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28/04/2016

FRIDA Grant Recipient Seeks to Reduce Cyberabuse and Cyberbullying

The Jamaican Centre of Leadership and Governance is leading a project to try to reduce gender-based violence in the Caribbean through the proper use of information and communications technology (ICT).

The initiative has been recognized by the Regional Fund for Digital Innovation in Latin America and the Caribbean (FRIDA) for its contribution to the promotion and exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms online, and has very recently proposed a series of public policy recommendations to try to reduce violence against women.

According to the study, one in five women and girls in Jamaica are victims of online gender-based violence.

Titled “Violence against Women and the Use of Information and Communication Technologies in Jamaica,” the project analyzed how ICTs are used in connection with gender-based violence online.

Dhanaraj Thakur, responsible for the Centre of Leadership and Governance and promoter of the project, told LACNIC NEWS that special attention should be paid to the seriousness of gender-based violence on the Internet.

How did the idea for the project come to be and how was the project developed?

Over the years I came across reports from the Jamaican media on various incidents of online sexual harassment, which in some cases involved physical violence. This led me to wonder about the scope of these incidents and whether the government or others were taking appropriate action to address them. On the other hand, I also came across the Take Back the Tech (TBTT) initiative by the Association for Progressive Communications and realized that this type of program could be implemented in our region. The first step, however, was to understand the problem within the Jamaican context. That’s how this research project was born.
What relationships have you found between the use of the Internet and violence against women and girls in Jamaica and the Caribbean?

The first is online harassment and abuse. According to the results of our study, 1 in 5 people in Jamaica has been the victim of online abuse or harassment.

Second is the way these forms of abuse often lead to major psychological damage or physical violence offline. For example, two people might meet online and then one might be deceived and subjected to sexual violence.

Third is the way in which ICTs are used in abusive relationships.  In many of these cases, the abuser limits the victim’s access to their phone or constantly monitors their phone to see what they have been doing and who has been in contact. Abusers also tend to monitor their victim’s Facebook activity.
In which online activities have you detected greater gender-based violence?

In our national survey we asked people on which platforms they had experienced online abuse. The most frequent response was Facebook (almost 45% of respondents), followed by Instagram, Twitter and online chat rooms. Generally speaking, violence had occurred over social media.
Are the relevant social and political actors responding to your team’s recommendations on how to best use ICTs to reduce violence against women?

It is probably too soon to see a reaction. We have shared all our research and recommendations with civil society groups, academics and—of course— government agencies. We will continue to promote the recommendations in various ways, including this article.
What are your recommendations? Is there any legislation in this sense?

Our report includes several recommendations. First, we argue that, while 1 in 5 people in Jamaica have been victims of online abuse or harassment, there is very little awareness of this issue at government level or even among civil society. Thus, the first step would be to recognize that the problem exists and that without a strategy to address the issue it will continue to grow. A second, related recommendation is to implement a national campaign to create awareness and educate users about the reality of online abuse and its link to physical violence. This campaign might also include training on the use of ICTs to combat online abuse and violence (the TBTT program I mentioned above is an example of this type of training).

Third, there should be a specific program targeting secondary school or even younger students to teach them how to protect themselves while online and as well as how to respect others. Fourth, the majority of those who attend church on a regular basis in Jamaica are women, so these places are an ideal venue to help raise awareness and educate women and girls on the nature of online abuse. In addition, this might also help spark a broader discussion on violence against women in Jamaica.

As for recommendations regarding legislation, while we do not propose any new laws, we do recommend addressing the gaps in existing legislation. For example, the current Sexual Offences Act does not adequately cover all forms of sexual violence and this might undermine any attempt to link online abuse to violence. Moreover, the current Cyber-Crimes Act does not address online harassment or abuse (although it does provide recourse against theft of personal data such as images and videos). Finally, the National Policy on Gender Equality also ignores the problem of online abuse and sexual violence in general. We argue that in order to address the problem it is important to reference the links between ICTs and violence against women and include strategies to address them in these and other legislative and policy documents.
What type of online interventions can be used to reduce gender-based violence in the Caribbean?

Most of the platforms mentioned above (in fact, most online platforms) are not based in the Caribbean. While it is important that platforms such as Facebook continue to work to reduce the potential for online abuse, immediate actions in the Caribbean should focus on increasing knowledge and improving the skills needed to combat online abuse.
How did you decide to participate in the FRIDA call for proposals?

Obviously FRIDA’s call for proposals included the Caribbean, but it also included a research component that made the program particularly relevant to our project. Given the opportunity, we decided to submit our proposal and were lucky to obtain FRIDA’s support.
How was your experience as a FRIDA Grant recipient?

We had a great experience, as communications and reporting requirements were very clear from the very beginning. FRIDA was careful not to burden grant recipients with too many reporting requirements, but always checked to see that we were effectively monitoring all project activities.

Because we focused all our attention on the project, we weren’t able to learn more about the other recipients. In fact, I hope that in the future we can become more involved with the FRIDA community in general.