Harassment is the main violence against girls and women in a virtual environment

Data are from the unpublished study Real Violence of the Virtual World

Published on 04/12/2021 - 13:00 By Cristina Índio do Brasil - Repórter da Agência Brasil - Rio de Janeiro

The main violence that women and girls suffer in digital environments is harassment in virtual interactions (38%) and, subsequently, threats of leaking intimate images (24%). The data are from the second stage of the unprecedented study Beyond Cyberbulliny: The Real Violence of the Virtual World, developed by the Avon Institute in conjunction with Decode, a company specializing in digital research. The result corresponds to the period between July 2020 and February 2021, when social isolation and space closure measures were in force. The other stage of the study was carried out before the covid-19 pandemic, between January 2019 and March 2020.

To investigate gender violence on the internet, the study analyzed more than 286,000 videos, 154,000 mentions, comments and reactions in the form of likes, shares and repercussions that occurred in digital environments, and more than 164,000 news posts on the subject .

Another conclusion of the research related to the pandemic period is that half of the cases of harassment involve receiving non-consensual messages with sexual connotation content. Also reported was the sending of intimate photos and hateful comments against women. Ex-partners are linked to 84% of stalking reports, which are cases of stalking carried out in digital media.

“Much of the nude leaks involve ex-partners, ex-partners, people who received material sent in a consenting way, but they were not allowed to spread it at their leisure,” said the Avon Institute's research and impact coordinator , Beatriz Accioly, in an interview with Agência Brasil .

The survey identified three ways of spreading violence in the digital environment. Decentralized, which is the violence committed daily against women and girls. The order, which takes place from organized groups of attacks, humiliations and exhibitions. In addition to that resulting from the act of sharing intimate content without the consent or authorization of those involved. The researchers noted that the most common forms of violence against girls and women on the internet are harassment, nude leaks, stalking/stalking and the recording of images without consent.


According to the research, the emotional and psychological result of cyber breaches has consequences that go beyond digital barriers. They restrict the freedom and access of women and girls. The fear of leaving the house was mentioned by 35% of the victims, and more than 30% reported serious psychological effects, such as mental illness, social isolation and suicidal thoughts. The study also showed that 21% of them excluded their accounts from social networks.

Fear has become part of the life of a 19-year-old student, who prefers not to have her name or place where she lives identified. In early 2020, he started receiving messages from a fake male profile. From the type of message, she already knows it's from a former schoolmate. Persecution or stalking became so strong that the student stopped going out of the house, reduced the number of contacts on social networks and began to worry that something might happen, both to her and to someone in the family. With the pandemic, she, who was studying abroad, had to return to her city, where the stalker also lives.

“Then everything got worse in terms of anxiety. I stopped going out, not just because of the pandemic. I didn't even go get bread at the bakery, which is close to home. I stopped going out, closed social networks, closed myself on the emotional psychological issue, not just the physical one, on leaving the street. At the end of last year, this person tried to get closer again due to the fake profile and then another anxiety crisis. This year, this person, with the same personal profile, tried to get close to my friends, saying 'I need to talk to her a lot. I like her very much. I need to know how she is.' I was very scared”, he told Agência Brasil .

The emotional shock led the student to undergo treatment with a psychologist. “Today I'm even better to talk about it, but it was a pretty heavy phase. I still reap the rewards of this today, because I don't feel comfortable posting things, I think three hundred times before posting something reflecting on the case of someone printing and sending it to that person. Emotionally, I feel like I'm still too caught up in it.”


In the first phase of the research, corresponding to the period between January 2019 and March 2020, more than 10% of the cases analyzed refer to reports of girls and women who, after going through situations of leaks without consent, had some kind of thought suicidal. “One in ten women who go through some kind of nude leak, for example, even think about taking their own life. This is very serious data”, he stated.

In addition, almost 15% felt guilty and about 36% showed a feeling of despair to know how to remove the content from the air or what legal measures would be appropriate and quick.

“We managed to bring, with this research, the real impacts of this violence. They are very serious and range from developing a fear of leaving home, leaving social networks, that is, they have a great impact on freedom of expression and forms of interaction. We use the internet to look for a job, to work, for a number of things, it's not just for entertainment and fun”.

“The emotions that are at play, with the development of anxiety, chronic stress, fear, anguish have a strong impact on these women's relationships with their families and their support network. For me, the big message of the survey is that the impact of online is no less real than we think real interaction is. The virtual is also real”.


Also during the pandemic, access to the three main pornography sites grew 35%, which means more frequent user demand for this type of content. Views of videos with content or allusion to violence and harassment against girls and women increased 55% in the period.

According to Beatriz, the research also showed that videos of girls and women being raped while they are unconscious because they are sleeping, medicated, drunk or under the influence of drugs, have a significant volume of views. Between January 2019 and March 2020 there were about 25.9 billion.

The coordinator said that accessing the platforms and consuming pornography are not crimes, but the point is that in these places there is a significant amount of content that indicates that they are videos with acts of violence. "The problem is not the pornography itself, but the hidden dangers of this amateur pornography that ends up on these platforms."

Also in the analysis carried out during the pandemic period, there was a 44% increase in reports of harassment by teachers, tutors and educators, who began to have more contact with the victims through remote classes. According to the data, there was an average of 36 monthly reports about violence by teachers against students in digital.


According to Beatriz Accioly, most cases do not come to the knowledge of any authority or any public service, whether in health or social assistance. "We, in Brazil, lack official statistics to map the size of this phenomenon and know precisely the proportion of underreporting, but we notice, in the survey, that there is even more misinformation about what to do, how to seek help and where to go, where it is possible to seek information when the violation happens in digital media.


Beatriz highlighted, however, that from a legal point of view there are already laws that allow the criminalization of violence in the virtual environment and all are valid both offline and online . Furthermore, there are specific laws for the internet, such as the criminalization of unauthorized dissemination of sexual images and the use of nudity, the criminalization of unauthorized recording, which are two different aspects. The coordinator added that there is a new criminal classification for cases of persecution or stalking , which can be characterized in any physical or digital medium.

“There is the civil framework of the internet, there are other specific laws such as the Carolina Dieckmann Law, which concerns the invasion of devices or even the Lola Law, which investigates crimes that indicate the disqualification of women and hate speech. But, to gain life, the law needs to be handled by professionals from different areas of the justice system, public security. There needs to be a change in the mentality of society and also of professionals that what happens in digital media is no less serious than what happens in physical environments", he added.


In the coordinator's view, the most interesting part of the research was the challenge of identifying the real impacts of what happens in the lives of girls and women who experience violence in digital spaces. “There is still a perception that what happens on the internet is less serious than that face to face. 'It was just a humiliation on the internet, it was just a cancellation, it was just an exhibition,'" Beatriz said, reproducing comments that are usually made and minimizing the effects.

Estimates by the United Nations (UN) indicate that 95% of all aggressive and defamatory actions on the internet target women. The Avon Institute hopes that, based on the survey, “women recognize, identify and know how to act to combat violence on the networks, promoting debate and denouncements of abuse and digital violence”.

Text translated using artificial intelligence.

Edition: Graça Adjuto

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