On how ICTs have permeated violence against women

In my lifetime alone ICTs have absolutely transformed every aspect of how we live and work. This includes gender-based violence, particularly violence against women (VAW). Check this thought experiment:

To understand the role of ICTs in abuse, imagine an incident of technology related violence in the 1980s.

We can think through an incident where a man records and distributes intimate sexual photographs of a female without authorisation. The abuser would most likely take still photographs only given that video cameras were costly at the time.

There is also little chance that he would have been able to record such pictures without knowledge of the victim/survivor. If he did not know how to process film, pictures would have been processed by a photo shop or lab. Wide distribution would also not be easy without personal connections to, or bribing people in local or national newspapers, magazines or TV channels to reprint or screen the images. A less public option would have been to mail photos via the national postal service. However this would have been costly in time and money. This clearly points to the number of factors which affect how VAW can manifest in the digital age.

–Katerina Fialova & Flavia Fascendini, “Voices from digital spaces: Technology related violence against women,” p. 26

Digital technology has seamlessly embedded itself as part of contemporary violence against women. If your repertoire of types of VAW doesn’t include the behaviors on this list, you are out of date:

  • Mobile text message/incoming calls monitoring: “In Uganda in December 2008, within two weeks, there were two reports of men who murdered their wives after accusing the women of receiving love SMSs.”
  • Intimate photos and video blackmail: “In many cases around the world, husbands or partners use intimate video clips or photographs of their women partners to blackmail, dominate and control them. This often results in women being trapped in violent relationships.”
  • Mobile phone tracking: “The mobile phone network can be used to locate phone users. In many countries, mobile service providers offer tracking services to clients. In addition smart phones have an automatic geo-tagging function enabled by GPS locator technology. This means that information sent by a mobile phone user can reveal her exact location.”
  • Email account control: ” In Democratic Republic of Congo men commonly set up email accounts for women and keep their password details.”
  • Persistent mobile calls from strangers: “An APC survey in Pakistan in 2009 revealed that one in ten women received harassing and threatening calls and messages from strangers on their mobile phones.”
  • Manipulating photographic images: “This form of online harassment involves the distortion of real photographic images of women into pornographic ones which are posted online. They are usually accompanied by personal data such as a personal telephone number.”
  • Unauthorised use of personal videos/images/photographs: “In [the] Philippines (sic), the circulation of illicit recordings of private and intimate activities, such as sex-videos, via mobile phones and the internet is strikingly high.”
  • Use of the internet to recruit victims of fake online offers: ” In Colombia and Argentina a study found that a small percentage of missing girls had been contacted by unknown people via chat or Facebook before disappearing.
  • Violation of passwords 
  • Listening to and recording mobile phone conversations
  • Keeping track of web-browsing
  • Fraudulent postings and advertisements: “In the USA, a woman was raped by a stranger who said he was answering her Craigslist advert. The survivor’s ex-partner had posted an advertisement in her name stating that she was looking for a man to fulfil her rape fantasy. In this case, the ex-boyfriend and the man who raped her were both charged with sexual assault.”
  • Impersonating someone in instant messaging applications

But obviously the Internet and mobile phones don’t just bring more doom and gloom. ICTs, while altering and magnifying certain types of VAW, are also offer new ways of increasing access to protection for women, e.g.:

  • “The Public Ministry of Peru for instance, uses the internet to publish the names and photographs of men who have been prosecuted and sentenced for VAW.”
  • “In Costa Rica, Radio FIRE (Feminist Interactive Radio Endeavour), the first web-based radio, spreads awareness on women’s rights.”
  • “In Brazil the Special Secretariat for Women’s Policies, which has ministerial rank, has created an online assistance network on their website to help victims/survivors of VAW.”

A burgeoning but immensely important area in gender-based violence, especially given that most countries have yet to establish a political/legal framing that intertwines ICTs and VAW. Well done to Fialova and Fascendi for starting the thinking.


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