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16 Days of Action: Sexual violence in the online world

Portrait of two young women, one looking directly at the camera and the other looking away from it. Overlaid is the text "16 Days of Action against Gender-Based Violence".

Backed by the United Nations and organisations around the world, 16 days of Action against gender-based violence is an annual international campaign which calls for the end of violence against women and girls (VAWG). Catch22 are running a series of blogs highlighting the various different forms VAWG can take, approaches to tackling it and supporting its victims, and how we can keep up the movement’s momentum.

Today’s blog is by Claudia Granziol, Project Manager for Inspiring Connections.

In the UK, 97% of women aged 18-24 have been sexually harassed, with 96% not even reporting their experience due to a lack of effective change.Sexual violence is a term used to describe any sexual activity that is non-consensual and while it’s a term that most people have now heard of, there are various misconceptions as to what it relates to. While sexual violence is commonly referred to in regard to rape or physically violent actions, that’s not always the case. It can include a huge range of actions, from sex trafficking and female genital mutilation (FGM), but also ‘flashing’ and up skirting and receiving indecent images. While a large majority of sexually violent acts are experienced face to face, an increasing digital world has enabled an additional environment for sexual violence to occur.

Digital communications have advanced a huge amount over the past 10 years, and in that vein, so have sexual violence occurrences. Terms such as ‘revenge pornography’, ‘online misogyny’ and ‘incel communities’ are now common phrases heard among people that individuals exploit and force among women and girls.

Just this year, many came to know the name Andrew Tate. While he aimed to set an example for young impressionable boys on how to treat women, he did so by providing a range of sexually violent and misogynistic opinions, such as that rape victims must ‘bear responsibility’ for their attacks.

We’ve also seen an increase in revenge pornography, which is the practice of uploading intimate images or videos of someone either on or offline, without the persons consent, and with the intention of causing distress. Between 2020 and 2021, cases of revenge porn almost doubled, with 75% of cases being reported by women.

The incel community (involuntary celibate), has been another growing group that is furthering the online hatred for women by sharing their collaborative opinions on their sexual fantasies and hatred for women. Just 15 months ago in Plymouth, Jake Davison killed five people before taking his own life after an online misogynistic and homophobic rant. He was an active incel participating in several online forums, all focusing on misogynistic and anti-feminist perspectives. Here, not only did the digital landscape enable individuals to share their hatred for women online and perpetuate sexual violence against women, but it also led to the frustration that caused 6 deaths.

While the digital world provides another platform for sexual violence to exist and the sharing of incredibly triggering and upsetting content, it’s also a space that can encourage change, share opinions, provide intersectional experiences, and encourage learning. The power of the online world can be a place for good among the bad. The Online Safety Bill, passing through Parliament, is an opportunity to finally enforce tighter regulations on what children and young people are subject to online, and hopefully help curb the rising instances of online sexual abuse we are currently seeing.

We currently live in a world where girls and women are expected to be subjected to some form of abuse or harassment at some point in their lives, whether that be through unwanted messages from strangers on Instagram, a close rub up against someone on the tube, or by being shouted at by strangers by not giving them attention.

Talk to the women in your lives – if you think you don’t know femme-presenting women that have experienced this, you’re not looking hard enough. We all have. The normalcy of abuse is something that needs to be changed and the 16 days of action for the elimination of violence against women is just one method in highlighting this.

Catch22 is just one of many organisations helping to improve the culture of sexual violence in the UK, but there’s still a lot that needs to be done. Catch22’s Victim Services team, work alongside individuals that have experienced crime and antisocial behaviour, at risk of sexual exploitation and help victims recover from their ordeal. We also have Personal Wellbeing team that works to support effective community integration to those who are in probation and to support their personal development outside of the criminal justice system. We also have a Positive Futures and Violence Reduction Services that aim to empower individuals with their decision making and develop preventative and targeted integration methods to those at risk of being drawn into violent groups.

Alongside our frontline delivery, Catch22 actively feeds into wider discussion and policy development on keeping people safe online. Catch22 supports the Online Safety Bill and has worked closely with the government and other third sector allies to ensure keeping people safe online remains a priority for the UK Government.

Hopefully culture and systemic change is on the way and that these experiences will be something of the past. If you’re concerned about yourself or someone you love, please contact any of the below services to get further support: