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CHR condemns rising online sexual harassment vs. women amid COVID-19 pandemic

Sexual harassment against women online has become prevalent amid the enhanced community quarantine due to COVID-19, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said.

CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said they have received reports that peer-to-peer online cyber violence against women and girls has intensified.

Private Facebook groups feature members who post materials such as explicit videos and photos depicting sexual activity or promiscuity without the consent of one of the involved parties, she said. 

“More often than not, ex-partners of involved women are the perpetrators. As the Gender Ombudsman in the country, we call out any form of violence against women and girls, may it be online or offline,” de Guia said.

“Just because sexual harassment happened in virtual space does not make it any less real and damaging. Victims are at the receiving end of threats of rape, stalking, defamation, and even death,” de Guia added.

The CHR said online sexual harassment takes away education and employment opportunities and puts financial burden on victims over legal fees and online protection services.

It also results in missed wages for women and ultimately gags them from speaking out due to the possibility of being ridiculed and slut-shamed online, the commission said.

“In addressing the issue of online sexual harassment, the victims should also be provided with psychosocial and legal support at home, in school, and in workplace,” de Guia pointed out.

The Philippines has at least three laws for the protection of vulnerable sectors, including women and children, from sexual harassment and other forms of abuse. These are the Safe Spaces Act, Cybercrime Prevention Act and Magna Carta of Women, among others. 

De Guia, however, admitted that implementing these laws has remained a challenge due to lack of resources.

“Based on Philippine experience, law enforcement agencies and the courts are failing to take appropriate actions for cyber violence against women and children due to lack of capacity and infrastructure to go after perpetrators given the digital nature of evidence,” she said.

In closing, de Guia said such gaps will only be closed when the citizens and the government take on a shared responsibility of making the digital world a safe, respectful, and empowering space for all, especially women and girls. —KG, GMA News