Virtual world, real dangers

Published: April 3, 2011

Advancement in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has come with its own costs — prominent among them are the new forms that violence against women has assumed. According to the UN, 95% of aggressive behaviour, harassment, abusive language and degrading images in online spaces are aimed at women. It seems that women are even more susceptible in the virtual world than they are in the real one. But by and large they are not aware of the hazards they are exposed to when using technology, much less how to fight them.

Forms of violence range from online stalking which can turn to stalking in the real world, to email hacking. In many cases, offenders create fake Facebook profiles of their female targets with abusive and explicit content.

Mobile phone pestering is so routine, that I doubt there is a woman out there who hasn’t received a ‘friendship request’ from an unknown number, often with sexually explicit content. Rarer still is the woman who has not received obscene phone calls from the same man using multiple phone numbers. Trying to get these numbers blocked is all too often an exercise in futility, as the offender simply switches to another number. What is alarming is that cases have been reported where, when the woman has refused to comply with the demands of the caller, the harasser has blocked her SIM through his friends in telecom companies.

Another disturbing development is the proliferation of websites with adult content which feature amateur videos and photos of women taken without their consent, indeed, without their knowledge. The proliferation of cell phones with cameras has also led to the proliferation of candid pictures of women on any number of websites. These sites brim with pictures of women, often school girls, and are sometimes linked to scandalous stories about them, complete with fake profiles. Often, the harasser uploads these photos to bully and blackmail the woman.

In September 2010, a young girl was not only gang-raped in Khipro, Sindh, but the rapists also made a video of her trauma and put it online. Within seconds, it was accessible to everyone through YouTube. While this may seem like a one-off incident, such cases are becoming more and more common.

Many desi ‘masala’ sites are filled with ‘MMS scandals’ and even amateur videos of women on the street are uploaded for lechers to gawk at.

The fact is that we tell the internet everything from where we live to who we meet, from where we go to what we do and when. This proves very handy for stalkers who use the information we post about ourselves online to track us. In a society where notions of shame and honour are of overriding concern, social activists who challenge these ideas often get harassed with serious threats via email and cell phone.

In fact, cyber bullying is now a common way of getting back at women for perceived insults in the real world. When a disagreement erupted between Sidra (not her real name) an employee at a pharmaceutical company and her male colleagues, they responded by photoshopping her into nude pictures and posting them on the company’s website. In another office dispute, Sara’s official email ID was hacked and adult content was sent from her official email to all the workers in the company.

Activists like Fariha Akhtar are working to curb violence against women through Information and Communication Technology. Akhtar is associated with a global campaign called “Take Back the Tech” whose aim is to make women worldwide aware of their rights and responsibilities on the web. A common response from women who have been bullied online is to withdraw from using technology. Fariha strongly advocates against such an approach, instead encouraging women to take ownership of technology and use it to speak out against abuse.

“I feel the risks associated with ICTs should by no means stop women from using the very same information technology constructively for personal and professional growth. We need to create awareness and be a little careful while sharing personal information online. In fact, we need to practice pretty much all those safety measures online that we take offline.”

In Pakistan, while regulations for electronic crimes exist, awareness about them is poor. The Monitoring and Reconciliation of International Telephony Traffic Regulations 2008, Electronic Transaction Ordinance 2002 and Prevention of Electronic Crimes Ordinance 2009 are the legal devices in place in Pakistan to fight cyber crimes. They talk about electronic fraud which, if proved, can result in an imprisonment of seven years and fine or both. Electronic forgery is another crime with the same punishment. The misuse of electronic systems or electronic devices, malicious code and misuse of encryption laws can result in a sentence of five years or a fine or both. Cyber stalking is considered the biggest crime of all and can entail imprisonment for up to ten years. These crimes are investigated by the relevant agencies, such as the FIA’s cyber crime wing.

Despite the growing problem, cybercrimes of this nature remain a low priority for law-enforcers in Pakistan. The best approach is to be aware of the dangers and protect your virtual life as you would protect your real one.

Be Safe Online

- Make use of privacy controls offered by websites and think before uploading any personal content. Remember, what you upload on the web will be there forever for the world to see.

- Never share any personally identifiable information such as cell phone numbers or home address.

- While uploading pictures, make use of the strictest privacy control available. In the absence of such restrictions, be aware that there are chances of your pictures being misused without your knowledge and permission.

- If you access the internet from public/shared computers, clear the browser history after you are done.

- Do not choose options to store passwords or sign in automatically when on public/shared computers.

- Avoid handing over your mobile phone number to shopkeepers for services such as easy load, to prevent them from reaching the wrong hands.

- Storing personal data on mobile phones or computers can be dangerous, as phones can be stolen or misused to transfer data, while computers can be hacked.

- When selling your computer or mobile phone, remove all personal content from it yourself.

- Sometimes, when transferring data for you, the shop-keeper keeps a copy of it which is likely to be misused later on.

- Be aware of photographs/videos being taken of you and avoid being shot in a compromising position, especially in public places.

- If you are in a relationship, avoid sending candid photos of yourself to your significant other. They may end up being misused.

- If your photo or video is being misused online, immediately contact National Response Center for Cyber Crimes.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, April  3rd, 2011.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • abdul rafay
    Apr 3, 2011 - 4:42PM

    our men can’t handle strong,self earning,self reliant,independent,intelligent women.
    we continue to think of women only as our slaves best kept restricted behind the 4 walls of our kingdom,to produce male heirs for us,to do whatever their ‘majazi khuda’ tells them to do.

    These regressive,odious attitudes & mentality is further reinforced by the maulvi in his sermons,by the multitude of religious ‘scholars’ dispensing misogyny & bigotry 24 hours a day from multiple ‘mazhabi’ channels.
    whenever any woman tries to stand up for herself,the men in our society like the ones mentioned in the cases above do everything they can to “put the woman back in her place”. They try to humiliate the woman so that she won’t advance in her career,so that she’ll not challenge anything they have to say.

    our men should get out of their delusion that women exist only for serving them & our women should stop getting blackmailed by the religious quotations & precedents that men throw up to subdue women.Recommend

  • farhan shahid
    Apr 3, 2011 - 4:58PM

    our girls shouldn’t get discouraged by the blackmailing antics of insecure men in their workplaces.Sick mothers raise such sick sons,brainwashing their sons from birth into believing that a woman’s place is in the house behind the stove & that you are superior to women in all respects.

    A lot of fault for the misogynistic barbarians we see in our society is the diseased mentality of the mothers of such cavemen.A childhood filled with comments of prince charming’s supposed superiority to women produces the kind of cavemen that the majority of the men in our society are.

    we need to start holding mothers to account also as they are the ones raising misogynistic cavemen.Recommend

  • Angelos
    Apr 3, 2011 - 7:23PM

    Sadly its true. We need to enforce cyber-laws like other countries of the world. Also you should know that you cannot post ‘rape’ videos on Youtube, even it it get posted it only takes one or two hours before it is removed. But ‘masla site’ are all filled with such content and Govt is not taking anystep to curb ‘disease-of-porn’.

    Women need to step up too and should be careful about such matters. Recommend

  • Anum Altaf
    Apr 3, 2011 - 7:39PM

    it is about time men stop thinkig of women only as “sex objects” we are so much more than pretty elegant species send my god to satisfy the opposite gender.. its the truth men cannot simply handle intellegent and independant women and when they dont get anything to raise against her they make her “being a women” as a target and use it against her.. nearly every successful woman carries a scandal i wonder why? can no woman make her way to the top without sleeping with the ceo of the company?? i bet she can and there are millions of women who have!!

    why run after women with wrong intentions? afterall, it is a woman that has given you birth.. Recommend

  • Hamad
    Apr 3, 2011 - 8:18PM

    Why does it only have to be women who are more prone to dangers from any thing or even an alien invasion.Its not only the women who are prone to the dangers of virtual world, its the whole society and every individual but due to some pathetic reasons the feminists would drag almost anything just to make there point. It would have been real good if the writer would have expanded the vision rather than just relying on to the mazloom, nazuk(delicate) and yet so easily submissive women.
    Even an idiot like me can provide some thoughtful topics to start with.

    1.The targeted advertisement on the virtual world and there effects on the infant,
    2.The office hours being wasted due to useless surfing
    3.The youth indulged in a sick online pornography
    4.Violation of Intellectual property rights

    But Noe, we all are so obsessed with women that we as a whole fail to see the broader picture. Recommend

  • tanveer
    Apr 5, 2011 - 7:51PM

    It is a blatant fact that from Stone Age to date, women are targeted, raped, blemished, offended, humiliated, disgraced for one or the other reason.
    So women are more prone to dangers from any thing or even an alien invasion.
    It’s only the women who are prone to the dangers of virtual world.
    It is because a woman is a very precious thing. They are more precious than diamond so she needs to be covered, protected, honored, treasured, cherished and loved.
    Like all valuables n diamonds are kept safe from theft and pilfering. Women are delicate, dainty, n fragile and beautiful to the extent that they charm every one with their charisma. They are not to be open to access by any one or every one. Islam gives all rights to women like to men. They are free to learn, teach, preach, fight, search research, train guide regardless of any obstruction etc but with some restriction which is for their own good.
    A dress code is suggested for women
    1-Proper n full dress through which body is not seen
    2-Head covered. The research tells us that emission from hair attracts opposite sex.
    3-No facial make up to influence or distract unnecessarily
    if followed the rules set by the Islam n Allah then the brutal and devilish acts can be minimizedRecommend

  • ak
    Apr 6, 2011 - 1:00AM

    very rightRecommend

  • tanveer
    Apr 6, 2011 - 11:46AM

    burning of Holy Book of muslims by a so called priest in Florida is the talk of the day.like all muslims n good human beings I also strongly condemn the devilish act of Terry Jones. honestly i doubt if hes a priest , becuase no sensible person leave aside a scholar or priest can ever do this unpardonable act. what I think is that he has never been in society of Muslims or civilized people. he is mentally ill and needs treatment for psycho patients. every action is reaction of something. such criminal acts are done by people who want to draw attention witohut knowing wht way to adopt. no muslim can ever think of doing such inhuman act coz they get love care n attention no matter what their age is.All prophets n their holy books are respectable for us. Jesus the Christ is as respectable n loved as all other Prohets. He spread the msg of Allah in His era so how can a christian or religiuos scholar can do this. i request humbly that please have mercy on each ther .Be friendly and patient. spread harmony love n peace on mother Earth.kindly forgive me if any of my words hurt any one. love you allRecommend

  • Apr 24, 2011 - 12:06PM

    Sub – MMS Scandals (young couple in compromising position)

    Recently lot of MMS scandals have come to light and news channels are making situation worse for the victims. Many girls have committed suicide due to noncooperation from appropriate governing bodies. Why do Authorities not take action against those who destroy life’s of couples who are not matured enough to refrain themselves from capturing their private moments on camera. Infact Most of the Sex MMS were not made for distribution, or intentionally causing harm to the girl/boy, but unfortunately it gets leaked and some criminal minded people upload it on internet. This destroyed the life of the couple and their families. Many a time’s girls commit suicide due to the humiliation.

    Its an appeal to you to Raise voice and help in initiating immediate action on following points:-
    Take action against websites like desipornmovies dot com, debonairblog dot com etc.. lot many cases like DPS MMS Scandal, JNU MMS Scandal, Miss.Jammu Scandal etc are still available for download. Why are these not barred from still being circulated???
    Barring Media from making big issue of such cases. On the other hand Media should warn people that distributors/uploaders will surely get caught if they indulge in such activities.
    Conduct raid on cybercafé and other spots where people can upload/download such videos (MMS) websites hosting such videos must be banned in india
    Its very important to Spread awareness that even indirectly involved person will be arrested for distributing/possessing such videos.
    To set an example, police should arrest OR call for interrogation, people from various location with reference to MMS scandal spreading.
    Protect the victims of MMS scandal

    ITS HIGH TIME, Now we should nail the coffin before more life’s are destroyed. Innocent Girls are Diying each day due to non-cooperation of police and other governing bodies.
    Regards

    Radhika SharmaRecommend

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