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Hacking to blackmail women: A new evil in our 'honour' system

Published Aug 31, 2015 04:19pm


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Girls have no one to turn to, and are often manipulated back into emotionally and physically abusive relationships.
Girls have no one to turn to, and are often manipulated back into emotionally and physically abusive relationships.

Earlier this week, Dawn reported on a group of lady doctors in Lahore being harassed by criminals who had hacked their social media accounts, and were using their private information to blackmail them.

That reminded me of a development from earlier this year, when the United Kingdom and United States criminalised revenge porn.

'Revenge porn' is the posting of sexually explicit content against the consent of people depicted in it. According to an organisation supporting victims of revenge porn, they see it as “non-consensual pornography, usually posted by a scorned ex-lover or friend, in order to seek revenge after a relationship has gone sour.”

Scorned ex-lovers...seeking revenge after a relationship has gone sour...” Those words will sound all too familiar if you've grown up in Pakistan. Every school has its share of urban legends, and every friendship circle knows too well the effects of sourly-ended relationships.

More alarmingly, the BBC found that women from cultures that follow codes of honour are more deliberately targeted as victims. This makes Pakistan one of the worst places to be a woman, be it in a marriage or a monogamous relationship.

Also read: More women doctors share harassment tales in Lahore

There are a growing number of Facebook pages hosting thousands of non-consensual photos of Pakistani women, and even more independent websites set up with the sole purpose of shaming the women who chose to trust their partners or friends.

After failed search attempts to find justice or support groups for victims, I turned to as much of the female population as I could to find out more. After questions in person, and on forums, it all poured in.

The responses confirmed my assumption – such blackmail and revenge is an everyday reality, with no avenue for help. Apparently, even the police seem to enjoy tormenting victims seeking help.

Girls have no one to turn to, and are often manipulated back into emotionally and physically abusive relationships. The humiliation and loss of 'honour' of having your family and community see private photos of yourself is often perceived as more dangerous than staying in an abusive relationship.

Also read: Online harassment of Pakistani women turns into real-world violence

Some of the more surprising responses blamed the victims. Pakistan has a long legacy of repressing female sexuality, and blaming the victim if they choose to rise against the repression. The most worrying aspect of this culture is the strict code of silence when it comes to 'honour'.

So where can victims of such revenge and blackmailing go?

I looked into the Federal Investigation Agency's National Response Centre for Cyber Crime. Their website states that they “can entertain” the following category of complaints: Un-Authorised Access, Email hacking, Fake ID on social media ... the list continues, but the use of private photos for revenge/blackmail does not make the cut.

When the Federal Investigation Agency and Police Departments of the nation are male-dominated – and an avenue for shaming – where can victims turn for support, legal advice, and counsel without risking their 'honour'?

In this digital age, women need new measures of protection and empowerment.

Revenge porn is a violation of privacy, and in cultures of honour, used as a form of manipulation to victimise and abuse women.

As the United Kingdom and United States have pushed to criminalise the act, Pakistan needs stronger legal codes in place to protect every woman from such a despicable violation of rights.


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Gulandam Khan is a Melbourne-based Strategy and Design Consultant at IBM.

She tweets @GulandamKhan

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (42) Closed

Muhammad Ahmad Aziz Aug 31, 2015 04:37pm

While such acts are condemnable, we should also learn to be cautious ourselves. Social media accounts can't be hacked in most cases. What happens is that the 'hacker'gains access to the login credentials because of lack of awareness on the users part. Don't leave your accounts unattended and don't access social media through unsafe networks.

Syed Shahid Hussain Aug 31, 2015 04:47pm

Always use your common sense which is so uncommon these days while posting on social media. Dont post anything that you deem may harm you years later.

whatsinname Aug 31, 2015 05:13pm

well, FIA cyber crime wing do entertain such cases. They have resolved many cases. The author I think just relied on information given on website.

Mahmood Aug 31, 2015 05:14pm

Why would an honorable and respectable woman allow anyone, including husbands to take explicit pictures of themselves to start with?

No relationship is guaranteed these days, and if you have no control over of what happens to those pictures, than it is in your self-interest to avoid situations where those pics could be used to blackmail and harass you, or be posted anywhere on the web.

Shazad Aug 31, 2015 05:21pm

There should be law that make sure 'death sentence' for those who blackmail and got caught without doubt. No if and but. Pakistan is becoming a deteriorating society and to correct the trend, Pakistan needs capital punishment for many crimes.

Pragmatist Aug 31, 2015 05:39pm

Stay away from social media. It's harms far outweigh any benefits.

tariq Aug 31, 2015 05:53pm

This is very old, in early 2000 the method was to use icq where email was given openly for females, go to yahoo, use forget password and then answer few questions whose answers are already available on the female open profile of icq, like favorite color etc. Keyboard logger was an easy method to send via email and track all info of target pc. Today in wifi world people use Linux to take over modem and then connected pc. Still females are not much aware of security options in Facebook and openly keep photos and info and become easy target. Mobile repair shops are the biggest concern where female mobiles memory card or internal memory is recovered to get lot of details. Selling mobile is also problem as contacts are recovered to call female friends. Blackmailing is also through photos in changing rooms of many well known shops.

M. Malik Aug 31, 2015 05:58pm

I blame the media in Pakistan, with uncontrolled broadcast of sensational, and vulgar programming from Hollywood and Bollywood, with no apparent censorship. Thanks to access to social media, and cheap smart phones, that allow anyone to take pictures/videos of anyone and anything, without consent!

Women need to be practice modesty, and shouldn't post private details and images online. That is the curse of social media. People post everything and anything, without thinking of the consequences, and once posted, it stays on the web forever, even if you delete your account. Anyone can then download your pictures and may and do use them for all sorts of illicit purposes, especially after manipulating a picture with Photoshop, to blackmail or harass!

Lastly, I feel Pakistan as a whole has lost its moral compass. What used to be 'shameful' and 'dishonorable' a generation ago, is now touted as glamorous, and proudly shared with the whole world, where it goes viral in an instant!!!

A.Kiyani Aug 31, 2015 06:00pm

Well depicted.. please continue this good work for standing for rights of women in a morally torn out state

AdHawk Aug 31, 2015 06:13pm

I thought Pakistan had all-female police stations now.

Suppose Aug 31, 2015 06:44pm

I thought it was another mawra apologist post. But turned out its something positive adding to the collective intellect of Pakistanis. Good girl!

x Aug 31, 2015 07:16pm

@Mahmood I think you meant to say no respectable and honourable man would ever stoop to such a low level to blackmail or shame a woman using pictures obtained either through wrong means or even shared with them by the woman with trust.

Mahmood Aug 31, 2015 07:51pm

@x Prevention is better than cure, or shifting blame, my friend! Why even give anyone the opportunity to do you harm?

ali awan Aug 31, 2015 07:53pm

well said.....there is a great need of strict law......otherwise Pakistani patriarchy society will do more that type of crimes.....and one thing is more,, which is very alarming , for this so called world only women s are the last of hope for future ......there is no more hope.....whether u aware or not......

jdshami Aug 31, 2015 08:46pm

Simple answer, Do not use social media.

Narvinnie Aug 31, 2015 08:57pm

Social Media has become the reality of today's men and women. to be safe on social media create difficult passwords and make a habit of changing your passwords every month or so. for difficult password that cannot be hacked make a phrase then take the first letter of each sentence and add a special character like @#$!&and add a number.

M.Saeed Aug 31, 2015 10:26pm

Not being wise on cyber-crimes, our young women refuse to accept the prevailing dangers and indulge in all possibilities that open the route of misuse.

Adnan Rana Aug 31, 2015 11:34pm

Instead of making streets, home and cyber space safe for girls and women, you want to stop them from using this. I guess next thing you want them to stop is breathing.

Sorry state of a nation ..

The-odd-one Aug 31, 2015 11:57pm

Ironically the comments regarding this post seem to do just what the post lambasts as deplorable. It is a woman's right to do what she wishes to ; that includes taking pictures, honor has nothing to do with it.

Rev. Eldrick Lal Sep 01, 2015 12:12am

Thank you for tackling the sensitive and pivotal matter. There could be many reasons why people blackmail others but its very sad issue. This indecent behavior will ruin the girl's family reputation in our culture. We need reforms!!!!!!!

Usman Bashir Sep 01, 2015 12:55am

some of comments focusing on ensuring the privacy of your stuff reminds me the popular rape defence mechanism "she should not be wearing such dresses to begin with". When we would learn to respect the privacy of others without being judgemental.

Imad Sep 01, 2015 01:46am

Crackdown and punish the culprits publicly with a harsh sentence!! The rest will back off .There should be an awareness campaign from FIA cybercrime cell to enlighten the people about our cyber laws, ensuring such incidences don't go unreported.

Harmony-1 Sep 01, 2015 03:10am

@Mahmood - You mean blame of such pictures falls squarely on woman and the man is not to be blames for taking such pictures? There are multiple circumstances where a woman will succumb to it, like trust, naivety, or if you love me you will do it, coercion by force, blackmail or anything. That's precisely the misogynist attitude that is the real problem.

Adil Jadoon Sep 01, 2015 03:55am

Criminalize posting of photos without consent and that should take care of it!

SHAHID Usa Sep 01, 2015 08:36am

Humans do make mistakes, but dont let any one blackmails you, be courageous get help through law and punish them, or these culprits will make you life hell

SHAHID Usa Sep 01, 2015 08:37am

@Syed Shahid Hussain , you talking about future,How can you undo its already done

arshad Sep 01, 2015 08:48am

Great article!.. this is an eye opener for the law makers... I demand an act to be passed from NA to criminalize this inhuman behavior.

Umer Sep 01, 2015 09:41am

A simple rule for everyone, don't put something on internet that is very personal to you. Live in real life.

Einstein Babar Sep 01, 2015 09:45am

Writer should use at least a few words to tell the ladies that do not copy western life style. Ladies must also be careful.

Skeptic Sep 01, 2015 09:54am

@Harmony-1 I don't think anyone is blameless. Women also manipulate, use and entice men into buying them expensive gifts, homes or even get them the coveted Green Card - using the temptations... until it back fires, and they cry uncle, and accuse men of blackmailing them! It takes two to tango!

Syed Ali Shamshad Sep 01, 2015 11:15am

Bottom Line...

*** Do no allow your lover/partner to take your private pics ***

Saifullah Minhas Sep 01, 2015 11:40am

You are right of the mentioned scenario but our young generation trust social media more than anyone, displaying their most of the pictures on the social media making them more prune to such attacks. Such public pictures are the first target of the attackers. I can show you examples of pages and websites built using public pictures of our female community. First and foremost duty is of ourselves to share only necessary materials on social media. It will save us from many inconveniences. :)

m m amin Sep 01, 2015 11:53am

So here we are . Now expect more crime and violence at home and on the streets . May I request your knowledgeable readers to advise users on security issues.

Ghulam Abbas Sep 01, 2015 12:16pm

If you care so much about what society thinks then you are going to suffer one way or the other.

Also they should read up on the basics of computer security starting with how to pick a good password and 2 factor authentication. Then they won't get hacked. All this info is available online. If only they cared enough to look it up.

Ali Jaan Sep 01, 2015 01:23pm

Those who hack and manipulate users online should be prosecuted by the government. Laws should be up to date to include international standards while also taking cultural norms into consideration.

Social media and in general anything uploaded onto the internet is prone to unwanted exposure. It is the users responsibility to be cautious in this regard. Awareness about the risks of placing personal information on the internet needs to increase.

I disagree with the author's non-statistical conclusion to rank Pakistan 'the worst place to be a women'. I would believe that in a functioning and balanced family environment, vulnerable girls (and boys) would have better and easier access to their parents for support. This as compared to other societies that believe in younger people being independent and moving out sooner from the support structure that is their immediate family.

Adeel Sep 01, 2015 01:26pm

the main problem is not because we do not have laws...the problem lies in its application...and in general, our attitude towards this problem. I am sure if the investigative agencies had brought out a case and the judicial system had the guts to make an example out of it, this evil would not have spread at a scale we see it today....

on the other note, i am really confused about one thing as a society...if some thing happens related to religion, people go out and dont even hesitate to shed blood...and when they dont feel a thing when they themselves dishonor themselves, religion, country....everything...beasts!

Toseef Ahmed Sep 01, 2015 01:48pm

Dear Sir, I don’t know why every time bloggers and commentators tried their best to prove that Pakistan is the worst place for women to live. The blogger herself admitted and informed us about “revenge porn” phenomenon that has its origin in west. So why do we claim that our society is worst than others i.e European , American etc. I admit that we have very serious issue like those mentioned by author but to relate these issues with honor and culture is simply not logical. I advise the author to kindly check the rape and sexual assault figures only in US for last 05 years. Also, please analyze the thoughts on American society penned by Andrea Dworkin.

manzoor Sep 01, 2015 03:31pm

An article written by a person who actually knows very little about the Pakistani society...females are not suppressed, yes there are a few cases here and there but that happens even if in the most developed and modern societies as well....and if anyone doubts my statement than he/she should google record....honestly Pakistan is not even in top 10 when we talk about the countries where women are suppressed or sexually harrased

Maqsood Ahmad Sep 01, 2015 04:18pm

In addition to this...Internet users should learn how to browse safely n securely......sensible browsing, password importance, firewall and antivirus protection r key to protect from such sort of hacking and blackmailing attempts......

FB Sep 01, 2015 05:00pm

@manzoor : Stats are dependent on crime reports. In Pakistan, there is no doubt that majority of these crimes go unreported due to society pressures which is akin to pseudo blackmail by the society. That's why you cannot look at the stats in Pakistan and compare them with any developed country where the rate of reporting is much higher.

Imran Ali Khan Sep 02, 2015 01:00pm

we need to educate our society and special training required in order to eliminate the menace of blackmailing otherwise its tough for anyone to survive .we are standing far away from the morality so push the dirty criminal minds behind the bar to set examples in the country that nobody could ever blackmail anyone in the society

aimal Sep 03, 2015 05:36pm

education is the best solution to all the social evils. sadly it has shrunk to become means to social status, job search and making money only. u can make laws u can implement them, but if u truly educate the people, u won't need to push things on them. they will adopt morality by themselves.