ISLAMABAD: An increase of more than 70% in complaints was reported in the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) cyber harassment helpline during 2020, showing a high number of cases related to online blackmail, extortion and hacking during the blockade.
The 2020 DRF Cyber Harassment Helpline Report, released on Wednesday, states that 3,298 online harassment cases have been recorded in the helpline. About 66% of complaints were filed by women, while 34% of complaints were filed by men; 1% of complaints were from members of the trans community and religious minorities.
According to the report, men do not talk about psychological issues with their family or peers due to internalized roles of masculinity that run counter to the concept of asking for help or support to deal with emotions.
“Thus, men are more likely to seek help outside of their support circles,” says the report, adding that the helpline support team was specifically trained to offer psychological support to callers.
Up to 21 complainants from marginalized groups experienced online vulnerability and some of these callers were specifically targeted by individuals for personal reasons, while others were victims of harassment both online and offline simply because of prejudice against their gender or sexuality, some of them also common targets hate crimes.
“Members of marginalized communities find it difficult to report these problems to law enforcement agencies, as these institutions lack awareness,” points out the report.
About 57% of complaints were made from Punjab, followed by 11% from Sindh, 4pc from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 2pc from Balochistan, 1pc from Kashmir and 4pc from Islamabad.
DRF executive director Nighat Dad said that 2020 proved to be one of the most challenging and demanding years for the helpline, not only because of the blockade, but because of an increase in cases of online violence and harassment.
“However, we found new and innovative ways to keep working, especially when we realized that as the blockages increased, so did cyber harassment,” she added.
Those who have filed complaints are courageous to speak out and their efforts will help to break the cycle of online harassment in Pakistan, the report said, adding that 33% of cases were related to blackmail and extortion, which often involves the use of personal data from an individual’s information, photos or psychological manipulation to make threats and demands.
That number was followed by 23 cases related to hacking social media and WhatsApp accounts, in addition to financial fraud. DRF has operated this helpline for the past four years, providing legal advice, digital security assistance and mental health counseling to its interlocutors.