Online Offenses Against WomenThe human rights of women, violated in most societies, are now under attack on the World Wide Web. The sexual harassment of women in cyber space should not be overlooked. The psychological damage and emotional distress caused by these online offenses are of grave concern. The absence of physical scars, or broken bones, is no reason to take this matter lightly.
Sexual harassment on the Web is a pertinent example of the infringement of human rights in the information age. The morally corrupt antics taking place in cyber space, such as the distribution of obscene material, harassment and stalking, the use of violence-provoking and insulting language, and outright slander, wither the development of a sound information and communication culture, as well as the use of online communications. The degrading and sexually abusive language and images being disseminated online against women are reaching a dangerous level.
Nevertheless, many fail to take the matter seriously because they believe offensive words and images in cyber space do not inflict physical harm. For these individuals, only the blackened eye of an abused housewife, or the rape of a young woman, constitutes abuse. Then there are those who argue that offensive content on the Internet is avoidable. They say, "Turn off your computer if you don't like what you see." But how can we protect children － particularly the socialization of young boys, which has been cited as a critical step in their development as moral men with humanistic values － whose natural inclination is to view inappropriate material online and off. These people do not realize that offensive online material actually results in mental and, in some cases, physical harm.
For example, someone posted the mobile phone number and name of a woman on a chat room bulletin board, under the title, "Sex Partner Wanted," without the woman's knowledge. The victim of this treacherous act received between 20 to 30 phone calls day and night from strangers soliciting sexual favors. She could not work during the day, and was deprived of sleep at night, due to the constantly ringing phone. She had no idea where her name was posted, or by whom. Not only was her personal reputation sullied, but she also suffered from indirect physical harm, not to mention psychological trauma.
Why does sexual harassment take place in the cyber world?
The primary reason is a general lack of respect for women. Male Internet users outnumber women online. Male users create an exact cyber replica of the male-oriented social structure they maintain in real life. They are not sensitized to the needs and feelings of women whose value system inclines to be less aggressive and more considerate to the deeds and needs of others. They have created what amounts to a "macho" culture in cyber space. And they are doing this at a time when the traditional macho man is increasingly losing his appeal in the world today, with a rising preference for men who are attuned to the needs of women and respectful of their role in society.
Macho culture continues to flourish in the cyber community, however, because it affords men the anonymity they need to vent their atavistic notions regarding women. The macho men use aliases, usually ones that have sexual connotations, in chat rooms, bulletin boards, homepages and e-mail, and assault other online users with vulgar and abusive language － not only leveled at women, but also at different ethnicities and those who choose alternative lifestyles. They post the same type of ignorant information repeatedly, indiscriminately plastering the Web with the kind of hate-mongering rubbish one might expect from a fascist.
Online hate crimes － and that is what these offenses boil down to － are now so widespread that they cannot be combated by the efforts of individuals or groups alone. The entire society and the government must step in to put an end to this madness.
The government must first introduce a system of holding Web site operators responsible for the management of their content. Site operators tend to cater to the tastes of men because they make up the majority of users. Accordingly, the buck has to be passed to the site operators to take the responsibility for establishing a sound Internet culture. Second, women must be given a greater role in the development of online content. Their participation in program development should be encouraged. Permitting them to monitor the Net to control sexual harassment online would also be a move in the right direction. Cyber culture should reflect the best of human ideas, and the universal values of equality, respect for others, and protection from personal attacks.
Public awareness about this digitized disease must be raised through education programs on proper cyber etiquette. Since cyber etiquette is different from that required in the physical realm, Netizens should be required to learn proper etiquette through educational courses. Such training courses should be carried out nationwide.
Finally, to counter online offenses, it is the responsibility of women to ignore online come-ons by men trying to be macho. Ignoring these unwarranted advances is an effective way of discouraging them. In the event that fails, women can report online hate crimes to the center for victims of cyber sexual violence at www. gender. or. kr.
By Lee Kyong-hwa
The writer manages a center for the prevention of sexual violence online.
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