After several evidence sessions and a call for written evidence, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee on the new online safety law has today (24th January 2022) released its report on the proposals and made recommendations to government to strengthen the law before it is presented to parliament.
While we welcome the DCMS Committee’s overall view that the new law is a “missed opportunity” to tackle online harms, and acknowledgement that addressing violence against women and girls (VAWG) is a “key omission”, we remain disappointed at the lack of a concrete recommendation to move this forward in the legislation.
The DCMS Committee’s report follows previous recommendations from MPs in December, which was criticised for going to considerable lengths to recognise the disproportionate nature of online abuse against women and girls but failing to make a single specific recommendation that would adequately tackle it.
Rebecca Hitchen, Head of Policy and Campaigns at the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said:
“This report rightly acknowledges that the new law should adequately address the wide-ranging and life-shattering violence that women and girls face online every day. This ranges from sexist harassment to rape threats, image-based sexual abuse including so-called ‘revenge porn’, tech abuse when an abuser uses technology and apps to control their partner, doxxing of women’s personal details and home address, stalking and grooming for exploitation or abuse.
This abuse doesn’t receive the response or attention it warrants, as the online world is categorised into a separate and less harmful box than offline abuse. But our online experiences can no longer be differentiated from our offline lives; our online experiences are real life. We should all be free from threats of abuse and harm when doing normal things like socialising, learning, working and activism, online and offline. But this isn’t the case for women and girls. 1 in 5 of us have experienced online abuse and we are 27 times more likely to be harassed online. For Black women, women of colour, women with disabilities, the threat is worse.
What’s more, there are links between online abuse and offline violence, including the rise in traffic to misogynistic ‘incel’ online communities and a reported increase in rapes of women using dating apps. So on all counts, it is irresponsible and illogical for the government to leave women and girls out of their supposed “world leading” new law that is meant to make us all safer online.
We now call on the government to make sure the new law is fit for purpose by listening to recommendations to address VAWG. Because until VAWG is explicitly named as a harm on the face of the law and tech companies are held to account by an accompanying VAWG code of practice, the new online safety law will be a missed opportunity to make the online world safer for women and girls.”
The new report highlights evidence given on the subject of online VAWG by experts such as Seyi Akiwowo of Glitch and Prof. Clare McGlynn, partners to the joint VAWG principles for the Online Safety Bill, in particular regarding that “current provisions would not adequately address the extent of harms facing women and girls”.
Nearly 45,000 people have signed a petition calling on the government to name violence against women and girls as a harm in the new law, and experts in the violence against women and girls (VAWG) sector have set out a series of recommendations for the new law. The government must now revisit the draft law and explicitly name VAWG as a key harm before the draft law is presented to parliament this spring, so that tech platforms are required to prevent and address this pervasive abuse.
Sinead Geoghegan firstname.lastname@example.org 07960 744 502