women suffer heavily from online abuse as the world goes digital in a pandemic

Women bear the brunt of digital abuse – threatened with rape and exploited for porn – as the coronavirus pandemic drives more and more people online, media experts said on Wednesday.

Patricia Campos Mello, Brazilian journalist, said based on substantial claims and viral memes that she has repeatedly faced online attacks because she reported on dealing with the COVID-19 crisis in Brazil.

“Thousands of memes have spread on the internet showing my face in pornographic montages,” Mello told the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s annual event, Trust Conference, which was held online this year due to the pandemic.

“(People) call me a prostitute and say I’m having sex in exchange for stories. I get messages from people saying I deserve to be raped.”

Women’s rights campaigners worldwide have warned of an increase in online abuse, such as revenge porn, as COVID-19 restricts many people from staying home in front of a screen.

Rape threats, fake porn – virtual reality for women as COVID-19 makes the world more digital

Girls as young as eight are also subject to abuse, with one in five young women quitting social media, according to a recent survey by girls’ rights group Plan International.

The International Women’s Media Foundation said 58% of the nearly 600 female journalists interviewed in 2018 were personally threatened or harassed, and one in ten received death threats.

This came as no surprise to India journalist Rana Ayyub, who appeared in a fake porn video circulated to government officials and received numerous death threats.

“I sent burned copies of my book … sent home to me and said it would happen to me,” Ayyub said.

“If you are a critic of the government and a woman, who also happens to be a Muslim, it marks all the subjects to be humiliated and to be discredited.”

The #MeToo movement – which started three years ago – has encouraged women to share their experiences of verbal abuse, touching, molestation or rape.

Ayyub said online abuse should be taken more seriously, adding that authorities have yet to do anything about the dozens of death threats she has received.

“We underestimate how online threats can be dangerous because there is a very thin line when online offline can go,” she said.

“It’s time our countries make it safer to be where we are and not feel threatened to leave.”

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