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New forms of gender based violence in the digital age

THIS BLOG HAS BEEN WRITTEN BY Zeenat Khan , MEMBER OF  DRF’S NETWORK OF WOMEN JOURNALISTS FOR DIGITAL RIGHTS.

 

It’s the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence and we are reiterating the importance of having conversations on cyber harassment and the other new forms of violence faced by women in the digital age. It’s the time to speak out about intimate image abuse and why we need to raise recognition and awareness that this is abus, particularly in view of the recent cases.  Recently, the Pakistani social media was overflowing with content on the leaked private videos of a renowned Pakistani singer Rabi Pirzada. Unfortunately, these videos have taken social media by the storm. They continue to be a hot debate amongst social media consumers as well as activists. A number of people started sharing those videos via WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and such other platforms. In a limited time, #RabiPirzada became a top Twitter trend and stayed so for the whole day. Many people came to her defense and chanted slogans of respect and privacy while others started giving religious references to discourage people from sharing those scandalous videos.

 

There were people who contributed sarcastic comments and spread offensive statements. Many had the nerve to share the leaked content itself while practicing their self-proclaimed right of bullying the singer. Many watched and many more had a lot to say.

“She shouldn’t have made those videos as there was no need of it.”

“Ladies, beware and never ever trust on dekh kar delete kardunga”.

Some doubted the authenticity of the videos and came up with their own thoughts about who could be behind the leak.

Rabi Pirzada is not the first person to have faced such backlash. Such cases in which private videos went viral and the victim faced ostracization are estimated to number in thousands. However, the sad reality is that despite having cyber-harassment laws, the quarters concerned are largely unsuccessful in bringing the culprits to justice- with the exception of a few cases.

None of that matters

Whether those videos are real or not and whether they were properly deleted or not should not be anyone’s concern. Whether she really made them or why is also nobody’s business – she is entitled to her own sexual privacy just like any other human being. What matters is that the videos were made public against her will, which was a case of privacy breach. On top of that, she was bullied over her own privacy breach and was forced to turn religious to regain some form of acceptability. She even spoke of suicidal inclinations, which resulted in family getting concerned.

We need to change this victim-blaming mentality based on prejudice. Most often, our society blames the victim while no one talks about the offender. As a result, the victim is targeted and affected in a painful way.

Human rights activist and lawyer Nighat Dad also condemned the leak, saying that according to the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act, forwarding “non-consensual intimate images and videos” to others is also a crime. “Those who are weaponizing non-consensual intimate images and videos of @Rabipirzada and those who are forwarding them are committing crime under PECA,” she explained, urging others to report the perpetrators to the authorities.

“Don’t be a silent bystander, report these tweets and do not forward this violence,” she tweeted.

Pirzada has registered an official complaint with FIA’s Cyber Crime Unit to take legal action against those who have leaked her data. Furthermore, she has requested Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to remove her videos from all social media and internet forums. PTA claimed that they have removed those videos from many platforms and also blocked some of the social media accounts.

Various speculations were pouring in since the leak about how the privacy breach took place. Finally, Pirzada revealed that recently she replaced the personal mobile phone she was using.

“Although she had deleted all the videos and pictures from her phone, but her data was recovered by that mobile phone shop keeper and then shared on social media platforms that went viral,” news reports read.

What is revenge porn and how are people using it?

Revenge porn has been defined as “the sharing of private, sexual materials, either photos or videos, of someone without their consent and with the purpose of causing humiliation or distress.” This can leave a person feeling vulnerable and could possibly put them in danger. At minimum, it is psychologically damaging to the victim. Often, this comes with the attack of disgrace and a huge personal cost, in Pirzada’s case her career and social life is badly affected.

In simple words we can say that revenge porn is the exposure to personal data and it is the new way to revenge? Another important question is that if someone releases or shares any such content, then how should the world respond?

A large number of women and men have faced privacy breaches in recent days. Its repercussions are more severe in a society that is more interested in victim-blaming than holding the real culprits accountable. In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, a large number of women and men are suffering due to lack of knowledge about cybercrimes. A few women recently lodged a complaint with the FIA cyber-crime wing about revenge porn. But choosing to report this adversely affected their social and personal life as well as their careers.

Besides the FIA cyber-crime branch, there are some organizations who are specifically working on such cases. The Digital Rights Foundation has a toll-free number that anyone can contact for assistance in filing a complaint about his or her privacy breach. Not only do victims get legal assistance, but there are psychologists who provide complete support to them as victim blaming also affects their mental health.

Mainstream Media and blame game:

Urdu newspaper Khabrain faced severe criticism from social media users for publishing semi-nude pictures of Pirzada. Adnan Rehmat, a seasoned journalist and social media activist, condemned this newspaper in a post on Facebook, reprimanding the paper for compromising ethical journalism in favor of cheap publicity. Many of the comments on the post favored Pirzada and condemned the newspaper. Similarly, activists across the country have tweeted in favor of Pirzada.

 

 

Media is said to be the fourth pillar of the state and has the power to change the minds of the audience. Many theories suggest that media can play a vital role in any social change. In fact, it can really dictate the minds on what to think about. But the painful truth in the case of Pirzada is that some of the newspapers harshly criticized the victim, stating that she is responsible for all this.

Some lesser known media outlets also started victim-bashing only to get publicity and to increase their viewership. A large number of journalists criticised those newspapers and media outlets for compromising the ethics of journalism. But we need to come up with proper mechanisms to ensure that such violations do not take place in the first place.

 



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