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Can Online Violence Against Women And Girls Be Stopped?

No matter what a woman's political affiliations are, her rights must be respected.

Before anything else, this has to be clear: No woman should be subjected to online violence. It does not matter what her political affiliations are, her rights as a woman must be respected.

Attacked Online

Amid the political turmoil that the Philippines is experiencing, women have been increasingly targeted by violent remarks online. Usually, these violent remarks are also sexual in nature.

Aside from rape threats, women have also been attacked with nasty comments about their appearance and their private lives.

Just as Senator Leila de Lima—who is tagged as the nemesis of President Rodrigo Duterte—was threatened with the exposure of a fake sex video, blogger and The Philippine Star columist Mocha Uson—who is a staunch Duterte supporter—was also attacked with references to her days as a performer who focused on sexual provocation. Uson was attacked with variations of the comment, "Maghubad ka na lang (Just take off your clothes)."

Neither De Lima or Uson deserve to be attacked with such comments. Arguably, people can express their protests against De Lima or Uson without resorting to innuendos. However, that is not the case.

Free Legal Aid

Most recently, young women who protested against the burial of the late President Ferdinand Marcos were also subjected to extremely nasty comments online.

This prompted lawyers like Atty. John Molo and Atty. Jose Vener Ibarra to take action against the people who were sexually harassing the women online.

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Molo had volunteered his services for free to any woman who was threatened with sexual violence via social media. In a Facebook post, Molo had stated, "I am done with just shaming and correcting acts of blatant misogyny perpetrated online. If anyone knows any of the female students who are being sexually harassed by lewd pro-Marcos trolls, please ask them if they wish to pursue legal action. We will offer our services for Free, along with other lawyers I have talked to."

For his part, Ibarra wrote a letter to the Philippine National Police (PNP) Directorate for Personnel asking for information on an alleged police officer named Christian Plantinos for the purpose of filing a case against him for violating the anti-cybercrime law.

Plantinos had made a remark about joining someone in raping an anti-Marcos protester.

When asked why he decided to take action against Plantinos, Ibarra replied, "Instead of just being angry about it, I decided to do something to help."

Later on, Plantinos claimed that his Facebook account had been hacked and that he didn't make the rape comment.

Ibarra remarked, "Well, now, he (Plantinos) has to prove that he got hacked. There are ways to find out if his FB account did, indeed, get compromised."

If Plantinos' claim is not substantiated, he will face charges for violating the stipulations in the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (Republic Act No. 10175).

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A Disturbing Trend

Amid the latest furor over women being attacked online, it should be noted that this has been a disturbing trend for some time.

A 2015 paper released by the United Nations Broadband Commission, "Combatting Online Violence Against Women & Girls: A Worldwide Wake-Up Call", revealed that "a growing number of women online have been exposed to some form of cyber violence."

The paper noted that "despite the rapidly growing number of women experiencing online violence, only 26 percent of law enforcement agencies in the 86 countries surveyed are taking appropriate action."

"Cyber-violence against women and girls (VAWG) is emerging as a global problem with serious implications for societies and economies around the world," the report said.

It added, "The landscape of gender-based violence has been transformed...[but] rather than there being a dramatic reduction in violence against women,...the challenges have become more complex, the resistance to change deeper, the backlash against the empowerment of women more blatant and the methods used to uphold the status quo more sophisticated and insidious."

The report likewise cited the findings of a 2014 report done by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC)—a global network of civil society organizations that provides communication infrastructure (including Internet-based applications) to groups and individuals who work for peace, human rights, protection of the environment, and sustainability.

The APC report examined how violence against women online was handled in seven countries: Pakistan, Colombia, Mexico, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, and the Philippines.

APC observed, "In each country we witness various forms of cyber violence, and it is evident that the real threat to women and girls is the double tragedy of lack of agency and resources victims have in dealing with the offenses committed against them."

The report likewise said, "In practice, taking a legal approach is often the last resort for women and is usually available to those with financial resources and empowered with knowledge through education."

On A Hopeful Note

Thankfully, more lawyers are following Molo and Ibarra's lead.

In a December 1 Facebook post, Molo announced that he and his fellow lawyers were getting organized. "To those who volunteered, please stay tuned for details of a general meeting. We'll be outlining objectives, assigning tasks and, sharing responsibilities. The collective journey to a nation with safer spaces online begins soon," he wrote.

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For women, the day when they can express themselves online without being attacked by threats of gang rape and sexual innuendos can't come soon enough.