Sexual Exploitation & Abuse of Women/Girls
Sexual Exploitation & Abuse of Women/Girls

By Amin Kef – Ranger

One of the most vociferous rights-based organizations in East Africa, to be precise Kenya, Equality Now, which had been closely collaborating with the Amazonian Initiative Movement, founded by Rugiatu Neneh Turay in Sierra Leone, in championing the campaign against Female Genital Mutilation(FGM), has released a new report – Stopping Online Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Women and Girls: A Call for International Standards on the 15th November 2021.

The report gives a global overview of laws surrounding Online Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (OSEA) at the international and regional level, and scrutinizes national laws in Kenya, alongside Nigeria, India, the USA, England, and Wales. It identifies gaps in laws and protections and provides recommendations for the international community, governments, and digital service providers and platforms.

Equality Now
 focused on using the law to protect and promote the rights of women and girls, and areas examined in their report include online grooming; live-streaming of sexual abuse; Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM); online sexual coercion and extortion; online sex-trafficking; and image-based sexual abuse.

The organization stated that Online Sexual Exploitation and Abuse OSEA is growing at an alarming rate globally, fuelled in part by the COVID-19 pandemic which has pushed many more people online, including both children and perpetrators.

It continued that the true scale of the problem is unknown because so many cases go unreported due to victim-blaming, fear of retribution by perpetrators, or concerns that authorities will not take reports seriously maintaining that such lack of reporting contributes to a vicious cycle of abuse.

According to the Report, Online sexual exploitation and abuse are growing at an alarming pace globally. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable as offenders take advantage of the sex, gender, and structural discrimination inherent in patriarchal societies.

It continued that international and national laws have not kept pace with changing technology, and that needs to change.

Online sexual exploitation and abuse (OSEA) includes online grooming, live-streaming of sexual abuse, child sexual abuse material (CSAM), online sexual coercion and extortion, online sex trafficking, and image-based sexual abuse.

Predators are increasingly using social media and online gaming platforms to target potential victims because these platforms offer anonymity and operate under very limited regulation. Consequently, OSEA is growing and the full breadth of the problem is largely unknown because of the large number of unreported cases.

This report, which utilizes a survivor-centric approach to illustrate the impact of OSEA and highlights the challenges faced in keeping people safe in a rapidly changing digital landscape, examines the law surrounding OSEA at the international and regional level, with a focus on Europe.

The organization also examined the laws surrounding OSEA at the national level, focusing on five countries, namely Kenya, India, Nigeria, the United Kingdom (England and Wales), and the United States. The report explored the balance between digital privacy, freedom of expression, and protection, and online safety, and discusses the challenges posed by the multi-jurisdictional nature of online sexual harms and regulating service providers and platforms.

“We’ve been let down by the justice system and it’s left us feeling quite helpless and hopeless that there’s been no prosecution. Nothing has been done to stop that from happening to someone else. That this crime is so difficult to prosecute is really frustrating and angers me. People can get away with it far too easily and perpetrators are well aware nothing is going to happen to them,” a hapless victim lamented, the Report indicated.

Equality Now’s an analysis of laws and policies related to OSEA, alongside in-depth discussions with survivors, activists, and lawyers actively engaging with survivors of OSEA, found that international and national laws have not kept pace with changing technology, and there is no single internationally binding instrument that specifically defines and addresses OSEA.

The report also uncovered a lack of consistent legislation and internationally-adopted laws pertaining to OSEA that makes obtaining legal recourse extremely challenging. There is an inherent tension between digital rights and freedoms and the right to protection and safety against OSEA, and regulations on digital service providers and platforms are inconsistent and often do not do enough to protect users against OSEA.

Equality Now is calling for comprehensive action from the international community, Governments, and digital service providers to holistically address OSEA.

Specifically, the international community should: Develop and adopt binding international standards, review and update international and regional laws and instruments to ensure they are aligned to the reality of the digital age, conduct up-to-date research and analysis on OSEA.

They called on Governments to Review and update legislation and policies to fully protect vulnerable people from OSEA, strengthen national capacity to address OSEA, collaborate with other key stakeholders including civil society organizations and digital service providers.

On the part of Digital service providers, the organization recommended that they should: apply a human rights approach in policies and practices to protect users from harm, collaborate with other key stakeholders, including law enforcement agencies, Civil Society Organizations, and Governments.

The Report was produced with legal research assistance from Trust Law, Thomson Reuters Foundation’s global pro-bono service, and is being released jointly with TRF.

Courtesy of Calabash 19 November 2921

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