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The organisation calls for a specific and official register of cases to measure the extent of the problem more accurately.
“We don’t let them cross the street alone, but they do have access to a digital device with infinite options for accessing content and relationships”

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. 23 November 2023.

The rise of gender-based cyber-violence requires a social front that encompasses joint educational and legislative actions, among others, especially among children and young people. This is what the feminist organisation Opciónate, which specialises in this area, stresses in the context of the International Day Against Violence Against Women, which takes place on 25 November.

Opciónate, a statewide non-governmental organisation based in Gran Canaria with more than twenty years of experience in local, national and international social projects, points out that there are multiple indicators that reveal the rise of harassment of women, female adolescents and girls in the digital world.

The proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (2022) defines the general framework when it states that “cyber-violence has been increasing with the use of the internet and IT tools” and that “it is often an extension of violence suffered by victims offline. Despite the widespread nature of cyber-violence, regulation has so far been very fragmented and significant legal gaps have been identified at both EU and Member State level”.

Similarly, the 2022 report ‘Gender-based digital violence: an invisible reality’, by the National Observatory of Technology and Society, shows that 18.4% of women report having suffered sexual harassment on the Internet. And the percentage increases the younger they are: more than 25% of women between 16 and 25 years old have received insinuations considered inappropriate through networks. Moreover, in less than a decade, the number of offences involving contact via technology for sexual purposes has increased fivefold in Spain.

Likewise, the report by the Federation of Young Women Apps Without Violence (2023), states that 57.9% of the women interviewed felt pressured to have sex with the men they met on Tinder and 21.7% of the women who went on dates through Tinder stated that they were forced to have a sexual relationship through explicit violence.

In the Canary Islands, according to the research report ‘Gender-based cyber-violence: an analysis of the current reality in Gran Canaria’, elaborated in 2022 by Opciónate with the support of the Department of Equality of the Council of Gran Canaria and in which 331 women participated, 50.5% have experienced situations of sexual gender-based cyber-violence, 16.3% have been threatened to have a sexual relationship through the internet and 37% have experienced gender-based cyber-violence by their partner or ex-partner. Only 5% of those who have suffered it report it.

As a fact associated with the introduction and use of the Internet in Spain, there has been an increase in the types of crime grouped under the concept of cybercrime, as evidenced by the Ministry of the Interior in the Balance on Crime, corresponding to the second quarter of the year 2023, which reflects the evolution of crime in the country recorded during the first six months of the year.

This balance shows an increase in cybercrime of 19.7% compared to the figures obtained in 2022, with cybercrime accounting for 18.3% of the total number of criminal offences registered during this period in Spain. In the Canary Islands, the increase in cybercrime was 26% and on the island of Gran Canaria, 17.6%.

This landscape of reports and figures confirms the depth of the problem of gender-based cyber-violence, especially among minors. There is an increase in the use of information, communication and relationship technologies (ICTs) as a means of committing gender-based cyber-violence, given that the anonymity afforded by technological means favours its use, with the perpetrator feeling a greater sense of security and sometimes impunity when committing it.

Many of these crimes affect children and adolescents, who are often unaware of the dangers of such behaviour and often trivialise its risks, and it is essential to prevent such behaviour through specific actions, especially in the educational sphere.

 A sense of impunity

This landscape of reports and figures confirms the depth of the problem of gender-based cyber-violence, especially among minors. There is an increase in the use of information, communication and relationship technologies (ICTs) as a means of committing gender-based cyber-violence, given that the anonymity afforded by technological means favours its use, feeling the perpetrator a greater sense of security and, sometimes, impunity, when committing it.

Many of these crimes affect children and adolescents, who are often unaware of the dangers of such behaviour and often trivialise its risks, and it is essential to prevent such behaviour through specific actions, especially in the educational sphere.

This landscape of reports and figures confirms the depth of the problem of gender-based cyber-violence, especially among minors. There is an increase in the use of information, communication and relationship technologies (ICTs) as a means of committing gender-based cyber-violence. Given that the anonymity afforded by technological means favours its use, the perpetrator feels a greater sense of security and often impunity when committing it.

Many of these crimes affect children and adolescents, who are frequently unaware of the dangers of such behaviour and tend to trivialise its risks, and it is essential to prevent such behaviour through specific actions, especially in the educational sphere.

Among young people, the discourses of the manosphere are taking over: the set of digital spaces characterised by anti-feminism, male victimhood and misogynist discourse. The report published by the Canary Islands Institute for Equality in 2020 points out as particularly alarming that 18% of the men surveyed blame the assaulted women themselves in cases of gender violence. At national level, according to the FAD’s ‘Youth and Gender’ barometer in 2023, 23.1% of young men believe that gender violence “does not exist or is an ideological invention”. In 2019, this percentage was 12%.

Despite this evidence, Opciónate, who is currently in charge of the Island Service for the Prevention and Attention to Gender-based Cyber-violence (SIPACM), funded by the Department of Equality of the Cabildo de Gran Canaria, considers it essential to incorporate gender-based cyber-violence specifically into research, reports and statistics on gender violence and sexual violence, as well as in all legislation, plans and protocols for its prevention, detection and approach, and the need for training in digital ethics, cybersecurity and online self-defence for families, professionals, children and adolescents. This register would shed more light on the scope of this scourge with more accurate and realistic data.

A ‘Decalogue’ to prevent and tackle cyber-violence

 The founder and director of Opciónate, Ana Lidia Fernández-Layos, also makes the following reflection: “We open the door of the online world to children without knowing enough about the devices we are giving them and without orienting them about their possibilities and dangers: we do not let them cross the street alone, but we do let them access a digital device with infinite options for accessing content and relationships”.

To prevent and adequately address cyber-violence and make online spaces safe, violence-free and egalitarian, Opciónate advises:

  • Promote education in digital ethics, cybersecurity, online self-defence, co-education and self-awareness of our participation in the digital sphere among families, teachers, key professionals and children and young people.
  • Block and denounce all online content, including video games, that promote hate crimes and discrimination against women and girls, and show children and adolescents content that promotes positive values and behaviour.
  • To raise awareness of the serious psycho-emotional, physical and social impacts of gender-based cyber-violence through data and testimonies to show that behind a screen, a like or an insult there are human beings with feelings.
  • Ensure sexual and affective education in childhood with special emphasis on gender socialisation and toxic masculinity in order to disarticulate the new anti-feminist discourses that are being promoted in the manosphere.
  • Incorporate online gender-based cyber-violence into analysis, research, as well as the development of specific plans, protocols and legislation and disseminate updated data to define key actions.
  • To achieve an approach of accompaniment and closeness to children and young people, which favours trust and listening for the detection and appropriate approach to cases in the family, educational and professional spheres working with minors.
  • Create networks and alliances among professionals, as well as support groups.
  • Denormalise gender-based cyber-violence by making it visible.
  • Increase collective rejection and end impunity by publicly supporting affected women, female adolescents and girls.
  • To have specialised services for prevention, care and accompaniment.