Experts call for online VAWG to be addressed in the Online Safety Bill

Experts in violence against women and girls (VAWG) have urged the government to explicitly name and address online VAWG within the Online Safety Bill.

A woman looking at her phone

In a briefing released this week (13 September 2021), #NotYourPorn, the Angelou Centre, Chayn, Dr Fiona Vera Gray, the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), Faith & VAWG Coalition, Glitch, Imkaan, Professor Clare McGlynn, Rape Crisis England & Wales, Refuge, Welsh Women’s Aid and Women’s Aid Federation of England set out their principles for the Online Safety Bill and call on the government to urgently address online VAWG by including it within the legislation.

Online VAWG refers to acts of violence or abuse that disproportionately affect women and girls. It is a wide and ever growing set of behaviours that includes online stalking, online harassment including sexual harassment, grooming for sexual purposes, online threats and abuse including rape threats, domestic abuse perpetrated online also known as tech abuse, doxxing and image-based abuse.

Perpetrators are increasingly using online tools and platforms to harm women and girls, with new forms of VAWG emerging specific to the online sphere. Online VAWG has a profound impact on victims’ lives, affecting many women and girls’ mental and physical health and access to education, work, communities, support and information – both online and offline.

These forms of abuse are interrelated as part of the wider continuum of VAWG that is driven by women’s and girls’ inequality and other intersecting inequalities, such as race, ethnicity, disability and sexuality. Black and minoritised women face disproportionate threats and experiences of online VAWG due to misogynistic racism: research shows that Black women in particular receive the most abuse from strangers on social media.

Key Statistics

  • Women are 27 times more likely to be harassed online than men.
  • 1 in 5 women in the UK have been subject to online harassment or abuse.
  • Black and minoritised women and non-binary people reported the biggest increase in online abuse during Covid-19, with 38% saying the pandemic had led to increased online abuse.
  • 1 in 7 young women have experienced threats to share their intimate images or videos.
  • 85% of women who experienced online abuse from a partner or ex-partner said that it was part of the pattern of abuse they also experienced offline.
  • 83% of women who had experienced threats to share their intimate images from a current or former partner experienced other forms of abuse, including over a quarter who experienced sexual abuse.
  • 82% of image-based abuse prosecutions were flagged as being domestic abuse-related.
  • Almost a quarter (23%) of girls aged 11 to 16 and a third (33%) of young women aged 17 to 21 have been harassed online in the last year. This is higher for LGBQ girls and young women: 42% compared to 24% who are straight. Disabled girls and young women are also more likely to be harassed online with two in five (40%) aged 11 to 21 saying so compared to 25% of those without disabilities.
  • A fifth (19%) aged 11 to 16 have been sent unwanted sexual images — increasing to a third (33%) of 17 to 21s.
  • 1 in 8 titles shown to first time viewers of the most popular pornography websites in the UK describe sexual activity that constitutes sexual violence (whilst also being in contravention of their own – essentially meaningless – terms and conditions).

Read our recommendations to government

Andrea Simon, Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), said:

“This is an urgent issue that the government has a real opportunity to address as the Online Safety Bill progresses through parliament. If the legislation is to be fit for purpose it cannot ignore the extent of violence against women and girls perpetrated online, and the devastating harm this has on victims’ lives, both online and offline.

This abuse is going unchecked and causing women to undertake personal ‘safety work’ including self-censorship and removing themselves from online spaces, while perpetrators are enabled to continue through lack of consequences and tech companies profit.

Women and girls have the right to express themselves freely online without the threat of abuse. We need an Online Safety Bill that addresses online VAWG, so that all women and girls, including those from Black and minoritised communities, are protected from online harms.”

Read the VAWG experts’ recommendations to government in our joint principles for the Online Safety Bill

Download the large print VAWG Principles for the Online Safety Bill

The Bill is currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny. Interested parties can respond to calls for evidence here.

Ends

Notes

Spokespeople are available for comment.

EVAW media line: 07960 744 502

Email: [email protected]

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