30

Aug

2017

Digital Sexual Harassment in Digital Bangladesh

FOR 16-year-old Rabeya* living in a small town in Sylhet, the introduction of the Internet was a blessing in many ways. With strict parents who did not allow her to go out of the house alone, she was glad to have access to another world where there was no one overseeing her interactions or telling her what to do. Before long, she developed a relationship with a man who claimed to be working in a bank in Dhaka, with whom she shared intimate details of her life. After a few months of chatting, he demanded that she send him explicit pictures of herself. When she refused, his whole demeanour towards her changed; he began to send her highly inappropriate images and videos and make derogatory comments about her appearance and character. As Rabeya tried to block and delete him from his friend list, he threatened to call her parents and tell them what a “whore” she was.

The images, threats and calls became more frequent and more offensive as days passed, and with no one to ask for help, a traumatised and scared Rabeya, who blamed herself for it all, finally reached her breaking point and attempted suicide.

Although she survived, the episode left a deep scar in Rabeya; she developed a mistrust of everyone around her and continued to suffer from clinical depression. Her parents, upon learning what had happened, forcefully married her off to a man 10 years older than her.

Incidents like this – and much worse – take place in Digital Bangladesh every day. A disproportionate number of women and girls who use digital platforms are affected by some form of cyber harassment over their lifetime. But in a country where sexual violence of the most visible kinds in public spaces, homes and workplaces go unpunished, incidents of cyber sexual harassment and/or cyber bullying are hardly ever publicly highlighted by victims, activists or lawmakers, or reported to the police.

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