A UK Coalition Is Fighting for Online Protections of Women and Girls
A series of women’s rights groups in the U.K. have banded together to demand that the government properly address the abuse endured by women and girls on the internet.
Earlier this month, groups including Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis England & Wales, Refuge, End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAWC), and more shared their report titled, Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Principles for the Online Safety Bill. The report, which was proposed in May 2021, offers a litany of recommendations that they believe the government should heartily consider in the Online Safety Bill.
The BBC called the bill “one of the most far-reaching attempts to date to regulate online content, which could have global implications.” Thus far, the bill puts a "duty of care" on social media platforms “to remove harmful or illegal content and protect children” but apparently leaves these companies to do the majority of that policing themselves “with oversight from media regulator Ofcom.”
Ahead of their recommendations, the women’s group coalition argued that “the online world is a critical area where the abuse of women and girls is very real, is increasing, and needs specific naming and commitments.” The bill, as it stands, “omits reference to online VAWG, despite the government’s commitment to a VAWG analysis to online and offline offending in the recently published Tackling VAWG strategy.”
“The legislation must ensure that tech companies are being held accountable for enabling and facilitating online harms to be perpetrated on their platforms. While we must not lose sight of the individual perpetrators of said harms, this legislation is an opportunity to require tech companies and the regulator to interrogate the relationship between perpetrators of online VAWG and the platforms they use in order to create a system of accountability and safety,” they emphasize.
Part of their recommendations includes creating a “code of practice” in consultation with women’s groups to help identify the varying “ways abuse can affect different women and girls.” They’re also asking that “all forms of image-based sexual abuse” are labeled “as harmful within the Bill,” that commercial porn sites are subjected to a higher level of scrutiny, and more. You can read their entire list of recommendations here.
Experts like Andrea Simon, the director of the EVAWC, told The Independent that they believe the Online Safety Bill “will be wasted if it doesn’t take into account the realities of women and girls’ lives online.”
“It is a fact that online spaces hold much higher risks for women and girls, particularly Black and ethnic minority women and girls, who are disproportionately targeted with abuse,” she said. “These recommendations come from experts in online abuse. The government must heed their advice, or half the population will continue to face threats of abuse that restrict their freedoms online.”