A latest global survey carried out across 22 countries has revealed that girls and young women are one of the biggest targets of online violence and abuse.
Carried out by UK-based humanitarian organisation Plan International, the survey, titled "State of the World's Girls Report", involved 14,000 women aged 15-25 from 22 countries including India, Brazil, Nigeria, Spain, Australia, Japan, Thailand and the United States.
Ahead of the International Day of Girl Child 2020 on October 11, the survey highlighted that 58 per cent of the respondents accepted having faced online harassment or abuse on different social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, and TikTok.
The percentage of affected women was similar for different regions around the globe.
"In Europe 63 per cent of girls reported harassment, followed by 60 per cent of girls in Latin America, 58 per cent in the Asia-Pacific region, 54 per cent in Africa, and 52 per cent in North America," the report found.
Ranging from threats of sexual violence to racist comments and stalking, online harassment of young women was directed in different manners.
Of the girls who have been harassed, 47 per cent have been threatened with physical or sexual violence, while 59 per cent faced abusive and insulting language online.
A large number of women from minority and LGBTQ+ communities said they were harassed because of their identities.
"Of the girls who were harassed, 42 per cent of the girls who identified themselves as LGBTIQ+; 14 per cent who self-identified as having a disability; and 37 per cent who identified themselves as from an ethnic minority said they get harassed because of it," found the survey conducted from April 1 to May 5.
Despite the anonymity that social media provides, girls and young women do know something about their harassers. Harassment from strangers was more frequent and more frightening than from people they knew.
"While 11 per cent of the surveyed girls were harassed by a current or former intimate partner, 21 per cent pointed towards friends and 23 per cent knew their harassers from school or work," it said.
Thirty six per cent of the respondents said they were harassed by strangers and 32 per cent by anonymous social media users.
Whilst women were listed in the examples of known harassers, none of the girls interviewed suggested women were behind the unknown accounts, many directly mentioned they thought they were men.
The abuse and harassment faced online also had its effect on life outside social media.
A total of 42 per cent women registered mental or emotional stress, and the same percentage of respondents accepted decrease in self-esteem and confidence because of online harassment.
Affected by the ill treatment online, one in five girls (19 per cent) have left or significantly reduced use of a social media platform after being harassed, while another one in ten (12 per cent) have changed the way they express themselves.
"Girls are being silenced by a toxic level of harassment. Activists, including those campaigning for gender equality and on LGBT+ issues, were often targeted particularly viciously, and their lives and families threatened," said Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, Plan International's chief executive.
"Driving girls out of online spaces is hugely disempowering in an increasingly digital world, and damages their ability to be seen, heard and become leaders," she said.
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