As cyber violence is considered as the fastest growing form of violence that affects women and children on a daily basis, it has become a need of the hour to train law enforcement authorities to deal with crimes of this nature. Keeping this in mind, Women In Need Sri Lanka (WIN) recently launched a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the Sri Lanka Police to refer to when dealing with cybercrimes. Apart from that WIN also presented some key findings of a research that addressed technology facilitated violence against women and children.
An attempt to strengthen the laws
In her opening remarks, Executive Director of WIN, Savitri Wijesekara opined that cyber violence is the fastest growing form of violence in terms of gender-based violence in Sri Lanka. “We need to address this problem and look into the laws that are available. From a legal perspective we realised that we need to upgrade the laws to support victims of cybercrime violence. We also need to strengthen the Women and Children’s bureaus in the Police and punish perpetrators. As such we should help the Police to take it forward as part of their work,” she said.
From a legal perspective we realised that we need to upgrade the laws to support victims of cybercrime violence. We also need to strengthen the Women and Children’s bureaus in the Police and punish perpetrators
Cyber harassment through the lens of the new culture
Speaking at the event, Hans Billimoria of Grassrooted Trust looked at cyber sexual harassment through the lens of the new culture. “The SOP is wonderful, but in order to address this issue in the long-term we shouldn’t just stick to the SOP or only make sure that the perpetrators are punished, but also look at preventive education in schools. Every time I bring up this ideal of education or preventive education I have been asked to wait a little and to not be in a rush. I’m in quite a big rush because we are sadly sick of waiting for all the NGOS and INGOS, multilateral agencies that want to fight for gender-based violence or intimate partner violence who should stand up and take a look at the need for prevention education starting very young in schools. Here I’m talking about concepts like respect, consent and empathy and self-esteem. Therefore, while we have the Police and SOP in place we really need to take a look at what more is required,” said Billimoria.
Drawing attention to statistics from a UNICEF study, Billimoria explained why children as young as 13 years of age are online. “10-15 years ago people went online to find information, but according to data issued by CERT we see that maintaining relationships lie at 68.59% while getting information lies at 65.61%. One of the key reasons for being online today is not to find information, but maintain relationships. So what does it mean to maintain a relationship in this cyber world that we are a part of? If you look at the motivation to send nudes between young people, love and trust, are the big two because those are the ones that are also used. Nudes are now a symbol of fidelity, love and trust. The perpetrators therefore USE love and trust as a tool to get a nude photograph of their girlfriend. Distance is another reason because the two lovers are in separate places. This data was tabulated from what children have told us when we go to schools to conduct programmes. Cultural trend is another explanation apart from sexual attraction. There’s also a high chance for a 11-year-old child to send a nude photo of hers by following what the seniors in the school does. This is how they show that they ‘like’ a particular individual. Nude photos are also sent to keep the partner interested. I remember one girl saying that had she not sent the nude photo he would have left. One boy had told the girl that if she didn’t send a nude photo then she is prompting him to watch pornography. One boy told the girl that all his friends’ girlfriends have sent nude photos to their partners and that she’s the only one who hasn’t sent a photo. This means they are talking. Then there’s peer pressure. Sending nudes is also considered a relationship milestone,” underscored Billimoria.
What is the state of the relationship between the parent and the child that allows for this blackmail and control? What is the state of relationship between father and daughter?
He further said that they have come across cases where girls have preferred to experience sexual violence perpetrated by their boyfriends or ex-boyfriends to their parents getting to know that they have sent their nudes. “What is the state of the relationship between the parent and the child that allows for this blackmail and control? What is the state of relationship between father and daughter? We need to educate children on data retrieval software. If you go to get your laptop fixed the person at the computer shop will put data retrieval software. When you delete those photos you think they are gone but they are not because it is a computer. Some are accidental where you meant to send it on direct messenger, but accidentally you have put it on Instagram. These children are ignorant of the laws as well,” he added.
“Today 70% of the cases that the CID is dealing with are in relation to the fallout or breakup of relationships,” he continued. “But what are we doing about the relationship of education in schools? We can start this in an age-appropriate manner. During his presentation, Billimoria also referred to several text messages sent between boys which discuss about the value given to nudes, the girls’ school they prefer etc. What we need is a government, a national institute of education to take a serious look at this and reveal what is going on. Why are our young men treating our young women like this? Our young men use language such as ‘baduwa’ and ‘kella’ to describe young women in this country. We laugh, we say it’s alright, we call it ‘kolukama’ and say it will be alright when they mature in age,” he said.
Shedding more light on how nude photos are being shared, Billimoria referred to a research done on how the boy sends the nude photo to his Whatsapp groups. “Then it ends up in larger Whatsapp groups and the photo gets analysed. The ‘organisers’ categorise it as an old photo or a new photo and start creating a database. The boys receive these photos with the name of the girl, their school and the photos are taken in different angles as well. Apart from that content creators invite these boys to send photos of their own girlfriends and in turn they are given access to this database. So without having to pay for porn, they are now getting these young people to create their own content. Another methodology of content creation is where the perpetrator asks for photos of the girl’s mother, sister or cousin. If the girl fails to send the boy threatens to release the nude photos of the girl. Apart from that, we also need to think about young gay men in the country who cannot go to a Police station and say that they are being targeted. This also applies to young or old transgender people who cannot go to a police station. So have a thought for them as well. If you think this issue is rampant among the heterosexual community, imagine the violence among the homosexual and transgender community as well,” he said.
“Girls are also teased as per the wishes of the boy if they don’t want their photos to be released. They can also take your photo off Facebook, Photoshop it onto a nude photo and blackmail you. There are Sri Lankan pornographic websites that have videoed women taking a bath. This is the existing porn industry which is now focusing on young people as content providers. Some pages we report to Facebook aren’t identified as violating community standards because neither the Sinhala nor English algorithm is picking it up. The pictures used are not naked photos, but photos of children in their school uniforms. These photos are used for humour, hence apart from being a cybercrime we also need to question our general attitude. If you look at the number of likes on these pages, they exceed 3000. When you click a Like on a page, everybody else in your friends list also sees your activity. Therefore we need to work at school level and educate parents. If not, 30 years from now, there will be a virtual reality form of violence against women and children we’ll still be talking about it,” he said.
Going beyond traditional investigating procedures
Most victims lodge a complaint with the Women’s and Children’s Desk at Sri Lanka Police, but in most cases they do not have the capacity to pursue with the matter. As a result most cases are referred to the CID. “Launching the SOP is a big step towards protecting the rights women and children,” opined SSP Bimshani Jasingharachchi, Director of Women’s and Children’s Bureau, Sri Lanka Police. WIN provides training for law enforcement authorities like the Police and works hand-in-hand with us. They have also trained us in handling cybercrimes as law enforcement officers. In most instances it’s women and children that are victimised due to these crimes – they usually lodge a complaint at the Women and Children’s Desk. Officers were trained on how to speak to victims and take the case forward. We need to think about the victims first because they are experiencing trauma. As the Sri Lanka Police we should go beyond traditional investigating procedures and adjust ourselves when dealing with crimes of this nature,” said SSP Jasingharachchi.
We need to think about the victims first because they are experiencing trauma. As the Sri Lanka Police we should go beyond traditional investigating procedures and adjust ourselves
SSP Bimshani Jasingharachchi
According to sections 345, 483, 399 of the Penal Code action could be taken against sexual abuse, criminal intimidation, blackmailing and several other offences. “Therefore we need to identify these crimes first. We receive around 10 complaints relating to cybercrimes every day. Recently a university visited us to lodge a complaint against her boyfriend who was trying to blackmail her. She was having suicidal thoughts because her mother had refused to take her into the house when the word got around that she was seeing someone. When such a person comes to us we need to console her first and give her the necessary psychological counselling and intervention before proceeding with the investigations. We need to convince her to place trust in the law. I believe that every Police station should have this handbook and duly implement its recommendations. We need to have a women and child-friendly environment to work in because these are sensitive issues and I thank WIN for the effort,” the law enforcement official said.