-related VAW as criminal offences, and in the United States revenge porn is recognized as a criminal misdemeanor. A court in Germany has also ruled that a person (in this instance, a woman) can request that her ex-lover be asked to remove all photographs of her from any storage device or computer. This does provide some protection for a person against instances of revenge porn, and in legal terms gives more weight to the “personality right” of the person in the images vis-à-vis the intellectual property right of the person taking the photograph.

Offences related to violence against women are mostly contained in penal laws, and often fall short of the provisions established by the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women or by General Recommendation 19 of CEDAW. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, for example, provisions relating to VAW can be found in the penal code under criminal offences against sexual freedom and morality. Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have laws that look at VAW as violations against a woman’s modesty and violations against good morals and public morals, respectively. In Kenya and the DRC, VAW can be found under the sexual offences acts. Under these laws, VAW is closely tied with morality, only women can be “victims”, and often sexual assault is only defined in terms of penile penetration. These categorizations automatically limit the laws’ applicability and fail to recognize the multiple forms of violation that exist.

Some countries, such as Colombia, Mexico and the Philippines, recognize psychological violence in their laws, and this can to some extent cover technology-related VAW. In other jurisdictions (Bosnia and Herzegovina, India) there is a similar recognition of mental cruelty or psychological violence but only in relation to domestic violence within family and marriage, so this does not extend to cases of technology-related VAW committed by those not in such a relation to the person.

Some countries have laws that specifically deal only with technology-related violence against women and other vulnerable people – the Philippines, Canada (Nova Scotia), South Africa, Kenya, India, New Zealand, United State, among others.

In the US state of California, a new misdemeanor of disorderly conduct was created to deal with instances of revenge porn.

New Zealand has a gender-neutral law (i.e. it covers people of all genders) that deals with all harmful digital communications with both civil and criminal remedies, and which has created new criminal offences in cases of serious harm.

The Philippines amended the colonial Spanish law on sexual assault and violence in 2004, and subsequently passed the Anti-Photo and Video Voyeurism Act in 2010, which deals with voyeurism and revenge porn. While there are limitations to this Act, it takes seriously the harm that is done to women through violence perpetrated to their image.

India has included some provisions on voyeurism and stalking in a recent amendment to penal law.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s penal code contains provisions relating to the unauthorized recording, photographing or filming of another person in his/her personal premises without that person’s consent, or the distribution to a third party of such material without consent.

Kenya has a cyber-crime law under which the improper use of computer systems includes sending messages that are grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character; or sending messages that one knows to be false for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another person.

These laws specifically list components of technology-related VAW, compared to gender equality laws or VAW laws. The provisions of the penal laws factor in the presence and the nature of ICT in defining the acts which they seek to penalize.

In some countries where specific laws or provisions for technology-related VAW do not exist in civil or criminal law, other provisions are used.

For instance, in Myanmar, the criminal provision penalizing obscene publications along with offences for “outraging the modesty of women” (both inherited from colonial laws) are used to prosecute revenge porn. This combination of prosecuting obscenity and harassment was also used in India prior to the amendment of the law to include some instances of technology-related VAW.

Countries such as the Philippines, India and Myanmar have recognized the right to privacy, often in their penal laws, laws related to ICT and/or as a constitutional right. Further, most multinational companies offering web-based services, such as Google, Facebook and others, abide by some minimum standards for protection of privacy.

In 2014 Carly Nyst carried out a study „Technology-related violence against women: recent legislative trends“.[62] The study analyzed „recent legislative developments aimed at addressing and providing avenues of redress for technology-related violence against women. “ The study explored the objectives, structure and application of four (South Africa, Nova Scotia (Canada), California, New Zealand) domestic legislative responses to different forms of violence against women, seeking to understand how domestic legislatures are responding to increasing awareness of violence against women online.

The study concluded that in a general sense, the four pieces of legislation analyzed above represent a clear trend at the domestic level for parliaments to seek to create new avenues of redress for the increasingly prevalent problem of technology-related violence, particularly as it affects women and children.


Beyond that, the acts highlight the emergence of interesting attitudes and approaches:


  • The need to provide practical avenues of redress


Each of the acts has as its primary objective the creation of a practical form of redress for

actions that were not previously cognizable within the criminal or civil law frameworks.

Importantly, all of the legislation recognizes that harm caused by harassment online includes emotional distress, even if there is no actual physical harm. The South African and Nova Scotian acts provide for a system of protection orders, a simple, effective and efficient form of getting immediate recourse against an individual perpetrating harassment or bullying. The New Zealand system provides for a civil enforcement regime where behavior does not comport with a set of communication principles prescribed by the act. The Californian and New Zealand regimes provide for new criminal offences related to harmful behavior online. The South African, Nova Scotian and New Zealand legislation all provide for various forms of criminal offences related to non-compliance with court orders. Each of these provisions allows for a victim of online harassment, violence or bullying to achieve concrete redress or change, an important aspect of accessing justice.


  • The imposition of responsibility on communications intermediaries


The South African, Nova Scotian and New Zealand legislation all reflect the increasing need for internet and communications intermediaries to play a role in preventing and rectifying online violence, harassment and bullying. The legislation recognizes that electronic communications often facilitate anonymity, which can be a barrier to accessing justice for violence against women online. It therefore places a burden on electronic service providers to respond to requests for information about the identity of the harasser (in South Africa and Nova Scotia), to cease providing service upon the order of a court (in Nova Scotia) and even to remove offensive content when service providers become aware of its presence on their sites (New Zealand). In South Africa, an individual within a company, as well as the company itself, can bear criminal liability for failing to comply with a court’s request to facilitate the identification of an individual accused of online harassment.


  • Free expression implications


In the passage of the legislation in California, Nova Scotia and New Zealand (ongoing), there have been arguments raised about the implications for free speech. In each case, these arguments have had a slightly different nuance. In Nova Scotia, the concerns raised have related to the broad powers of a court to prevent internet access or confiscate technologies; in California, initial opposition of the amendment resulted in a considerable narrowing of the offence to apply only where there was an agreement between parties that the image was to remain private. The free expression implications are perhaps the most significant in the case of New Zealand – the proposed legislation seeks to “civilize” online communications by preventing, for example, grossly offensive, indecent or obscene digital expression. In doing so, the legislation seeks to apply different standards to online communication and expression than to offline communication and expression. On one hand, the legislation recognizes the unique nature of digital communications – the speed with which they are promulgated and proliferate, the inability to permanently erase them, and the insulating nature of anonymous communications that can promote an offensive of violent behavior. The fact that the potential for harm can be attributed differently to digital technologies than offline speech is seen as a basis for treating electronic communications differently.


On the other hand, however, the legislation also applies a number of subjective and general standards to all digital communications, which, depending on a court’s interpretation, could be applied in ways that limit free expression and could undermine the free flow of information.


  • The need to accompany legislative changes with public education


Critics across these contexts have suggested that legislation alone cannot solve the problem; and that any legislative changes must be accompanied by public awareness and education campaigns on the gendered nature of harm in digital spaces, issues of consent, as well as awareness of what actions constitute criminal offences and the possibilities for liability. Especially when youth may be the “offenders”, or parents may be held liable for the actions of their children, resources need to be put towards initiatives that bring the spirit of the law into public education. The Nova Scotian process highlights a positive approach in this regard: ensuring a budget increase of CAD 900,000 towards resources for survivors of sexual violence, as well as coordinating a provincial education campaign on cyber bullying.


An analysis of the legislative history and application of these four acts also suggests some positive elements that could provide a useful starting point for other legislatures seeking to amend legal frameworks to make them more hospitable to complaints of technology-related violence


Some of these elements include:


  • A consultative process


The use of a consultative process in designing the South African legislation – which extended over multiple years and allowed for actors from a range of positions to provide feedback on the bill – helped to build widespread support for the legislation. This can be contrasted with the experiences in Nova Scotia and California, where bills were rushed through the legislature without first gaining widespread public buy-in.


  • Utilizing/amending existing legal frameworks vs. creating new laws


The South African experience again provides a valuable template. After doing an extensive review of existing laws, the Law Reform Commission concluded that existing criminal laws could sufficiently cover crimes related to harassment online; what was needed was a redress process which would allow for immediate relief. This experience can be contrasted against the New Zealand example, where the legislation proposes wholesale change to the regulatory framework and the imposition of a new regime, and the Nova Scotian act, which creates new categories of crimes. The adequacy and efficacy of these different routes for providing redress remains to be seen. For example, has the enlarged definition of harassment extending to online spheres been adequately understood and applied under the South African law? Or will a different perspective specifically covering electronic mediums be necessary? In practice, has the application of the Nova Scotian, New Zealand and Californian legislation resulted in the curtailing of individual rights as some opponents feared? Further research to this end could be a valuable lesson for advocates in other contexts.


  • Focus on redress over criminalization


While the option of criminal law recourse may indeed have a distinct purpose, the Nova Scotia, South Africa and New Zealand acts all focus on redress and relief over criminalization. This seems to be the most effective, efficient and meaningful way of aiding victims of violence online and ensuring that justice is achieved. The use of protection orders to address technology-related violence against women is an important advancement that should be considered in other jurisdictions. Protection orders are used in many countries to address domestic violence, by providing a practical means of halting violence without requiring victims to become embroiled in lengthy and demanding criminal processes. Although the effectiveness of protection orders in the context of online harassment remains to be seen, it is a novel application of a method that has seen success in other domains.


  • Creating a dedicated agency to receive and investigate complaints


Both Nova Scotia and New Zealand propose to create a dedicated agency to receive and investigate complaints made under new legislation. Although the New Zealand legislation has not yet been adopted, in Canada the establishment of the CyberSCAN unit has been met with approval and seems to be experiencing success, with scores of claims having been received, mediated and resolved over its short lifespan.


  • Impact of public campaigning


The passage of each of the domestic acts is testament to the power of public awareness raising and campaigning in achieving legislative change. Although each of the acts followed a high profile event that created motivation for swift legal change, they also benefited from the work of public advocacy groups who seized on the momentum, built public awareness and created impetus for legislative change.[63]

Technology-related VAW often exists in a continuum: most women face violence that extends from online to offline and is not limited to a technological device or platform. For example, harassment and stalking often lead to physical violence, or sexual assault is captured via images that are then circulated online. Thus, what is needed is a review of legislation relating to VAW, and this must include technology-related violence because only then would it cover the range of violence that women and other vulnerable people face.

Findings, conclusions and recommendations of the APC researches are very much supported by the EIGE research.

According to EIGE research[64] several EU member states have recently adopted legislation targeting forms of cyber VAWG; for example, provisions criminalizing revenge porn in the U.K., France, Germany, Malta, with policies currently pending in Ireland and Slovenia. Research reveals that the response to of the criminal justice to women victims of cyber VAWG is inadequate. For example, of the 1,160 incidents of revenge porn reported during the first six months after its criminalization in the U.K., 61% resulted in no further action pursued against the alleged perpetrator. Research suggests that this inadequate criminal justice response can be attributed in part to the false dichotomy between offline and online violence, which results in police discounting and minimizing the harms of cyber VAWG, and constructing victim’s experiences as “incidents” rather than patterns of behavior over time.

Joanne Sandler (Gender at Work) argues that cyber VAW is a complex terrain that requires deep feminist thought and advocacy.[65]

Useful to remind that according to APC Report feminists have had a longstanding problem with the notion of privacy as articulated in terms of the domestic realm or the home, because it allowed for the creation of a private sphere sanctified by culture and patriarchy within which women were often “victims” of violence or their mobility and employment outside the home were suppressed. At the same time, privacy is critical for survivors of VAW, as it allows them to access life-saving information and take steps to keep violence out of their lives.



Summary: Responsibility and accountability of Internet intermediaries raises several difficult questions, including privacy and freedom of expression. It has to be recognized that Internet intermediaries, especially the leading ones, are paying more attention to online violence, including online VAW and are taking it more seriously, also thanks to the public pressure from their clients and civil society. They have introduced company (community) rules to tackle online VAW, to raise awareness about safe use of ICTs, to stop online violence, to identify perpetrators etc. It is important that they continue close cooperation with governments, civil society, and academia. It is also important that they are invited to contribute to the drafting of policies, strategies, recommendations, laws etc.

The role and accountability of Internet intermediaries is a complex issue that raises different opinions. Some legal aspects of accountability of Internet intermediaries were discussed in Chapter 9 of the present paper.

Experts suggest that there have to be rules/norms of accountability for Internet intermediaries concerning online VAW.

Any multinational company has to abide by the national law. Since its terms of service (TOS) usually prohibit illegal use of the company’s service or platform, this would ensure that those acts covered under the existing national law as offences against women would be prohibited and constitute grounds for a complaint.

Other than TOS and privacy policies (which abide by laws of national jurisdiction), some international guidelines could be relevant to business operations. Such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (or the “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework of the UN). The guidelines require that human rights be respected throughout the operations of businesses, and establish that it is the duty of the state or government to ensure this. Section 12 of these guiding principles establishes the responsibility of business enterprises to respect human rights, and in the commentary there is specific mention of the human rights of individuals who belong to certain vulnerable groups, i.e. the rights of indigenous peoples; women; national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities; children; persons with disabilities; and migrant workers and their families.[66]

Principles of women’s sovereignty over their own bodies and their rights against violence, both online and offline, as established in CEDAW and DEVAW (Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women)[67], the principles outlined in the Optional Protocol on Child Pornography[68], and the rights of vulnerable and marginal groups established in civil, political and human rights documents should also be part of the commitment of most business operations, although they are technically applicable only to states that have ratified these documents.

APC analyzed in 2014 user policies and redress framework of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.[69] The study concludes that while approaches to violence against women differ between the companies, a number of overarching themes and trends can be distilled from the research. These include:

  • Reluctance to engage directly with technology-related violence against women, until it becomes a public relations issue. This suggests a lack of appreciation of the seriousness of violence against women online, and a lack of recognition of the responsibility of the intermediary to take measures to mitigate the frequency and seriousness of instances of violence and to provide redress.
  • Lack of transparency around reporting and redress processes, reflected in the lack of information about the processes available to victims of technology-related violence.
  • Failure to engage with the perspectives of non-North American/European women.
  • No public commitment to human rights standards or to the promotion of rights, other than the encouragement of free speech.

Nevertheless, it has to be recognized that Internet intermediaries have taken some positive steps in recent years to improve their approach and reaction to issues of violence against women online, such as:

– Engagement with stakeholder groups
– Simplified and easily accessible reporting mechanisms
– Proactive steps to eradicate violence against women.

Responsibility and accountability of Internet intermediaries raises also the question of privacy and freedom of expression. It has attracted public attention several times, especially when well-known global companies have been involved. One of the well-known cases was a week long campaign against Facebook in 2013 led by WICTAD Coalition. The aim of the campaign was to hold Facebook accountable for its policy on dealing with hate speech the representations of gender-based violence shared by its users. Facebook admitted that content on the site had been „evaluated using outdated criteria“ and updated Community Standards around hate speech, banning „gender-based hate speech“.[70]

Campaign received also criticism, e.g. by Jillian York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She said that these forms of speech were already covered by law and that the campaign set a dangerous precedent for other „special interest groups looking to get their pet issues censored“.[71]

Ellen Pao, former CEO of the online forum Reddit expressed grave concerns about the tensions between balancing freedom of expression with privacy and protection of Internet users.[72]

The role/accountability/response of intermediaries to online VAW is in depth discussed in the Research developed by Rima Athar[73] and by Rafia Shaikh[74]. The reports propose specific recommendations to intermediaries, including inter alia ability to address multilingual reporting mechanism, strictly prohibiting the publishing of private, confidential, and/or identifying information of others with clear definitions of what constitutes private and publically available, minimizing obstacles in taking down pages, posts, or content in relation to privacy concerns specifically when it is accompanied by threats.

Rima Athar proposes topics for further research to deepen the discussion on response and prevention strategies that companies can and do employ. This includes research that systematically documents (a) women’s/girls’ attempts to report content and privacy violations to specific companies, (b) the responses they received, and (c) the timeline of (in)action. Building this evidence base will highlight where key gaps in women’s access to justice lie, and provide a valuable resource for those concerned with laws and policy formation around VAW, business and human rights. The report also proposes a questionnaire for ensuring compliance with the UN Guiding Principles: A checklist for addressing violence against women.

The APC Report by Carly Nyst contained case studies as well as recommendations to Facebook[75], Twitter[76] and YouTube[77]. Recommendations to YouTube included making a public commitment to human rights standards, and taking a strong stance on respect for diversity and for women’s rights; putting in place a concrete process of consultation with women’s rights groups and activists on the design, implementation and evaluation of policies and procedures; providing regular training to staff responsible for moderation on issues related to human rights in general, and to the specific realities of women’s rights as they pertain to health, sexuality, violence; providing greater transparency about complaints processes more generally, what standards are applied and how complaints are dealt with throughout their lifecycle; publishing information about instances of violence against women on YouTube, including information on the number of reports received, responded to, and acted upon, in order to enable more detailed engagement on these issues.

It has to be recognized that Internet intermediaries, at least the big ones, understand their responsibility and pay more attention to preventing and tackling cyber VAW. Twitter has introduced best practices against online abuse[78] and is assisting the Crown Prosecutor Service in training prosecutors in fight against online abuse.[79] YouTube introduced Community Guidelines[80] and Policy Center[81].



Summary: NGOs, academia, civil society, activists, feminists etc. play an important role in raising awareness about online VAW, conduction researches, but also intervening on behalf of victims/survivors of VAW. This chapter introduces some of the best practices, recommendations and examples e.g. initiatives by Swedish Institute of Law and Internet, Due Diligence Project, Internet Governance Forum.

Swedish Institute of Law and Internet (Institute)[82] is a Swedish expert organization working with privacy online, with special focus on protecting individuals from online abuse, threats and harassment. The actions of the Institute include:

  • providing free legal counsel to victims of online abuse, treats and harassments; helping with the contact with the police and other public authorities as well as helping to apply for review of a withdrawn prosecution. Additionally – giving free legal aid in cases of civil litigation (tort cases).
  • raising awareness on what the right to privacy covers in online settings, including lecturing in schools, companies, publishing accessible books, podcasts for campaign „No Hate Movement“, TV series „Troll Hunters“[83];
  • lobbying – promoting privacy, under art 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights[84]. Institute also participated in drafted a Bill addressing online VAW that was presented to the Swedish Ministry of Justice.
  • looking for new approaches – analyzing how tort law can work as a deterrent against unlawful abuse.

Institute has challenged the Swedish Supreme Court to try a case of compensation for non-pecuniary loss for defamation of a person.

Institute has looked into cases where police has failed to convict a person of cyber assault due to lack of evidence (worst comments were erased from website). One of the cases that was considered to be first of its kind and attracted public attention took place in 2014. A woman known as Julia was abused online after she complained that a t-shirt in H&M featured the rapper Tupac Shakur, who was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman in 1993.

„How do you think the woman who was raped feels when she sees his face in your stores, on your clothes,” she wrote on the Swedish clothing giant’s Facebook page last year, according to The Local.[85]

The reaction to Julia’s comments were violently personal and sexual, with some users of the social media website encouraged her to kill herself, while another wrote that they hoped Julia would be raped.

“You unite against a common enemy and egg each other one. It’s a rabble,” Mr Schultz, the founder of the Swedish Institute of Law and Internet, said of the case.

Julia reported the case to the police, but the case was closed after officers said it was difficult to carry out an investigation after the store erased the worst comments from its Facebook page.

Deciding to take the matter into their own hands, the IJI managed to find the names and address of several commenters. Using civil rather than criminal law, the team sent the online bullies a 5,000 kronor (£450) damages claims.

So far, one person has transferred the money, according to the website of the Institute.[86]

Due Diligence Project[87]has introduced the 5 Ps of Due Diligence:

  1. Prevent violence against women
  2. Protect women from violence
  3. Prosecute and investigate incidences of violence against women
  4. Punish perpetrators of VAW
  5. Provide redress to victims/survivors of VAW.

The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) plays an important role in addressing cyber VAWG, given its holistic approach and engagement of variety of actors – states, women’s rights organizations, Internet intermediaries and users. The IGF is bringing together multiple stakeholders to outline what constitutes abuse of women, factors that contribute to enabling environments for abuse and the impacts that such abuse has in communities. Solutions and strategies resulting in best practices are also being addressed.

The Best Practices Forum (BPF)[88] worked to produce a tangible output for IGF 2015 on the question: What are effective practices and policies that address, mitigate and/or prevent the abuse of women online? Through organized fortnightly calls and using an inclusive, transparent and iterative multi-stage process, the BPF aims to gather input from multiple stakeholders.


The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) best practice forum (BPF) on Online Abuse and Gender-Based Violence against Women used an open and inclusive process to gather a variety of views and inputs on the multidimensional issue of online abuse of women and gender-based violence. As a result of this community-driven approach and the mixed methodology the BPF adopted, the BPF’s findings reflect a rich diversity of responses from various stakeholders and regions regarding the issue.


The work of this BPF is aimed at being one step in the direction of getting stakeholders to take proper cognizance the issue. The process has also demonstrated the need for more work to be done to understand and address online abuse and gender-based violence and to develop effective responses.


The BPF’s major findings, along with related recommendations for further research, are summarized below.


  • Towards a more comprehensive understanding


The BPF’s work showed that online abuse and gender-based violence against women are not only interpreted and approached differently in diverse regions, but also that the terminology used for it is inconsistent. The BPF’s findings therefore highlight the need for more work to be done towards finding a comprehensive yet flexible definition of the issue that can receive wider recognition around the world. Various underlying factors play a role in enabling online abuse and gender-based violence. They can also have a compounding effect on the impact of such abuse and violence, as well as the allocation and effectiveness of resources to ensure women gain access to justice and redress. The BPF found that both definitions and initiatives have to address specificities in contexts and relevant circumstances (such as the affected community); all of which are characterized by different obstacles.


Online abuse and gender-based violence have to be studied whilst keeping offline/physical environments and potential repercussions in offline/physical environments, in mind. The need to understand and address the underlying causes that contribute to and enable such abuse and violence –specifically existing gender inequalities – is also of critical importance in ensuring a more comprehensive understanding of the issue. This reinforces the importance of awareness and literacy programs, along with substantial investment in research and statistics on the incidence of the issue.


The BPF also found other areas that compel further study and research, including the specific challenges that women with disabilities face, as well as how online abuse and gender-based violence affect girls (below 18 years of age).


  • Towards a more careful balancing of all the rights and interests involved


Although great strides have been made to improve connectivity and Internet access around the world, growing access has also resulted in the increased use of technology to infringe human rights online; reducing the Internet’s potential for development. And while it is now widely recognized that ‘offline’ human rights apply equally online, the BPF results indicate an apparent discordance when the related obligations on stakeholders to protect and uphold these rights are concerned on the issue of online abuse and gender-based violence.


There is a need for measures to consider, include and balance multiple rights, and to take into account existing inequalities and discrimination that may affect how rights are protected and recognized. In addition, tensions that arise when issues related to multiple rights and interests are involved (including freedom of expression, privacy and anonymity) also need further study.


  • Considerations in developing responses


Abuse and gender-based violence against women, whether perpetrated online or offline, is difficult to address because of the attitudes, stereotypes and beliefs that underpin the issue. In an online context, such efforts are further complicated because responses need to be implemented within the global context of the Internet and with the cooperation of a multitude of stakeholders.


The BPF found that efforts to develop, encourage and implement practices to counter online abuse and gender-based violence vary significantly around the world. Whilst the BPF did not have the scope to investigate all of the relevant strategies and approaches to the issue, it did manage to highlight many examples of responses taken in the public and private sector, as well as by multi stakeholder and community-driven communities. It also extracted various lessons that could be learnt from such approaches and ideas that can be explored in further work.


The BPF found that it is critical that public and private sector approaches to the issue be developed transparently in due consultation with current users (including victims and survivors of online abuse and/or violence) and civil society organizations, and to also consider the needs of future users as Internet access and adoption expand globally.


Where countries consider developing legislative responses to the issue, it is important that relief and redress be prioritized over criminalization. Not only do governments need to prioritize the access that victims and survivors of online abuse and gender-based violence have to justice, but flexible and informal (yet also transparent) measures that can more easily, quickly and effectively respond to online behavior need to be investigated in future research.


The BPF encountered much uncertainty regarding intermediaries’ responsibilities in addressing and countering the issue. There is therefore a need for the public sector to evaluate its legal relationship with intermediaries in this regard, including the level of obligations it can realistically impose on intermediaries.


While the responsibility of educating users and improving digital literacy levels arguably lies primarily with the public sector, BPF participants also suggested that the public sector should consider cooperating more closely with the private sector (particularly digital intermediaries) to ensure education also continues on relevant platforms.


Lastly, Internet intermediaries can explore clearer and more explicit commitments to comprehensive human rights standards to better address the issue of online abuse and gender-based violence. Existing legal frameworks can provide guidance on the actions they can take to ensure that women’s rights online are promoted and respected in compliance with international human rights standards.


The work of this BPF is both timely and instructive in the context of increasing efforts being invested by different stakeholders at national and global levels to understand and address the issue of online abuse and gender-based violence. It has showed that there are no one-size-fits all solution, and that greater study is needed to further investigate the range of acts, underlying causes, diversity and breadth of impact, and potential responses that can be developed for the issue.


The BPF’s work has facilitated diverse stakeholder engagement on the issue, and as such, benefitted from different views and perspectives. This is, however, only a first step towards a more comprehensive understanding and response. It is hoped that some of the findings and areas for further exploration can inform continued discussion and efforts: both at the IGF as a critical platform for multi stakeholder engagement on key internet policy, governance and human rights issues, and in other policy discussion spaces[89].





  1. Online VAW is a new and serious phenomenon that has emerged with the “cyber revolution” – and the use of ICTs – which is being addressed more and more frequently by different forums, including international organizations, governments, experts, NGOs, and academia, etc. However, these are just the very first steps in addressing cyber VAW. Tackling cyber VAW is not considered a priority, and is not high on the agenda of international organizations, including the UN and UN bodies, as well as national governments. Therefore, the topic has not been thoroughly researched and there is not enough data/information, nor guidance being developed by international organizations.
  2. The UN has a special, global role in dealing with cyber VAW; and UN bodies are well positioned to develop, introduce, and implement the recommendations and guidelines that should later be incorporated into national strategies, policies, and laws.
  3. Taking into account the nature and extensiveness of the use of ICTs, dealing with cyber VAW should include a large variety of policies, and include any that have even the slightest connection to cyber VAW – starting from educational programs and raising awareness among women and girls and concluding with the timely and efficient implementation of adopted policies, strategies and laws.
  4. Knowledge about online VAW and awareness about different strategies, policies, and laws dealing with online VAW is very uneven. In many cases the strategies, policies, and laws dealing with VAW do not address or include online VAW as a (new) form of VAW. An additional challenge in tackling online VAW is achieving the understanding that online VAW is not a joking matter; it is an urgent and important topic that should be addressed accordingly.
  5. Online and offline VAW are often intertwined, and often feed into each other. Therefore, they should be approached, studied, and tackled comprehensively and coherently. Studies, research, case studies, conclusions, recommendations – all developed in the context of dealing with VAW, should be implemented or at least taken into serious consideration when addressing online VAW.
  6. It is widely recognized that human rights offline are equal to human rights online; and the same can be said with VAW and cyber VAW. Cyber VAW is a form of VAW and should be addressed as such. This means that policies, strategies, laws, and regulations dealing with VAW should be revised and/or reframed to recognize, prevent and redress online VAW.
  7. The main victim/target groups in online violence are women, children, people with special needs, and minorities. These are the most vulnerable groups of society that have to be approached respectively – in a delicate and sensitive manner, not opposing one another, and not preferring one group to another. Experts suggest different approaches to strategies, policies, laws, and regulations dealing with cyber VAW. Some support gender sensitive laws and regulations for online VAW, others suggest gender-neutral laws that cover all victims/targets of cyber violence. Both approaches have their advantages. The bottom line is to have laws/regulations in place that cover cyber VAW. It seems logical and practical to continue with the existing practices of a state: if a state has gender-neutral laws about abuse/violence then those laws should be revised to include online abuse/violence, etc. Likewise, if there are already laws specifically regulating VAW then they should be revised to include cyber VAW as well.
  8. In order to efficiently tackle cyber VAW it is crucial to implement and apply relevant policies, strategies, laws, and regulations, etc. This means, inter alia, additional financial resources as well as training for officials dealing with cyber VAW. Also, not only do governments need to prioritize the access that victims and survivors of online violence have to justice, but flexible and informal (yet also transparent) measures that can more easily, quickly and effectively respond to online behavior need to be investigated in future research.
  9. It is generally recognized that cyber violence, including cyber VAW is more difficult to attribute and, therefore, it is more difficult to bring the perpetrators to justice. This is one of the reasons why some authorities, including police, prefer not to deal with cyber violence and cyber VAW cases. Thus, it is very important to make it very clear, in policies as well as in practice, that cyber violence, including cyber VAW will never be accepted and those who are guilty will be brought to justice. As is so well said by Ängla Enkvist from the Swedish Institute of Internet and Law: “People need to understand that the law will apply to abusive behavior online just as it does offline. You cannot hide behind anonymity or a screen.”
  10. Online VAW is a global phenomenon that has to be addressed by multiple stakeholders, including the UN and other international organizations, governments, civil society, NGOs, private sector, activists, and academia, etc. They all have their specific and special roles to play.

[1] Online VAW, cyber VAW, technology related VAW are synonyms for the purpose of this paper.

[2] World Bank.2016. World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends. Washington, DC: World Bank. doi:10.1596/978-1-4648-0671-1.

[3] WSIS-03/GENEVA/DOC/4-E, 12 December 2003!!PDF-E.pdf

[4] Elimination and Prevention of All Forms of Violence Against Women and Girls

[5] A/HRC/23/50

[6] A/RES/68/181

[7] A/HRC/29/27/Add.2

[8] A/HRC/32/42

[9] ICCPR, Art 20 (2): Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.

[10] CEDAW/C/GC/33


[12] pp 13-18






[18] Ushahidi platform is a concept of crowdsourcing or social activism and public accountability, serving as an initial model for what has been coined as “activist mapping”—the combination of social activism, citizen journalism and geospacial information.


[20] file:///C:/Users/Klick/AppData/Local/Temp/cyber_violence_against_women_and_girls.pdf


[22] Building Women’s Access to Justice: Domestic legal remedies for cases of technology-related violence against women – Final research report for the APC “End Violence: Women’s rights and safety online” project APC


[24] IGF – Internet Governance Forum is a multistakeholder platform that facilitates the discussion of public policy issues pertaining to the Internet

[25] Jan Moolman Violence Against Women Online, Global Information Society Watch, Published by APC and Hivos (2013) p 39

[26] Kovacs, Anja, Richa Kaul Padte and Shobha SV (2013) “Don’t Let it Stand!” An Exploratory Study of Women and Verbal Online Abuse in India. Internet Democracy Project. p 4






[32] Rafia Shaikh, Violence against women online: what next steps intermediaries should take

[33] Jainsankhar, K. (2011) Cyber Criminology: Exploring Internet Crimes and Criminal Behavior. Boca Raton: CRC Press, p. 290-291

[34] SNW – social networking websites

[35] Jaishankar, K. (2011) Cyber Criminology: Exploring Internet Crimes and Criminal Behavior. Boca Raton: CRC Press, p. 311-313

[36] Kokkinos, C.M, Antoniadou, N. & Markos, A. (2014) Cyber-bullying: An investigation of the psychological profile of university student participants. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 35 (3), 204-214.

[37] Dark Triad personality traits are: machiavellianism – duplicitous interpersonal style, a cynical disregard for morality, and a focus on self-interest and personal gain, psychopathy – persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, an bold, disinhibited, egotistical traits, narcissism – pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one’s own attributes.

[38] Goodboy, A. & Martin, M. (2015) The personality profile of a cyberbully: Examining the Dark Triad. Computers in Human Behavior, 49, 1-4.


[40] Kokkinos, C.M, Antoniadou, N. & Markos, A. (2014) Cyber-bullying: An investigation of the psychological profile of university student participants. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 35 (3), 204-214.

[41] Erdur-Baker, Özgür (2010) Cyberbullying and its correlation to traditional bullying, gender and frequent and risky usage of internet-mediated communication tools. New Media & Society 12 (1): 109-125 Google Scholar


[43] Owens et al., 2000; Underwood, Galen, & Paquette, 2001

[44] Marcum, C., Higgins, G., Freiburger, T. & Ricketts, M. (2011) Battle of the sexes: An examination of male and female cyber bullying. International Journal of Cyber Criminology, 6 (1): 904-911

[45] Qing, Li (2006) Cyberbullying in Schools: A Research of Gender Differences. School Psychology International 27 (2): 157-170

[46] Shariff & Churchill, 2010

[47] Sleglova, V. & Cerna, A. (2011) Cyberbullying in Adolescent Victims: Perception and Coping. Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyperspace, 5 (2)

[48] Jan Moolman: Violence against women online, Global Information Society Watch, published by APC and Hivos (2013) p 39




[52] In more details on p 27 of the Report.

[53] p 6



[55] The Working Group, chaired jointly by GSMA and UNESCO, aimed to develop a set of recommended actions designed to address the gender gap in Internet and broadband access and use.

[56], p 9.




[60] Tarryn Booysen: Building Women’s Access to Justice: Technology-Related VAW in Law and Corporate Policy



[63] p 24

[64] file:///C:/Users/Klick/AppData/Local/Temp/cyber_violence_against_women_and_girls.pdf

[65] Joanne Sandler: Gender at Work, Global Information Society Watch, published by APC and Hivos (2013) p 11

[66] p 18




[70] Chemaly, S., Friedman,J. And Bates, I. (2013) An open letter to Facebook, Huffington Post, 21 May.

[71] York, J. (2013) Facebook Should Not be in the Business of Censoring Speech, Even Hate Speech













[84] Article 8: Right to respect for private and family life



[87] The Due Diligence project has evolved from CEDAW (1979 and 1993) and seeks to advocate for the inclusion of the 5Ps in VAWG discourse globally. It demands that States focus on unequal gendered structures and the wider social, economic and political environment in which gender discrimination thrives. The Due Diligence Framework and its Guiding Principles assist in identifying the different actors, stakeholders, and allies; take into account the socio-economic-historical contexts of women and particular groups of women; and emphasize the need to address root causes, risk factors and incorporate transformative justice ideals into programs, laws and policies to eradicate discrimination against women.

[88] Best practices forums are one of the inter-sessional activities of IGF and its idea is for experts from government, business, civil society and the academic and technical communities to work through mailing lists and online virtual meetings to come up with best practices on selected themes.


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