Watch your wordsOnline harassment is an epidemic that needs to be addressed more seriously
When Miss Nepal 2018 Shrinkhala Khatiwada won the title and left for China to represent the country in the Miss World pageant, a flurry of social media posts supported her unwaveringly. The massive online support helped her earn the Multimedia Award, and her compassion and commitment to serve the Chepang community earned her the coveted Beauty with a Purpose Award too. But unlike Khatiwada, most Miss Nepals have not been treated so kindly. Many former Miss Nepals have publicly spoken about the online abuse they have faced and continue to face. Most of the comments are so derogatory that they do not bear repeating here. They have been trolled and bullied.
Clearly, online harassment is an epidemic that needs to be addressed more seriously—both socially and legally. Online spaces need to be safe, especially for women, who are more prone to harassment and abuse. Many women, not just the ones involved in the glamour industry, are vulnerable to threats and slandering. According to the Kathmandu District Court 2017 report, 50 percent of cybercrime cases are related to harassment of women. Statistics from the Metropolitan Police Crime Division paint a similar picture. There has been a sharp increase in the number of cases registered about harassment against women on social media. There were 91 cases in fiscal 2013-14, 221 in 2014-15 and a whopping 769 in 2015-16.
Currently, all cybercrime cases are channeled through the Electronic Transaction Act 2008. Under Article 47, any person involved in publishing content that ‘may be contrary to the public morality or decent behaviour, spreads hate or jealousy against anyone, jeopardises the harmonious relations subsisting among the people of various castes and tribes’ faces up to five years in prison and a Rs100,000 fine. But the vaguely worded clause, which was framed almost a decade ago, does little to protect women from cyber violence. By not distinguishing between different forms of cybercrime, the act treats all cases—despite their varying severities—the same way. Under this system, a case filed about a stolen password follows the same legal process as a case filed by a woman who has endured months of trauma after obscene photographs were shared online without her consent.
This rapidly growing issue warrants its own legal provision, with terminology that provides women with the opportunity to seek legal help without having to disclose intimate details about their specific case. Establishing a national commission for women that directly oversees such cases could be a positive step forward. Advocating for increased community education around technology-related abuse and for public policy that protects women from this form of violence is equally important. Creating safe digital spaces for women is an endeavour that can be taken by any user.
Acting against obscene comments by reporting them to specific social media platforms or extending personal support to the victims are two simple ways to combat online harassment. The roar of online hate is loud. But the women’s voices need to heard over those of the abusers. It is important for everyone to stand up for those who face harassment, be it offline or online.