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Online abuse silences women, girls: Survey

LONDON: Pervasive online abuse and harassment pressure women and girls into censoring themselves on social media and fuel gender-based discrimination and violence, rights groups said yesterday.

About one in four women in Britain, the US and six other countries said in a survey they had experienced online abuse or harassment.

More than 40 percent said the online abuse made them fear for their physical safety and more than half reported trouble sleeping, loss of self-esteem and panic attacks after the incidents, according to rights group Amnesty International, adding that about a third stopped expressing their opinions online or withdrew from public conversations as a result.

"This poll shows just how damaging the consequences of online abuse are," said Amnesty researcher Azmina Dhrodia. "This is not something that goes away when you log off."

Online harassment starts at a young age and may be more common for girls and teenagers than adults, according to United Kingdom-based child rights group Plan International.

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Nearly half of girls aged 11 to 18 in the United Kingdom said they had experienced abuse or harassment on social media, Plan found in a survey earlier this year.

Like women, most of the girls said they stopped sharing opinions or otherwise changed their online behaviour out of fear, it added.

"Very young girls are learning that they need to take responsibility for harassment and abuse," Ms Kerry Smith of Plan said.

"What they are saying is that they are holding themselves back."

Parents, teachers and police often respond to online abuse by taking away girls' phones or telling them to go offline, which teaches victims they are responsible for the problem, Ms Smith said.

Online harassment teaches boys that it is okay to treat girls as sexual objects and to exercise power over them, which can lead to physical abuse and rape, she added. - REUTERS

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