”Gender-based violence in the digital era”- key takeaways from the 1st DATAWO event



On June 16 2021, our first online event on “Gender-based violence in the digital era” was successfully held. Many civil society organisations participated in the panel discussion, such as the Safer Internet 4 kids of FORTH, Women on Top, the Women’s Support Counseling Center of the Municipality of Veria, the Women’s Counseling Center of the Municipality of Thessaloniki, as well as the Cybercrime Prosecution Directorate. Among the topics discussed were the phenomenon of domestic violence during the pandemic, the forms of gender-based violence in the workplace, as well as the challenges posed by remote work and the use of digital media during the pandemic, while there was a referrence to the statistics of gender-based violence online and advice was given on how to deal with these intsances. But let’s take a closer look at what forms of gender-based violence are in the digital era and what the legal framework is for protection.

The European Union does not have a specific legal framework for dealing with gender-based violence, despite the harm it causes and the impact it has on individuals and society. In addition, EU anti-discrimination legislation does not recognise gender-based violence as an extreme form of discrimination. Member States deal with and perceive gender-based violence quite differently. In addition, while all 21 Member States have ratified the Istanbul Convention and are legally bound by its provisions, including the criminalisation of various forms of gender-based violence, there are gaps in its implementation. One of these gaps concerns the forms of gender-based violence in the digital era.

Recognising the serious effects of gender-based violence as well as the goals set at international and European level to eliminate it, the European Parliament drafted an initiative report on the “Proposal for a Council Decision on the designation of gender-based violence as a new crime area referred to in in Article 83 (1) TFEU “.

Article 83 (1) states: ‘1 1. The European Parliament and the Council, acting in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure by means of directives, may lay down minimum rules for the definition of criminal offenses and sanctions in the areas of particularly serious cross-border crime. These areas of crime are: terrorism, trafficking in human beings and sexual exploitation of women and children, drug trafficking, arms trafficking, money laundering, corruption, counterfeiting, computer crime and organised crime. ”

Gender equality is a key EU value – as recognised in the Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights – which the EU is committed to integrating into all its activities.

Sexual harassment is defined in EU law as “where there is any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature, with the intent or effect of violating the dignity of an individual, in particular when it creates intimidation, hostility, humiliation, humiliation or humiliation” (Council Directive 2004/113 / EC of 13 December 2004 implementing the principle of equal treatment for men and women in access to and supply of goods and services, which defines and condemns harassment and sexual harassment).

According to a FRA study held in 2014 and entitled “Violence against women”, 61% of women in the service sector have been sexually harassed, while 20% of young women (between 18 and 29 years old) in the EU have been sexually harassed. cyberbullying. Finally, according to statistics, one in ten women has been sexually harassed or persecuted using new technology.

At the international level, the legislative framework for protection includes, inter alia, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence against Women (CEDAW) and UN General Recommendation No. 19. Article 1 of the Convention defines discrimination against women. The definition of discrimination includes gender-based violence, ie violence against a woman because she is a woman or disproportionately affects women. It includes acts that cause physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty. Gender-based violence may violate specific provisions of the Convention, regardless of whether those provisions explicitly refer to violence.

Gender-based violence affects women’s enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms under general international law or human rights conventions, is discrimination within the meaning of Article 1 of the Convention. These rights and freedoms include: (a) The right to life; (b) the right not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; (c) The right to equal protection under humanitarian law in duration of international or internal armed conflict; (d) The right to liberty and security of the individual; (e) The right to equal protection under the law; (f) The right to equality in the family; (g) the right to the highest strong level of physical and mental health; (h) The right to fair and favorable working conditions AND the right to privacy !!

Forms of gender-based violence in the digital era

1. Human trafficking online

The legal framework for the protection of online trafficking in human beings includes the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and its three Protocols (Palermo Convention), as well as the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children , which complements the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (Palermo Protocol). The National Center for Missing Children (NCMEC) reports that 78% of children who are sexually exploited online are girls. In the United States, 2 in 3 children sold for sex are trafficked online. In the United Kingdom, more than 8,500 sex service ads are posted online each month.

Traffickers can easily post ads for trafficked women and children. The Philippine Ministry of Justice receives more than 3,000 reports each month of children being sexually abused and sold online. Digital technology and the internet provide tools that traffickers can use. Open and ranked ad sites, adult sites, social media platforms, chatrooms, expanding on the dark web allow marketers to interact with an increasing number of potential victims.

The European Commission presented in 2021 a strategy to combat trafficking in human beings (2021-2025), with an emphasis on crime prevention, bringing smugglers to justice and protecting and empowering victims. The strategy is based on the EU’s integrated legal and policy framework for combating trafficking in human beings, based on the Anti-Trafficking Directive. The Commission will continue to support Member States in implementing the Directive and, if necessary, propose revisions to ensure that it is appropriate for the purpose. The EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator will continue to play a key role in implementing this strategy.

2. Cyber-bullying and sextortion

We could not talk about cyberbullying and blackmail as a form of gender-based violence in the digital era without referring to the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights Buturuga v Romania, ECHR 056 (2020).

The applicant – Ms Buturuga – lodged a complaint against her ex-husband alleging that she had been the victim of domestic violence and that she had been threatened with death by her husband. The following month, she filed a second complaint for new threats and violence, urging her to withdraw her first complaint. Ms. Buturuga also demanded an online search of the family computer, claiming that her ex-husband had hacked her online accounts – including her Facebook account – and copied her private conversations, documents and photos. Then, Ms. Buturuga has filed a third complaint for breach of the confidentiality of its communications. In February 2015, the prosecutor dismissed the allegation of domestic violence on the grounds that it was not serious enough to justify the criminal record and further dismissed the allegation of breach of confidentiality on the grounds that it had been filed.

Prior to the decision of the ECtHR, Ms. Buturuga claimed that her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (European Convention) had been violated, in particular Article 3 – prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment – and Article 8 – the right to respect for private and family life and the privacy of persons communications. With regard to the investigation of the allegations of ill-treatment, the Court noted that the domestic authorities had not examined the facts from the point of view of domestic violence.

The ECtHR ruled that the findings of the domestic authorities were ambiguous. Regarding the investigation into the breach of the confidentiality of Mrs’ Buturuga communications, the ECtHR specifically pointed out that cyberbullying was currently a recognised aspect of violence against women and girls and could take various forms, such as privacy breaches, intrusion into the victim’s computer and arrest, common use and manipulation of data and images, including personal data.

The ECtHR further accepted Ms.’s Buturuga argument that acts such as illegally monitoring, accessing or storing a partner’s mail could be taken into account by domestic authorities when investigating cases of domestic violence. In the present case, however, the domestic authorities had not examined this complaint and rejected her request for an electronic search of the family computer. The ECtHR was of the opinion that the domestic authorities had an overly formalistic attitude and did not take into account the many forms in which domestic violence took place. The ECtHR therefore ruled that Romania had failed to fulfill its positive obligations under Articles 3 and 8 of the European Convention, and awarded compensation to Ms Buturuga, forcing the Romanian State to pay her EUR 10,000.

It should be noted that cases of sexual harassment and bullying online are not significantly reported to the authorities due to low social awareness of the issue, inadequate channels of communication and support for survivors of online gender-based violence and the perception that it is not a crime / is negligent.

3. Sexual abuse based on image

In this form of sexual violence it is important to make a distinction, depending on the age of the people exchanging audiovisual material or photos with sexual content. So when people are adults and consent to the exchange of these messages and material has been given, there is no risk – as long as they consent to the non-disclosure of this material to third parties. However, if there is no consent to the exchange of such messages, there is a case of sexual harassment through image.

On the other hand, when even one person is a minor, there is a case of both child pornography and sexual harassment. In any case, the way in which these images are reproduced and created, as well as the form of consent given, must be considered.

It has been argued on the one hand that this form of gender-based violence mainly concerns “white” heterosexuals, as homosexuals can and do express their sexuality mainly through the exchange of messages with such material and content, as the oppressive and conservative Greek society – and not only – does not allow them to freely and openly express their sexuality and sexual preferences. Therefore, in this case the people who exchange such messages, consent to this communication and exchange of content, without fear of being given extensions of sexual harassment.

It is worth noting that in any case the development of digital communication technologies, especially the internet, has led to the realisation that this material will be permanently posted, because as soon as it goes up, it loads quickly, and is distributed quickly and with great ease. In the case of child abuse material in particular, this can lead to secondary victimisation. The legal framework for protection is provided by the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), in particular by Articles 4 (13), 13-15, 9 and recitals 51-56.

4. Cyber-stalking

Only in 2018 the Istanbul Convention was signed by Greece and incorporated into the Greek legal order. Among other things, in Article 34 of the Convention, it asks the states parties to criminalise stalking or as it is translated in Greek, “invisible surveillance or harassment / harassing surveillance”. The Convention refers to both the offense of stalking and stalking manifested through the use of electronic media and the internet in the form of cyber-stalking.

The harassing behavior should be done with the knowledge of the perpetrator and be perceived as undesirable for the victim and create fear or anxiety in him e.g. a. by sending continuous unsolicited emails – either via email or social media -, b. with persistent and also unwanted sending of friend requests. It is interesting in each case the definition and the case of the crime of cyber-stalking as set under English law: “Stalking can be done on the Internet and via email. This is known as “cyber-stalking”. It may even include the use of social networking sites, chat rooms and other technology-facilitated forums. The internet can be used for various purposes related to stalking.

5. Revenge porn

Posting audiovisual material (photos / videos) with the sexual content of a person on the internet without their consent is a form of sexual abuse based on the image, known as “non-consensual pornography” or “revenge porn”. Although the right of deletion entered into force as part of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (Article 17 of the Regulation) in 2018, allowing Internet users to go directly to a platform and request the deletion of “inaccurate, insufficient, irrelevant or excessive” personal information, the cases of non-consensual pornography are increasing.

In terms of statistics, it is worth noting that the British state-funded Revenge Porn Helpline reached a record of 250 cases in April 2020 – the double number from the previous year. The Irish charity Refuge has confirmed the rise of revenge porn cases across Ireland, as 140,000 images of women were leaked just last year.

Although the right to delete provides some safeguards of protection, it is incredibly difficult to be applied in cases of revenge porn, as the process can be time consuming, costly and depends on the willingness of the site to cooperate in downloading the illegally published material. In addition, the Telegram application is known to be particularly slow to remove such content.

Until recently, the most popular adult dating site in the world, Luxembourg-based Pornhub, also had videos of women on its platform without their consent. Following a report in the New York Times, the site last month pledged to end the practice and improve control of its platform. After all, let us not forget that there is no incentive for adult-based platforms to remove destructive deepfake videos [1], as these videos are a source of revenue.

Moreover, the Belgian State Institute for Gender Equality has also been authorised to provide legal assistance to victims of revenge pornography. Although it has been suggested by several lawyers that the regulation of the responsibility of specific platforms for the downloaded content, it is worth noting that the “geographical restrictions” of such measures make it difficult. The European Court of Justice ruled in the case Google v Spain that Google should only remove links to EU member states, for example, while Facebook may order the removal of content worldwide. In addition, when an activist tried to enforce the privacy law in Denmark on her own, she ran into difficulties because the host country did not have similar legislation. This is also common in the cases we have dealt with so far as DATAWO.

6. Sexist hate speech

Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers “(Article 10 (1)). However, the right to freedom of expression is not an absolute right. Its exercise carries “duties and responsibilities” and may be subject to restrictions provided by law, for example, concerning the protection of the reputation or rights of others (Article 10 (2)). Article 10 is frequently read in conjunction with Article 17, which prohibits the abuse of rights, as follows: any act aimed at destroying any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein or restricting them to a greater extent than is provided for in the Convention. ”

Article 14 of the ECHR contains a provision prohibiting discrimination: “The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be guaranteed without discrimination on any grounds such as sex, race, color, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status “. Protocol no. 12, the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms includes a general prohibition of discrimination. The current provision of the ECHR on non-discrimination (Article 14) has a limited scope, as it prohibits discrimination only in the enjoyment of the rights guaranteed by the Convention. Protocol no. 12 removes this restriction, ensuring that no one should be discriminated against for any reason or by any public authority.

In addition, the Istanbul Convention condemns all forms of violence against women and has four articles specifically related to the issue of sexist hate speech. Article 12 (1) – General obligations “The Contracting Parties shall take the necessary measures to promote changes in the social and cultural standards of conduct of women and men with a view to eliminating prejudices, customs, traditions and all other practices based on the idea of ​​the inferiority of women.” or stereotypical roles for women and men. “Article 17 – Involvement of the private sector and the media in the prevention of violence against women and domestic violence” 1. The Parties shall encourage the private sector, information and communication – Technology and the media, with the respect for their freedom of expression and independence, to participate in the formulation and implementation of policies and to set guidelines and standards for self-regulation to prevent violence against women and to enhance respect for their dignity. 2. The Parties shall develop and promote, in cooperation with the private sector, skills among children, parents and teachers on how to deal with the creation and communication that provides access to degrading sexual or violent content that may be harmful.

Article 34 – Persecution “Parties shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that the intentional conduct of repeated engaging in threatening conduct directed at another person, causing such fear or insecurity, is criminalized. “Article 40 – Sexual harassment” Parties shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical sexual conduct with the intent or effect of violating the dignity of a person, especially when creating an intimidating, hostile , humiliating or offensive environment, is subject to criminal or other legal sanction. ”

7. Creepshot

The term creepshot usually refers to the act of taking a photograph of a woman or girl in a public place without their consent and usually focusing on erotic areas, such as between the legs and even the clothes. Earlier this month, a TikTok user posted a video of a man being photographed taking pictures of herself and another person without her permission. The video has been viewed over 8 million times. Eventually she managed to force him to delete the photos in front of her. Another case showing the same thing went viral on TikTok just a few weeks later. The user uploaded a series of videos that dealt with a man who took photos of her in the gym. Her videos have garnered about 9 million views in total.

Upskirting finally became illegal in the UK in 2019. If you are wondering what upskirting is, the UK government defines it as “an extremely intrusive practice, which usually involves someone taking a photo under another person’s clothes without to know it, with the intention of seeing his genitals or buttocks (with or without underwear) “. Gina Martin – a well-known activist and that is why we mention her name – in January 2019, went to court as she stated that “18 months ago a man stuck his hand between my legs and took pictures of my crotch without her my consent. “I found out 18 months ago that it was not a sex crime and decided that I would try to change the law for us. The potential offenders of such a crime can now be sentenced to up to two years in prison.

On the other side of the Pacific ocean, in Japan, the camera shutter sound can no longer be turned off. This is supposed to act as a deterrent to taking creepshots. Unfortunately, this is not a legal requirement, and many people are looking for ways to turn off this setting on sites like Reddit and Google. What’s even more annoying is that on the first page of Google, there is a website dedicated to uploading creepshot photos from around the world. Although voting for Gina Martin’s bill is a victory, creepshots are still largely legal. It lets women and girls, like TikTok users, take care of themselves, with little or no support or justice. But what about women who do not know that someone has taken a picture of them? Maybe we should not even mention these incidents as taking photos, but that it is a form of attack. Article 17 of the GDPR on the right of deletion provides the legal framework.

8. Malicious leakage of personal data (doxxing)

It is the disclosure of personal or identification documents (or docs = dox) or details on the Ιnternet for a person without their consent. This may include personal information such as home address, real name, phone numbers and email address. The purpose for which a person maliciously leaks personal data is to harass, cause pain and harm to the other person. According to Amnesty International, of the women surveyed who had been harassed or harassed online, 17% said their personal information had been leaked online.

Regarding the framework of the Greek criminal law:

As far as gender equality is concerned, Greece, according to the research of the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), is the last among the countries of the European Union in the Gender Equality Index for the year 2020. It should be noted for those who may not be familiar with these conditions that the EIGE equality index includes six key areas: work, money, knowledge, time, power and health. The index also uses a scale from 1 to 100. 1 corresponds to complete inequality and 100 to complete equality. Greece collects just 52.2 points on this scale and comes in last 28th place!

We immediately think that it would be unlikely that this inequality and all its sufferings, such as gender-based violence, would not be transferred from the real to the digital world.

So the crucial thing here, given the inequality and gender-based violence online, is to be able to recognise gender-based violence in general, as well as on the Internet and digital media in this case, but also to know how we can protect ourselves if we are the next gender-based violence survivors.

In this context, I will refer to sexual violence offenses committed through digital media and online, as they are standardised in the Greek penal code.

Offenses of gender-based violence online:

Online sexual harassment: Sexual harassment was only standardised as an offense in the Penal Code (No. 337 of the Penal Code) in 2006, previously this offense was treated as an insult for example.

Let’s see when it happens: when one person insults the dignity of another in the realm of sexual life very seriously [2] with sentences that can be either in the form of explicit statements or in the form of gestures and relate to the performance of sexual acts without the need for physical contact. The term “sexual act” has the meaning of intercourse and any act of equal weight, e.g. “Unnatural” intercourse, hetero-masturbation, sucking, sucking and sucking or using substitutes [3].

Typical examples of online sexual harassment that also fall under this provision are: sending messages through social media inviting the victim to have sex or sucking, provocative photos (dick picks), sending links to pornographic material, sending sexual innuendos).

This is a misdemeanor and is punishable by up to one year in prison or a fine like Stalking / Cyber ​​Stalking.

Cyber ​​stalking: Stalking and consequently Cyber-​​stalking was criminalised by the Greek legislator extremely recently and specifically in 2018 after the ratification of the Istanbul Convention with the law/Act no. 4531/2018. It is included in article 333 of the Penal Code (CC) and is substantiated when:

Harassing behavior takes place which is knowingly of the perpetrator undesirable for the victim and even this behavior causes fear or anxiety in him. It even takes place with the use of telecommunications or electronic means.

Typical examples of Cyber ​-Stalking are the sending of constant unsolicited e-mails (via e-mail / social media) containing the constant expression of the perpetrator’s desire to meet with the victim or the attempt to know personal information and details about his life, or the persistent and also spam sending friend requests.

It is also a misdemeanor and is punishable by up to one year in prison or a fine.

Grooming: This is about attracting children for sexual reasons. It is provided in article 348B of the Penal Code. It makes sense to refer to this as adolescence is a very critical age for personality formation and worldview, but also because it is an age group that makes extensive use of digital media and the internet.

This offense is therefore substantiated when someone proposes through information systems to a minor who has not reached the age of fifteen, to meet the same or a third party, in order to benefit sexually, either by committing sexual acts or by producing pornographic material, when the proposal In fact, it is followed by further acts that lead to such a meeting, the perpetrator is punished with imprisonment of at least two years and a fine.

In fact, for the more complete protection of the victim in this case as well as in the case of child pornography, the criminal legislator provides in Article 350 of the Criminal Code favorable measures to refrain from criminal prosecution of victims of grooming as well as child pornography in the event that they also violate the provisions of the Aliens Act, the Act on Extradited Persons and other offenses committed if they are causally linked to the the fact that the person is a victim of grooming or child pornography respectively.

Usually, the perpetrator goes through certain stages in their attempt to attract the minor. These are the following:

-Development of a friendly relationship with the minor child, in the form of exchange of personal information / photos.

-Relationship formation. More specifically, the relationship develops, as the perpetrator creates in the child the feeling that he is his best friend.

-Risk assessment/ management. This step involves gathering information about the family environment, such as whether someone else has access to the same computer.

-Exclusiveness. The perpetrator creates a strong relationship with his victim, so that the child is able to share any of his thoughts primarily with him.

-Sexual stage, The perpetrator enters the first discussions of sexual content.

-Implementation of fantasies.

Child Pornography: The offense in question is provided for in Article 348A of the Penal Code. The crime of child pornography is therefore committed by anyone who intentionally produces, distributes, publishes, displays, imports or exports from the Territory, transports, offers, sells or otherwise disposs of, buys, supplies, acquires or possesses child pornography material or through information systems or not or disseminates or transmits information on the performance of the above operations. Child pornography material means the representation or actual or virtual imprint on an electronic or other material of the genitals or body of a minor in a manner manifestly provoking sexual arousal, as well as the actual or fictitious sexual act performed by or with a minor. Finally, as is well known, anyone who knowingly gains access to child pornography through information systems is also punished. The sentences threatened vary depending on the form of the offense.

-Sextortion: This is the blackmail of revealing personal photos / videos in personal moments. In fact, it often appears as a fraud (sextortion scam), with the use of fraudulent e-mail accounts or other means, the person is threatened, for example, that if they do not credit money to a bank account, personal photos or videos will be leaked. For these cases there are no specific offenses in the Greek penal code.

Revenge porn: Something similar happens in the case of revenge porn which is treated as a breach of personal data, while it could very well be a separate criminal offense. In this way the Greek legislator would attribute the real worthlessness to this practice with its special gender character. More information on similar issues can be found and followed on our site www.datawo.org, on our social media, while for the same purpose, you can get in touch with us through the special platform that appears on our website.

[1] These are artificial videos in which an algorithm, with the help of neural networks and artificial intelligence, “learns” the features of a person and replaces the face of one person with that of another. The results can be quite convincing and in many cases are very difficult to detect as false. The worry in the case of deepfakes is that even experiences gained through the senses (vision in this case) are called into question.

[2] “in a very rude way resulting in a significant reduction in its price” cf. “Interpretation by article of the terms of the special part of the Penal Code”, I. Manoledaki, Thessaloniki, Sakkoulas Publications, 1996, p. 115.

[3] “Penal Code (Laws 4619/2019 and 4637/2019) Article interpretation and case law of the Supreme Court”, Konstantinos G. Frangos, Sakkoulas publications, 2020, p. 1528.

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