The discussion on the equality between women and men continues to be echoed by feminist groups today. However, attention to women’s rights in this generation of technology – a cyberspace environment – is still rarely noticed. Ironically, there are many mishaps towards women that ignited from the use of technology. 

It is not hard for women to find evidence – many have received unpleasant treatment in carrying out their activities in cyberspace. From inappropriate comments, to virtual sexual harassment with all forms of ‘assistance’ from technological advancement.

There are various public forms of sexual harassment online; commonly referred to as cyber sexual harassment. For example: mentally abusive messages or comments, threatening, or indecent, invitations of ‘porno-action’, displays of pornographic content, victimising using sexist language, etc. which are all carried out on internet forums, social media, as well as through all kinds of electronic media.

In 2017, Stop Street Harassment, a gender justice organisation based in Virginia, USA, found that 81% of women in the United States have experienced sexual harassment throughout their life. In another study, 3 out of 4 women suffer from verbal abuse (a percentage of 77%). From various forms of sexual harassment committed, around 41% was conducted through a digital platform. Most victims that have experienced sexual harassment are usually between the ages of 14 to 17 years.

Research findings by Stop Street Harassment in January 2018

In another study, 4 out of 10 adolescents have experienced online sexual harassment. Research conducted by Pew Research Center in 2017 revealed 41% of Americans had experienced online sexual abuse and another 66% witnessed sexual harassment happening to someone else.

In England, the case of revenge porn has struck 200 young people – some as young as 12 years old. That number only includes the amount that has been reported to the police in England. Girls in their adolescence years are often a target due to their vulnerability of distributing sexual images or footages in social media (especially to their ex lovers). 

Another case in Bogota, Colombia – known as the worst city for sexual harassment, the project “Take Back the Tech” in Colombia stated that online sexual harassment often happens to women’s rights activists, especially for those who talk about sexual violence. They are terrorised through their social media network, mostly with the aim to stop their campaign against sexual harassment.

In 2008, a law regarding violence against women in Colombia was passed, but again, there was no mention of online sexual abuse thus it did not help stricken any laws regarding online sexual harassment. 

In Sweden, a study published in June 2015 by Swedish National Crime Prevention Council, stated that out of all categories of online threats, harassment and offensive behaviour, only 4% of the complaints are eligible for prosecution. This is often because either the incident is not constituted as a criminal offence, or that the cases endure difficulties to identify and obtain evidence (which amounted to more than 40% of the cases in the data).

What about Indonesia?

The number of online sexual harassment occurence in Indonesia is increasing along with the increasing number of internet and social media users. In 2017, Komnas Perempuan (National Commission on Violence Against Women) recorded at least 91 reports of online sexual harassment. In addition, sexual harassment in online transportation also often occurs, namely by stealing data belonging to consumers.

We are social 2018 has summarised the development of the internet and social media which concluded that Indonesia is referred as a country with very active internet users. Indonesia ranked 4th as a country where the population use free time on the internet, ranked 3rd as a country with the development of increasing media users social presentation with an increase of 23% per year, ranked 3rd as a country that spends a lot of time on social media, and unfortunately, ranked 31st in terms of e-commerce penetration.

By the end of 2018, Komnas Perempuan reported that there were 348,446 cases regarding violence against women that were dealt with in 2017. This includes violence against women that occurs in cyberspace, such as; digital judgment of sexual authority, sexual torture of M in Cikupa Tangerang, Online and offline cases of doctor F persecution, etc.

Real-life examples of Online Sexual Harassment

Aside from that, according to Komnas Perempuan, there are sites and applications that becomes a platform of harassment against women in cyberspace. For example, online prostitution under the guise of religion was recently discovered in and which are now currently blocked. The main target of online sexual violence are women, but recent findings has found that LGBT group are also increasingly targeted. 

In 2017, there are 5,061 ‘cyber-cases’ that were reported by the police; with 3,325 of them being considered as hatred cases. The question thus arise: Are there any cases regarding online sexual violence or harassment that are resolved by the police?

There are many examples that can be seen in Indonesia: Baiq Nuril, a victim of online sexual harassment who was convicted by the Supreme Court, Riski Amelia (BPJS); also a victim who was instead reported back on allegations of defamation of agencies and senior supervisors of the BPJS employees, and Agni (UGM); a victim who was given the judgement that her case was ‘reconciled’. These examples show that Indonesia is insensitive towards cases of sexual harassment despite being increasingly widespread. They are also increasingly ignored by the legal constitution which claims to be fair and impartial. 

Women’s Rights in the Cyber World

Safety and Privacy rights
Rights to freedom of speech and expression

According to “Women’s Rights in the Cyber ​​Space and the Related Duties”, women’s rights in the cyber world are as important as rights in the ‘real world’. Basically the cyber world has no physical border for both women and men. Protection of women in the cyber world is still based on the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) 1979.

Protection of women in the cyber world cannot be disregarded from basic human rights in general, such as freedom of speech, the right to privacy, the right to live safely, and the right to be free from discrimination. The European Council of the Convention On Cybercrime does protect human rights to some extent, but it also lacks in its emphasis on protecting women’s rights in the cyber world.

The problem that arises is how the government should regulate the protection of women in the cyber world; especially for the protection of women from online sexual violence. Learn from legal cases in Indonesia: Does issuing The Act on the Elimination of Sexual Violence simply solve the culture of discrimination against women?

We should also learn from the many victims who do not get justice. This leads to the understanding that law enforcement officers (police) should not take sexual violence matters lightly. It is a serious matter, that is increasingly affecting more and more people, thus it should be taken seriously.