Cyber Gender-Based Violence: Breaking the silence to end the stigma

A webinar with Paba Deshapriya of the Grassrooted Trust


The Sri Lanka Development Journalist Forum (SDJF) recently held the fifth edition of their Media 4 Everyone series, titled “Cyber Gender-Based Violence: A ‘Silent Epidemic’ faced by Women and Girls in Sri Lanka?”, speaking with Grassrooted Trust Director Paba Deshapriya on what constitutes cyber Gender-Based Violence (GBV), what it stems from, and how we can address it. 

Paba Deshapriya is a lawyer and activist, who, through her work with The Grassrooted Trust, has been working to set up and provide safe spaces for marginalised communities, both online and offline. Deshapriya is also an activist who advocates for education reform around sexuality and relationship education in Sri Lanka. 


The context of GBV and cyber GBV


Deshapriya spoke on the nature of GBV, explaining that GBV is violence based on the victim’s gender identity. GBV has always been an issue in Sri Lanka, and Deshapriya explained that now information and technology allow us to talk about and understand it as a form of human behaviour, and work towards correcting it. 

Cyber GBV is violence that takes place online, and Deshapriya stressed it is important to understand that. While it doesn’t occur physically, legally, or technically, there is not much difference between physical and cyber GBV – it is simply another manifestation of GBV. Like with physical GBV, cyber GBV stems from patriarchal values, systems, and institutions, and an inherent need to dehumanise and put down women. 

The internet amplifies this mentality because of the unprecedented access we have to the internet and information, making cyber GBV a huge concern. 


Defining cyber GBV


Cyber GBV takes many forms; from the innocuous “jokes” and sexist comments made on women’s profiles, to pages encouraging sexual violence and the objectification of young girls. 

Cyber GBV can escalate to girls being impersonated online, stalking, and personal images shared in confidence being leaked, typically at the end of a relationship by a partner seeking revenge. 

Deshapriya explained that cyber GBV, particularly when it comes to the end of a relationship, stems from the imbalanced power relationships between men and women created by patriarchal norms, and the “I own you attitude” of entitlement that many men have with their partners.


The internet is not the problem


Deshapriya shared that often, society, and parents especially, tend to demonise the internet and try to control their children’s access to computers and the internet, as opposed to having open conversations rooted in empathy, trust, and consent. 

The internet’s amplification of GBV, and the fact that it can completely humiliate a woman through compromising images of herself being shared online, added with how women are perceived in online spaces and in real life, can make the impact of cyber GBV especially dangerous endangering their careers and mental health, sometimes to the point of taking their own lives. 


Seeking redress


Only about 15% of cyber GBV victims report violence. Especially when reporting to the Police, these victims are often re-victimised and shamed. Deshapriya advised women reporting cybercrimes to go to the Police with a lawyer who understands the problem and can advocate on their behalf. For issues of a more technical nature, Deshapriya recommended approaching the Sri Lanka Computer Emergency Readiness Team (SLCERT), who can assist in removing content that has been put online, and help women protect their privacy better. 

Deshapriya also advised women to contact the Grassrooted Trust, who are able to help in many instances with getting compromising content removed, and can act as an intermediary with helping report cybercrime, and support through free legal consultation.


Moving forward


Deshapriya shared that understanding, respecting, and not being judgemental of survivors of GBV is crucial – victims should never be shamed. 

Deshapriya stressed that an overall behavioural change is needed to fight GBV. She recommended mixing traditional media with online media to build awareness among larger groups of people on how to think and perceive women. 

On a national level, Deshapriya shared that the Government needs to look at education to facilitate changing the way we think, adding that educational reforms being developed should take into account ideas like teaching children the autonomy of their bodies, their lives, and their thoughts. 


The webinar “Cyber Gender-Based: A ‘Silent Epidemic’ faced by Women and Girls in Sri Lanka?” can be viewed in its entirety on the SDJF Facebook page.