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New report on Online Violence Against Women

The Icelandic Women’s Rights Association, in cooperation with Denmark’s Kvinderådet and KUN in Norway, have led a study regarding online violence against women and available options of support. The study has been made possible by The Nordic Gender Equality Fund, in partnership with the Icelandic Gender Equality Fund and the Icelandic Ministry of Welfare. The report aims to address the existence of different forms of violence, including harassment, threats and unconsented sharing of private data, which are facilitated by new technologies.

Online violence is an immediate and growing problem in Denmark, Iceland and Norway; a problem with real and sometimes severe consequences to the health and life of survivors”, according to author of the report Ásta Jóhannsdóttir from The Icelandic Women’s Rights Association.

She concludes that it is imperative that the Nordic countries start taking this issue seriously by updating existing legislation on online violence.

What were the main motivations for engaging in a study of cross-Nordic cases of online violence against women?

’We wanted to study online violence against women in a Nordic context because online violence is transnational problem. We wanted to see if the problems that we were facing in Iceland were similar to the problems faced by other Nordic countries. We were also especially interested to find out if there were any innovative solutions to online violence that had been tested in any of the Nordic countries, solutions that we could in turn use to advocate for change in Iceland.’

In what ways have the reports revealed similarities in cases and support actions across the Nordic countries?

’All the participants in the study experienced anxiety, unexplained pains, lack of energy and fatigue due to their experience with online violence. The participants who had experienced online sexual violence reported more severe consequences. Participants of online sexual violence whose images had been shared online without their consent reported a fear of repetition of the crime and that photos or videos would materialize online repeatedly. In some cases, there were financial consequences to online violence, with some survivors were forced to quit their jobs or school and others having to pay legal costs and expenses for psychological treatment.’

’The study also showed a clear lack of faith in the justice system. The majority of women who had experienced online violence had not sought justice for violence, claiming that they did not see the point in seeking help or pressing charges since the system did not work. Survivors of online violence often reported that the police or authorities did not take them seriously. The police acknowledge that their response to online violence has not been optimal and claim that a lack of resources and priority taken to other crime is to blame for inaction in the field.’

What are the main key distinctions that were noticed when engaging in the studies across Denmark, Iceland and Norway?

’Our study was a small qualitative research comprised of interviews with survivors, interviews with police and interviews with representatives of legal aid organizations. We interviewed survivors of online violence and analyzed their experiences of the violence with a focus on their experiences seeking justice for and protection from that violence.’

’We found that the way the police handled their cases had a meaningful effect on survivors’ experience, whether they felt that they gained control over the situation or not. Most of the participants did not experience that justice was being done in their cases. However, we found that survivors in Norway were more satisfied with their interaction with the police than in Denmark or Iceland.’

What are the largest conclusions to be taken from the report?

’We need to clarify legislation on violence and sexual violence to incorporate online violence and offer the police and judicial system tools to deal with this violence. We need to change procedures and attitudes within the police force and make sure that survivors of online violence are taken seriously, with the crimes against them being investigated. We also need to educate the public, especially young people, about the seriousness of online violence and its impact on women’s participation in online spaces.’

In what ways do you think that the report – and Nordic cooperation in general – can impact the global conversation regarding online violence against women?

’We in the Nordic countries pride ourselves in our emphasis on gender equality and online violence against women is a gendered crime. According to the European Commission, one in ten women has experienced sexual harassment or stalking through new technologies, and online harassment can and has been used to drive women and women’s rights activists offline.

The Nordic countries are all fairly prosperous and technologically advanced. We should be in the forefront of fighting against online violence, creating solutions which can serve as an inspiration to others. We have the resources and knowledge available to us. Now, we just need to do it!’

Updated 11 December 2019