Cyber Harassment on the Rise in Punjab; How to Fix this Issue?

Cyber harassment and bullying

Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) releases the first six months operations report for the Cyber Harassment Helpline. The report details the data collected by the Helpline team and recommendations on how to improve the institutional response to online harassment.

Also ReadPunjab emerging as hub of cyber harassment and bullying

The Cyber Harassment Helpline is Pakistan’s first dedicated helpline addressing issues of online abuse and violence providing a free, safe, gender-sensitive and confidential service.

The Helpline Support Staff gives legal advice, digital security support and psychological counseling to victims of online harassment.

The toll-free number [0800-39393] is available to people looking for help between 9 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday.

Findings

According to our findings, the Cyber Harassment Helpline has received 763 complaints in the form of calls, emails and Facebook messages from December 1, 2016, till May 31, 2017.

The helpline has so far received 703 calls on the helpline out of which 569 callers were calling for the first time. The Helpline has received an average of 82 calls per month. 63% of the calls were made by women, whereas 37% of the calls were made by men.

Also ReadNighat Dad’s Cyber Harassment Helpline; Is it enough to fight the evil?

Facebook remains the most widely reported platform where people face the most harassment. Among the kinds of harassment reported, complaints of fake profiles, non-consensual use of information, blackmailing, hacked accounts and devices and unsolicited messages were the most common ones.

Only non-personally identifiable information is collected from our callers to maintain their privacy. While 21.2% of the callers did not want to disclose their location, we were able to identify that most of our callers on the Helpline were from Punjab (44%).

The helpline also received calls from Sindh (19.1%), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (5%), Balochistan (1.6%), Azad Kashmir (0.6%) and the Federal Capital, Islamabad (8. 7%).

It is to be noted that these figures only reflect information that comes towards the Helpline, and not the general state of cyber harassment in the country.

Cyber Harassment and Mental Health

The Cyber Harassment Helpline also started identifying the mental health consequences of cyber harassment with a descriptive and psychological review of the calls.

It was identified that out of a sample of 50 callers who gave psychological data, 18% experienced fear and 18% felt anger which further led to depression (17%), insecurities (19%), disturbed sleep (15%), withdrawal from family and friends (14%), anxiety/paranoia (10%), suicidal thoughts (5%), chronic stress (16%) and problems in relationships (4%).

Recommendations

Building on this data, the Digital Rights has identified some recommendations for the government and law enforcement agencies to improve the reporting mechanism regarding cyber harassment.

DRF recognized that the National Response Centres for Cyber Crime (NR3C) of the FIA have limited resources and are understaffed which has led to a delay in registration and investigation of cases.

There is also a need to establish a rapid response cell in the NR3C since certain cases of cyber harassment are sensitive and require immediate action. Gender-sensitization training for current staff is extremely important along with better coordination with other departments working on gender issues.

The FIA’s NR3C also needs to address the psychological needs of the complainant and maintain their privacy and confidentiality while registering a complaint.

We identified that 50.6% of our callers cannot approach the FIA without leaving their city of residence, as they are currently limited to major cities of Pakistan.

FIA’s National Response Centre needs to expand their operations to more cities to ensure every individual gets access to justice.

Digital Rights Foundation is a registered research-based advocacy non-governmental organization in Pakistan. Founded by Nighat Dad in 2012, DRF focuses on ICTs to support human rights, inclusiveness, democratic processes, and digital governance.

DRF works on issues of online free speech, privacy, data protection and online violence against women.

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