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The rapid misuse of the Internet, social media, and smartphones have made cyber violence a worldwide problem. Undoubtedly it has an adverse impact on not only individuals but societies also. It is defined differently by different scholars and policymakers but a most pertinent one focuses on cyber violence as ‘online behaviors that criminally or non-criminally assault, or can lead to assault, of a person’s physical, psychological or emotional well-being. The general categories of cyber violence include, but are not limited to, cyber & online harassment, non-consensual sharing of intimate images, recording and distributing of sexual assault, cyber-stalking, and digital dating abuse.

Cyber violence is not a separate phenomenon from ‘real world’ violence, as it often follows the same patterns as offline violence. The difference lies in the perpetrator’s use of electronic communication and the Internet to promote gender-based violence online first and physically later. The problem with gender-based cyber violence has become so bad that it carries potential economic and societal consequences attached to it. There is an adequate number of women who either quit their jobs or education, commit suicide, or don’t even step into different fields due to online abuse and cyber violence thus creating an economic void in the economy of the state.

Although cyber violence is not limited to a specific gender it has been generally observed that women are more vulnerable to it than men. Our digital presence on different social media platforms and the internet overall presents such exposure that it just takes determination on a person’s end to figure out every last detail about anyone’s life. From family members to place of residence and even intimate details without even meeting them. This is a mammoth challenge especially for the security agencies in developing countries that lack the resources as well as equipment and manpower to prevent cyber threats from materialising into physical ones.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in three women will have experienced a form of violence in her lifetime, and despite the relatively new and growing phenomenon of internet connectivity, it is estimated that one in ten women have already experienced a form of cyber violence since the age of 15. Access to the internet is fast becoming a necessity for economic well-being, and is increasingly viewed as a fundamental human right; therefore it is crucial to ensure that this digital public space is a safe and empowering place for everyone, including women and girls.  

The problem is that in the last decade, the process of digitalisation has been so rapid that a lot of aspects have gone unnoticed mainly because people are unaware of the ramifications of digitalisation. The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal was one of the largest data scandals of all times and people still did not stop using Facebook. It is mainly because no one understood what it meant for them and how it would affect their lives. Even the literate segment of the society was fine with it as they believed that their data was used to show personalised ads according to their preferences which is facilitating them in a way, therefore, making it a non-problematic issue.

In a nutshell, cyber violence can take on a number of forms. The term “cyberviolence” is more helpful than “cyberbullying” because it recognizes sexism, racism, homophobia, and transphobia. There is not yet a stable lexicon or typology of offences considered to be cyber violence, and many of the examples of types of cyber violence are interconnected or overlapping or consist of a combination of acts. Therefore, not all forms or instances of cyber violence are equally severe, and not all of them necessarily require a criminal law solution but may be addressed by a graded approach and a combination of preventive, educational, protective, and other measures. This era of digitalisation demands a sophisticated digital security infrastructure that is secure enough from pilferage of information, to come in place and protect the data of users all across the internet. There have been numerous cases of cyberbullying and blackmailing due to the “leakage” of personal information of individuals. In addition to security infrastructure, a general awareness in the masses is also very important in regards to what can safely be shared online.

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Mubeen Ashraf is an M.Phil. in Defence and Strategic Studies from Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad. She is a Columnist, Researcher and occasional Speaker on different cyber related issues.

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Mubeen Ashraf is an M.Phil. in Defence and Strategic Studies from Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad. She is a Columnist, Researcher and occasional Speaker on different cyber related issues.

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