World

Women bear brunt of online abuse as world goes digital during pandemic

LONDON : Women bear the brunt of digital abuse - threatened with rape and exploited for porn - as the coronavirus pandemic drives ever more people online, media experts said on Wednesday.

Through salacious claims and viral memes, Brazilian journalist Patricia Campos Mello said she has repeatedly faced attack online for reporting on the Brazil government's handling of the Covid-19 crisis.

"Thousands of memes have circulated on the Internet where my face appears in pornographic montages," Ms Mello told the Thomson Reuters Foundation's annual event, Trust Conference, held online this year due to the pandemic.

"(People) call me a prostitute and say I offer sex in exchange for stories. I get messages from people saying I deserve to be raped."

Women's rights campaigners worldwide have warned of an increase in online abuse such as revenge porn as Covid-19 confines many people to stay home in front of a screen.

Girls as young as eight have also been subject to abuse, with one in five young women quitting or reducing their use of social media, according to a recent survey by girls' rights group Plan International.

The International Women's Media Foundation said 58 per cent of nearly 600 female journalists interviewed in 2018 had been threatened or harassed in person, and one in 10 received death threats.

This came as no surprise to India-based journalist Rana Ayyub, who has featured in a fake porn video circulated to government officials and has received numerous death threats.

"If you are a critic of the government and a woman who also happens to be a Muslim, this ticks all the boxes to be humiliated and discredited," Ms Ayyub said.

The #MeToo movement has emboldened women to recount their experiences of being verbally abused, groped, molested or raped.

Ms Ayyub said online abuse has to be taken more seriously, adding that the authorities have yet to do anything about the dozens of death threats she has received. "We underplay how online threats can be dangerous because there's a very thin line when online can go offline. It's about time our countries make it safer for us to be where we are and not feel threatened to leave." - REUTERS

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