As the pandemic affected our lives, we changed and learnt to adapt to the limitations of a new world. We even turned limitations into new opportunities and ideas. One of which, is our move to the cyber world. When we could not work in real time offices anymore, we shifted our offices online, when we could not study in real time classrooms anymore, we moved them online. The time that we spend on the internet has considerably increased and the same is true for the youth and children. While internet has taken away many of our woes, it has unfortunately also introduced some in our lives. One of them is – Online Sexual Harassment. Several women and girls especially find themselves at the receiving end of the same. As they navigate the world of internet via social media, WhatsApp, online dating, video conferencing, many of them are vulnerable to online abuse. This abuse can and does take many forms- trolling, cyber stalking, being subjected to unwarranted obscene content.
This poses a challenge, because in a world where we are rapidly digitizing, women and girls are often scared to claim their space online, they are reluctant to optimally use the internet for their growth. According to the cyber security expert Amit Dubey, there has been an increase in cyber-crimes by three times during the pandemic, whereas 78% of the increase has been solely in the case of women and children. This, we believe is unfortunate because just as we need the real world to be safe for our women and girls, we also need the virtual world to be safe for them.
This time, on International Day of the Girl Child, Sachhi Saheli- a nonprofit organization is bringing the issue of sexual harassment to the fore with a campaign called – #HaqSeOnline.
HaqSeOnline is no less than a movement with an aim to sensitize, bring awareness and spread knowledge to combat online sexual harassment. While presenting to the world a dimension of what our digital rights are, this movement encourages digital users, especially women and children to follow preventive measures, speak up and use social media platform, only to uplift themselves holistically.
Through this campaign, several experts from the field of law, cyber security and mental health are coming together to dispense knowledge that any girl/women need to safeguard herself from online sexual harassment. The pool of knowledge shared by Legal Experts from Delhi State Legal Services Authority, Cyber Experts like Mr. Rakshit Tandon and Mr. Amit Dubey—is open, not just to the digital users from diverse backgrounds but for parents/guardians of children as well. Especially in the case of children, where the locus of control over participation, prevention and remedies is largely on parents, caregivers and guardians, #HaqSeOnline will prepare the entire community for creating a safe and secure digital world for them.
When somebody faces online sexual harassment, the price they pay is the long-lasting trauma of being abused. Dr. Samir Parekh, Director of Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare explains, “Children are mostly at the receiving end of the crimes. Their fake IDs are made by perpetrators and they are unaware of how to solve it. They are scared to tell their parents and as a result, mental trauma is the price they pay for, at such a young age.” For this reason, an issue that is sensitive yet crucial to be discussed about will be addressed where beneficiaries will be provided with information on a ‘psychological first aid kit’ by the – Dr. Samir Parekh, equipping them to tackle the aftermaths of online sexual harassment at an early stage. This information will aid them in mentally safeguarding themselves and those around them, while maximizing positive experiences and minimizing negative occurrences on the internet.
Dr. Surbhi Singh, the Delhi-based gynecologist and President of Sachhi Saheli NGO threw light on the recent case of a 24-year-old Riya from Delhi being sexually harassed through video calls from the perpetrators. She asserts, “For how long will the women and girls face it? The solution is to be #HaqSeOnline and for that, empowerment only comes with knowledge! We are here to listen to them, help them know their legal rights and make social media a safe space for them.” She emphasized on the importance to engage, to share experiences, to ask questions and understand each other so that the perpetrators do not get a free pass, so that they know there are stakeholders in the society to combat the heinous acts of online sexual harassment.
As a society, we must come together and especially as parents we must equip our children with the weaponry of knowledge, with strength and with courage so that they can safely and cautiously navigate the world of internet. And as women and girls, it is important to be resilient, to be bold and not limit themselves because the online space belongs to the girls and women equally and it’s their right to claim their space safely and be #HaqSeOnline!
By Dr Surbhi Singh, Delhi based gynaecologist