How two key Council of Europe conventions can tackle online violence against women
December 2021 by Council of Europe
As digital technologies have a reproducing and amplifying effect on existing gender inequalities, recent Covid-related restrictions and lockdowns have seen an increase in cybercriminal activities, as people stay online longer. As a result, women and girls are facing multiple risks of online and technology-facilitated sexual harassment, stalking and gender-based cybercrime.
Indeed, online and technology-facilitated violence against women are exacerbating the different forms of violence against women that take place offline. Most forms of online and technology-facilitated violence against women already exist and are criminalised, but they are expanded, amplified or generalised via the Internet. Even though the impact on victims and on society at large is severe, impunity is more the rule than the exception.
A study published today by international consultant Adriane van der Wilk argues that the Istanbul Convention and the Budapest Convention can complement each other in dynamic ways: the power of the Istanbul Convention lies in recognising the gender-based nature of violence against women, while the Budapest Convention provides comprehensive investigative tools to secure electronic evidence for crimes committed online and via information technology.
As the most far-reaching legally binding human rights treaty covering all forms of violence against women and domestic violence, the Istanbul Convention can be particularly relevant to address online and technology-facilitated violence against women, while the Budapest Convention is the most relevant international legally binding treaty on cybercrime and electronic evidence and hence provides the potential to prosecute such violence against women. Indeed, the Budapest Convention through a number of substantive criminal law provisions addresses directly and indirectly some types of online and technology-facilitated violence against women.
From online sexual harassment (such as cyber flashing, sexualised defamation and slander, impersonation for sexual purposes and doxing and flaming), to image-based sexual harassment such as creepshots (sexually suggestive or private pictures taken without consent and shared online), the new study categorises and defines different forms of online and technology-facilitated violence against women and develops explicit references to Articles 33, 34 and 40 of the Istanbul Convention, supplemented by relevant provisions from the Budapest Convention. It then analyses the Istanbul Convention’s provisions on integrated policies, prevention, protection and prosecution and provides commentary on their application with regard to the various aspects of the phenomenon of online and technology-facilitated violence against women.