Monthly Average of 206 Harassment Complaints Reported in Pakistan

The seventh Annual Cyber Harassment Helpline Report 2023 has unveiled concerning statistics, indicating that the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) helpline receives an average of at least 206 harassment complaints monthly. In the year 2023 alone, approximately 2,473 complaints were registered, with February marking the highest incidence of reports. Since its inception in December 2016, the DRF helpline has amassed a total of 16,849 complaints from across Pakistan.

Pakistan is frequently cited as one of the most hazardous countries for women globally. With the rise in internet usage, now boasting a mobile broadband penetration rate of 53.6%, the phenomenon of violence against women has increasingly permeated the online realm. This trend mirrors entrenched patriarchal and misogynistic attitudes prevalent in society.

Recent findings from a GSMA report highlight that women’s mobile internet usage stands at 27%, with a pronounced gender gap in mobile internet usage of 38%. Studies focusing on women’s access to digital devices and the internet have identified family opposition as a critical obstacle to women’s ownership of mobile phones and internet access. Moreover, a mere 16% of women in Pakistan report regular use of mobile internet, attributing the primary deterrent to mobile phone ownership to a lack of literacy and digital proficiency. This factor is pivotal in comprehending the dynamics of online harassment directed at women and their responses to such aggression. In contexts where a woman’s reputation—and by extension, her family’s honor—is intricately tied to societal perceptions, and where women’s engagement in public life is often met with resistance, the ownership of a mobile phone is perceived as a conduit to the external world.

This scenario underscores significant obstacles for women and girls pursuing empowerment through digital platforms. Moreover, access to education for women remains constrained within the nation, and a substantial number of women are uninformed about the legal resources and remedies at their disposal for safeguarding themselves in the online environment.

The Digital Rights Foundation’s (DRF) research into online harassment in Pakistan has unveiled alarming patterns. A survey involving women in media and information roles disclosed that 55% had encountered abuse or harassment online; however, merely 14.2% had sought assistance. Another study by the DRF revealed that 70% of participants harbored concerns over the potential misuse of their photographs online, with 40% reporting experiences of stalking and harassment via messaging applications.

According to the helpline’s records, there were 2,224 complaints related to cyber harassment, 26 calls regarding domestic issues, 10 calls about physical harassment, and 8 calls related to harassment in the workplace. Additionally, the helpline received 151 calls for general inquiries and 151 calls concerning other matters.

The demographic analysis of the complainants reveals that young adults, particularly females aged 18 to 30, are disproportionately affected by various forms of online harassment. Notably, among the age demographics exceeding 30, male complainants surpass female ones. This disparity may suggest either a higher incidence of online harassment among younger women or perhaps a greater propensity among them to report such incidents, though definitive conclusions cannot be drawn.

The majority of the reports originated from Punjab, with 1,724 complaints, followed by Sindh with 261, Islamabad with 118, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) with 112, Balochistan with 35, and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) with 20. Additionally, there were 58 reports from individuals residing outside Pakistan.

In 2018, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) announced an expansion of its cybercrime wings to 15 locations across Pakistan. The agency offers various channels for filing complaints, including its website, email, and a dedicated helpline. However, feedback from complainants suggests that these digital avenues do not match the efficacy of in-person visits to the FIA’s offices.

The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security ranks Pakistan with a score of 1.53 out of a possible 4 on the Access to Justice Scale. This metric evaluates the extent to which women can initiate legal actions, demand fair trials, and pursue legal redress when their rights are violated.

Among the 2,224 incidents of cyber harassment reported to the Helpline, 1,278 cases (representing 57.5%) were subsequently referred to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) following the recommendation that legal recourse would better serve the long-term welfare of the survivors. Approximately 67.6% of these referred cases were from individuals residing in one of the 15 cities equipped with an FIA cybercrime wing. Conversely, 392 cases – or 30% – originated from locales outside these cities, necessitating complainants to undertake inter-city travel to lodge their complaints.

The distribution of cases does not imply an absence of online harassment or technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV) complaints in these regions. Rather, it may reflect the Helpline’s limited outreach within the population or a general lack of awareness regarding the available reporting mechanisms in these areas.

Complainants, particularly women, have vocally criticized the lack of specialized cybercrime units in their vicinity. This logistical hindrance is especially pronounced for women and girls, who often give precedence to preserving their anonymity in efforts to circumvent the adverse societal repercussions associated with victim-blaming practices.

In the reported cases, 1,790 did not include specific information about the accused from the victims, and in 87 instances, the identity of the accused remained unknown. Among the identified accused, 189 were reported to be former partners, with 20 of these being ex-spouses. Additionally, 11 current spouses were accused, along with 109 individuals who were strangers to the victims. Relationships initiated online accounted for 32 of the accused, equal to the number identified as family members. Clients or consumers were implicated in 118 cases, while friends constituted 29 of the accused, among other relationships.

Victims represented a cross-section of vulnerable communities, including individuals with disabilities, ethnic minorities, minors, religious minorities, as well as members of the trans and broader gender minority communities.

The Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) report highlights the multifaceted nature of technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV) in Pakistan. A significant portion of abuse reports involves multiple types of misconduct occurring concurrently. For instance, women reported 87% of the 178 cases involving non-consensual intimate images (NCII). Similarly, women constituted 86% of the 460 instances of blackmail. Furthermore, nearly half (48%) of all cases involving the non-consensual use of images, whether intimate or otherwise, reported by women, also featured elements of blackmailing.

Leave A Reply