ISLAMABAD: The Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) on Thursday said its helpline received 11,681 online harassment complaints in the last five years.
Releasing its first five-year online harassment report, DRF said in 2021 the helpline received 4, 441 cases with an average of 370 cases per month with a significant rise between March and September.
The report highlights data collected by the helpline on cases of online harassment where it stems from and the helpline’s intervention to help individuals facing online violence.
Founded in 2012, DRF focuses on information and communication technology to support human rights, inclusiveness, democratic processes and digital governance. It works on issues of online free speech, privacy, data protection and online violence against women.
The report contains recommendations for policymakers and law enforcement agencies (LEAs) along with stories of women journalists and the abuse they’ve faced online.
The cyber harassment helpline was launched on December 1, 2016, and is the region’s first dedicated helpline addressing online violence with gender-sensitive, confidential and free services.
The helpline provides legal advice, digital assistance and basic psychological assistance through a proper referral mechanism.
The toll-free number (0800-39393) is available from Monday to Sunday (9am till 5pm) and extends its services over email and social media platforms.
Nighat Dad, the executive director of DRF, said the pace at which the cases of cyber harassment were increasing was alarming and must serve as a wake-up call for us to take appropriate action to make the internet a safe and equal space for everyone.
“All key players need to take measures for structural change to combat online harassment,” she added.
The report stated that 68 per cent of the calls received were by women while 30pc were by men and one per cent by gender minorities.
The most frequently mentioned platform in case of harassment was Whatsapp followed by Facebook.
Cyber harassment helpline manager Hyra Basit noted in the report that greater emphasis needs to be placed on awareness-raising and proactive reforms in order to maintain a safe environment for all minority communities so that they continue to benefit from the many advantages that the online world has to offer.
The helpline data also indicated that 893 complaints received on the helpline in the year 2021 were of blackmailing whereas 727 cases on the helpline were of the non-consensual use of images.
The report also included a set of recommendations for policymakers and law enforcement agencies regarding online violence and its reporting in the country.
DRF calls for release of an official report every six months in accordance with Section 53 of Prevention of Electronics Crimes Act (Peca) and its accessibility to the public.
For LEAs, the helpline recommends greater mechanisms to deal with cases in foreign jurisdictions which has also been mentioned in Section 1(4) of Peca.
The report also calls for greater assurance of confidentiality as a prerequisite for reporting as mentioned under Rule 9 of the Peca rules by the Federal Investigative Authority (FIA).
Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2022