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Woman Shares Contact Details Asking For Help In COVID But Gets Sexual Abuse In Return

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Women who have sent out desperate messages for help during COVID pay a high price for ‘not taking care with personal contact details’ because men refuse to be humane enough.

Amidst a raging pandemic Shasvathi Siva did what most of us Indian citizens are trying to do- put out a request for help searching for a ventilator and plasma for her family members battling COVID-19.

She did find help the first time and the second time hopeful for the same soon her mobile number along with the request got circulated on the Internet. Though she remained apprehensive about it her friends assured that this is the best way to go about it.

An online nightmare

As she recounts here on VICE that that’s when the online abuse nightmare for her started. She writes:

“I continued getting calls asking where I live, whether I live alone, if I’m single, whether I’d speak to them, what my full name is. One man made kissing sounds.”

But the nightmare didn’t end there. Soon after her tweet about this, and the story on VICE she started receiving more harassing messages on her social media handles.

Along with her several women have shared their experiences time and again, hoping that men would spare them the torture at least in these desperate times when everyone is struggling due to the pandemic in one way or the other.

Another woman wrote on Facebook “I am not doing what I do because I am horny, because I am a slut, because I want attention. I do what I do because I want to help people. I do not deserve to be objectified, sexualized, used for your masturbation purposes and I definitely do not deserve to feel unsafe and angry about being born a woman. And no, this is not funny and this is not a joke!”

Victim blaming is the norm in Indian society

In most instances like these the society at large begins to blame the woman- she should have been careful, never share your number, women must not be social media to the extremes and ridiculous diktats like women and girls must not use mobile phones.

Nobody questions- Why are our men behaving like this? Why our boys and men think that this isn’t sexual abuse and they can get away with this?

Even the helplines and resources often don’t treat complaints of cyber harassment seriously and women are left to fight at another front along with what they already could be struggling with. Our women and girls suffer because men don’t understand boundaries. The UN estimates that over 95% of online abuse is directed at women. While the dynamics of violence largely are determined by the pre-existing rape culture and culture of sexual abuse, shame, fear and stigma in a society, technology has now extended the reach and created space for this new kind of anonymous and faceless abusive behaviors. Technology related violence is not “minor” or insignificant. It erodes a woman’s sense of safety and self-respect and threatens her boundaries of a “safe distance” or a “safe place.”

The anatomy of online violence against women (VAW)

Voices from Digital Spaces: Technology Related Violence Against Women identifies 5 characteristics that distinguish technology-related VAW from that which happens in real life, and eases things for the perpetrators. These characteristics also mean that the abuse is difficult to erase.

  • Anonymity – Online spaces allow the abuser to remain unknown
  • Action-at-a-Distance – This kind of abuse can be perpetrated from a distance from anywhere
  • Automation – Abuse via technologies is effortless and less time-consuming making it convenient for the abusers
  • Accessibility –Affordable technologies has increased easy access for abusers
  • Propagation and Perpetuity – Texts and images circulated online exist for longer or indefinitely

Research published in The Journal of Sex Research suggests the men send dick picks due to a transactional mindset. Basically, the hope is that by sending someone those, they will get nudes in the response. What all people need to understand is that any kind of unsolicited sexual behaviour online amounts to sexual harassment and abuse.

Why has the pandemic worsened things?

When the pandemic had started everyone hoped for better and compassionate behavior from everyone as this was a collective tragedy. But sadly, humanity fell to even deeper hollows morally. Crime against women including online abuse is at an all-time high and surged along with other forms of VAW.

While most public systems and institutions have failed in offering concrete and prompt help in India during COVID, citizen activism and volunteer groups are the only hope for most.

A lot of women are now active more than ever on all platforms and actively contributing to relief measures as well. But this also makes them more vulnerable to cyber-crime and violence.

Posting any kind of content has proven devastatingly consequential for women. This can be detrimental to their mental health in times where so many have only social media to vent, connect, seek help or learn about current affairs. So, women then literally are between the devil and the deep sea here.

What can women do in such instances?

~ If you are the victim, try to call out, complaint and report. Also feel free to decide how much interaction you want with whom online.

~ If you are a witness never blame the victim, listen to them without judgement, offer whatever support you can.

~ Create awareness in families and society about consent and boundaries.

~ Never deem one type of harassment as lesser than the other.

~ Adopt a trauma-informed approach when reacting to such lived experiences.

~ Make your authorities and organizations accountable towards all forms of VAW

In India cyber crime complaints can be put on this portal even anonymously if you wish so. Helpline number is 155260.

Image source: shutterstock

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Pooja Priyamvada is a columnist, professional translator and an online content and Social Media consultant.

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