Online Violence Against Women: From Bad to Worse

The mistreatment that women experience in the physical world has not only manifested, but in fact intensified in the virtual world. Since the onset of the global pandemic, violence against women has increased at an alarming rate. In a report examining online gender-based harassment during work-from-home orders, almost half of women (46%) and nonbinary people have experienced online abuse since March 2020. One in three of those who experienced online harassment, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, said that the abuse is worse during this period [1]. 

Another survey conducted by Rights of Women, a nonprofit organization that helps women by providing legal advice and increasing their access to justice, revealed that women have become more vulnerable to online abuse because of the work-from-home setup. Half of the women who experienced sexual harassment at work said they experienced much of this abuse through online channels [2]. A participant of the survey even said that the work-from-home setup has made it easier for harassers to invade privacy, as many are forced to work from their bedrooms and other areas of the home, exposing these personal spaces on online calls and meetings (via Zoom and other similar channels). 

Ironically, travel restriction orders were the primary facilitators for intensifying online harassment against women and nonbinary individuals [3]. The more time that these people spend online to manage their work, study, health-related procedures, family, and entertainment, the more they are naturally exposed to trolls and harassers [4]. 

Online harassers are emboldened because they are less likely to face the consequences of their actions. This is largely due to how outdated cyber laws are in most countries. Only a small number of countries have laws against image-based sexual abuse, where victims’ photos are shared without their consent. According to Akhila Kolisetty, a New York-based lawyer and co-founder of End Cyber Abuse, technology is advancing rapidly, yet many countries do not have laws that cover emerging forms of digital abuse such as “deepfakes”—a technology where perpetrators can superimpose a victim’s face onto an explicit video and share it on messaging platforms [5].

In a landmark survey done by Plan International, an independent development and humanitarian organization that advances children’s rights and equality for girls, the harassments were most prevalent on Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Among the 14,000 teenagers and young women aged 15-25 from 22 different countries surveyed, 58% had been exposed to a spectrum of online violence, including explicit messages, pornographic photos, cyberstalking, and other forms of online harassment. Moreover, abusive and insulting language, deliberate embarrassment, body shaming, and threats of sexual violence were the most common harassments the respondents received [6]. Disturbingly, 40% of the respondents said that they had experienced harassment from people at school or work, 38% said anonymous social media users had harassed them, 29% said they had received it from a friend, and 16% said they had encountered it from former partners. 

Online harassments occur across all types of platforms with differing levels of severity; but a recent study from Pew Research, which was conducted in September 2020, suggests that dating sites are potentially where the most severe forms of abuse take place. Dating sites saw a massive surge in demand last year, as those looking for romantic partners turned to dating apps to meet new people without having to leave their homes. Of the 10,100 U.S. adults who were asked, 41% reported having experienced online harassment. Those who were victims of stalking, physical threats, and sustained harassment are more likely to say that they experienced these from dating platforms [7]. 

Video gaming communities are not protected either. Last year, almost half of women in gaming were three times more likely to experience gender discrimination than their male counterparts, according to Evil Geniuses’s report, one of the leading reporting bodies in esports. The level of abuse has forced female gamers to hide in anonymity by changing their profiles and opting for neutral or masculine characters [8]. Many of them keep their voices muted in-game, in an effort to avoid harsh language or unsolicited comments based on their gender.

While addressing online violence against women is a large task, there are specific ways to mitigate it. For example, Bumble, a dating app where only women have the option to make the first move, has recently banned body shaming—labeling it a form of online abuse that goes against their policies, as part of their efforts to reduce online bullying and harassment. Under Bumble’s updated terms and conditions, unsolicited and derogatory comments about someone’s appearance, body shape, size, or health are now considered body shaming. This change resulted from a 2021 survey the business conducted, which revealed that 64% of people who received unsolicited comments about their appearance are more likely to experience them online than in person. Additionally, an overwhelming 82% of respondents are more likely to feel physically judged while dating than in other life areas [9].

The Solution

From the beginning, TaskUs has championed a progressive, people-first mindset, culture, and practice. We strongly believe that true success can be attained only if everyone has equal access to opportunities. Having said that, we actively strive to create a culture where everyone has the opportunity to speak up and the power to effect change. 

TaskUs acknowledges that women are systematically disadvantaged in many parts of the world, so we provide them what they need to help overcome the hurdles in front of them. For example, we have daycare facilities in some of our sites so children have the care they need while their mothers are at work. With our auto-approved leave policy, our employees can be present in important family or personal milestones. Finally, we expanded our maternity leave in the Philippines even before it was signed into law. Our support for women in the workplace and at home directly contributes to our eNPS scores of 70 and above. 

In an effort to stop the hate and keep women and other users safe, TaskUs partners with the largest social media platforms, helping them create communities free from violence, especially the kind that targets women. TaskUs draws on its experience supporting hyper-growth clients to design a scalable content moderation solution. More than the cutting-edge technologies and the framework of TaskUs solutions, at the heart of making the digital world a safe space for everyone are TaskUs Teammates who serve as frontliners. 

We understand how the amount of egregious content our Teammates have to sift through on a daily basis can have a toll on their well-being—which is why we made sure to invest in protecting their wellness and mental health. TaskUs is the first outsourcer to invest in a dedicated clinical-based behavioral research team. Our dedicated Resiliency Studio is backed by a global team, dedicated to the well-being of content moderators and all our Teammates in general. It continuously strives to build all our employees’ resiliency with physical and mental health programs, along with our on-site doctors and psychiatrists. Our medical experts, counselors, and life coaches are available for all our employees to consult, ensuring that help is never too far away. 

Reach out to us and learn more about how TaskUs helps maintain digital communities safe.


References:

  1. Online abuse during Covid: Almost half of women have experienced abuse online during pandemic
  2. Rights of Women survey reveals online sexual harassment has increased, as women continue to suffer sexual harassment whilst working through the Covid-19 pandemic.
  3. Addressing the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Violence Against Women and Girls | United Nations
  4. Cyber violence against young women during COVID-19
  5. Love, tech and online abuse of women in the time of coronavirus
  6. Online violence against women ‘flourishing’, and most common on Facebook, survey finds
  7. Online harassment occurs most often on social media, but strikes in other places, too
  8. The Ugly Hatred Faced By Women In Esports, And How We Fight Back
  9. Dating app Bumble bans body-shaming in move to reduce online bullying, harassment
  10. How much Data is Produced every Day 2021?