The current situation of online GBV harassment in Cambodia
Author: Monyvann Nhean
Tranlated into Spanish by Ana Elena Acon
It is estimated 736 million women globally experience violence at least once in their lives from intimate and non-intimate partners (UN Women, 2022). The prevalence of violence against women, such as domestic violence and sexual violence, is also still a concern in Cambodia.
In 2020 the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (2020) reported that 18 percent of women aged 15 to 49 who have been married, reported that their spouses had abused them physically or sexually. Online harassment is another form of violence that women and girls experience in their lives.
Despite the fact that Cambodia has adopted international laws, regulations, and conventions as well as enacted national laws and strategies to prevent violence against women, it still continues because online GBV harassment is still a gray area not only in national laws but in the international framework as well. These require mechanisms to be monitored, reported, and enforced. The Cambodian government should enact a law on the prevention of online harassment with a clear definition. The definition of online harassment and its harmful attribute should be widespread awareness.
1. What is online harassment?
Online harassment adds a layer of negativity to the internet world that individuals must sift through as they go about their daily lives. Fighting online harassment becomes more difficult because there are many different definitions of it by various institutions in the world. It can jeopardize the users’ privacy by forcing them to select when and where they participate online or even putting their physical safety in jeopardy (Pew Research Center, 2021).
Media defend (n.d) describes online harassment or cyberstalking is an offensive activity or the intimidation toward an individual right who access the internet by using digital platforms, including text messages, or social media.
It can be targeted both at individuals and groups. It is generally focused on someone who has a different political view, physical appearance, race, gender identity, religion, and sexual orientation (Pew Research Center, 2021).
In addition, there is no clear term for online harassment. Lomba et al. (2021) calls it as “gender-based cyber violence” as a gradually developing issue; in both the situation’s complexity and the ongoing changes in technology and behavior. It was an unthinkable phenomenon 30 years ago, and an increasing number of women and girls are subjected to harassment, stalking, and other types of threats while online.
Pen America (2021) defines 21 forms of online harassment that has many different names: cyberbullying, hateful speech, nonconsensual Intimate Images (aka Revenge Porn), online sexual harassment (aka, cybersexual abuse, gender-based harassment), and so on. Some terms are interchangeable, while others have lost their meaning.
- Cyberbullying is willful and repeated harm caused by the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.
- Hateful speech online refers to an expression for attacking a person’s identity. It is the common form of ad hominem attacks, which invoke prejudicial feelings over intellectual arguments to avoid discussion of the topic at hand by attacking a person’s character or attributes.
- Nonconsensual Intimate Images (so called “dick picks”)
- Unauthorized distribution of individuals of private, sexually explicit photographs or videos. (aka Revenge Porn)
Online sexual harassment (aka, cybersexual abuse, gender-based harassment) refers to a variety of sexual misconduct on digital platforms. Women and LGBTQIA+ people are disproportionately targeted.
2. Forms of online harassment in Cambodia
UNICEF Cambodia (2020) defines it as any negative behaviors that threaten or shame the targeted group by using digital platforms. Generally it is found on social media, online games, and messaging platforms by using the mobile phone.
LICADHO (2021) emphasizes that online harassment is any act or manner that is committed with harmful consequences physical, sexual, psychological, or social harm by using informing communication technology (ICT) platform.
Similarly, The Perspectives Cambodia (2021) gives several definitions, including intention or unintentional behavior by using offensive words, sexual jokes, or inappropriate criticizing, blaming comments or attack the individuals in the social media. Moreover, online harassment is an activity to share the pornography or sexual exploitation of women and girls (Voun, 2021).
3. Who experiences online harassment in Cambodia?
A survey by Lirneasia (2018) finds that 29 percent of female internet users aged 15 to 65 in Cambodia have experienced online harassment. This includes being called offensive names, criticized, embarrassed, physically threatened, sexually harassed, and unwanted contact. In addition, a study carried out by UNICEF across 160 countries, estimates that 85.7 percent of Cambodian youth aged 15 to 25 years are at risk of online harassment (Asian Post team, 2019). LICADHO (2021) points out that LGBT+ groups, activists, and youth, report a rate of online harassment is high; it is similar or the same for both young women and men.
4. What is the root cause that contributes to online harassment?
The individual, collective behavior, gender role, social status, cultural blame, and digital platform intertwine and are complex in the realm of online harassment.
- Individual and collective behavior contribute to online harassment
According to Ybarra and Mitchell (2007) analysis; boys are more likely than girls to be frequent perpetrators of online harassment, and that girls are significantly less likely to report online harassment.
Recently, Qayyum et al. (2021) asserted that the root cause of harassment is the mindset and perception of society believe that men are more powerful and capable than women. Social status has a significant impact on an individual engaging in harassment where women and men are expected to perform following their social roles.
For example, cases of sexual violence, society often blames women or marginalized groups for their dress and behavior while ignoring the fact that the offender is the one who committed the crime. Similarly, women are being blamed for provoking online sexual harassment. As a result, it becomes the “cultural blame”; leads the victim dares not to speak up; thus, it creates an epidemic of injustice and cultural harassment within society.
Most importantly, many men regularly were found to use social media platforms to comment intentionally to harass marginalized groups, including women (The Perspectives Cambodia, 2021).
- Digital devises and social media use in Cambodia
It is estimated that 12.5 million Cambodian are internet users, of which 8.4 million are active social media users, and 24 million mobile subscriptions (UNICEF, n.d.). Five out of twelve social media platforms are more popular, including Facebook, YouTube, Google, Telegraph, and TikTok. However, it is more than 80 percent of Facebook users, and then YouTube, which is over 60 percent. Males are higher percentage than female Facebook users in Cambodia (MRTS Consulting and Stereoscope Ltd, 2020). LICADHO (2021) finds Facebook is a leading platform for online harassment in Cambodia.
5. The international, national framework and action to prevent Gender-Based Violence
Cambodia has adopted an international framework in its commitment to preventing violence against women and advancing gender equality. The country signed and ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1992 with effective integration into national strategic plans and policies (UN, 2011). The country is a signatory on The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995. It aims to eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence against women.
Cambodia has established a five-year National Action Plan to Prevent Violence against Women and updates it every five years. The four main priorities and approaches of the plan for 2019-2023 are:
- Legal protection and multi-sectoral services
- Formulation and implementation of laws and policies
- Review, monitoring, and evaluation
The strategy enhances the knowledge to youth, promotes the workplace and community free from harassment, encourages non-violent social norms, images, messages, and media capacity, especially social media, to sensitively prevent violence against women, and strengthen responsive mechanisms at the national and sub-national level (Ministry of Women’s Affairs, 2020).
- Cambodian laws
The national constitution law (1993) is the supreme law to prevent violence against women and protect human rights. Several international law provisions, particularly those relating to the protection of human rights, are included in the Constitution (Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, 2016).
Law on suppression of human trafficking and sexual exploitation (2008) aims to prevent human trafficking and sexual exploitation to conserve human rights and dignity as well as to improve everyone’s health and welfare (Royal Kram, 2008).
Cambodia enacted the Law on Prevention of Domestic Violence and Protection of Victims, in 2005 for preventing domestic violence, protecting victims, and strengthening cultural nonviolence. The main priorities are prevention, intervention, and role of duty bearers (ព្រះរាជក្រម, 2005). Responses violence against women and other forms of violence, the state has criminal code law that articulated in article 239: the definition of Rape, article 246: the definition of indecent assault, article 249: indecent exposure to anyone in the public sphere, article 250: definition of sexual harassment (Chheung, 2009).
Cambodia has prepared and drafted the cybercrime law since 2016. Its goal is to prevent and suppress information technology crimes by ensuring the integrity of computer systems management, computer data and security, public order, and the preservation of individual rights and freedoms. The law applies to information technology violations performed in or outside the Kingdom of Cambodia, as well as activities that harm individuals, legal entities, security, public order, or Cambodia’s interests (អ៊ាង, 2020).
6. The gaps in laws to prevent online gender-based violence harassment
A criticism on CEDAW is that it does not give an explicit definition of gender-based violence or violence against women (Richards and Haglund, 2018). According to a General Recommendation issued in 1992, gender-based violence, is discrimination under CEDAW with a barrier to women’s enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms (Johnson et al., 2008).
It is important to note that online harassment has never been addressed in this convention. Although each member state requires reporting to the CEDAW committee, online harassment was absent in the report. For instance, online harassment recently has never been mentioned in the shadow report of civil societies and government (Johnson et al., 2008, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, 2018, NGO-CEDAW, n.d.).
- Steps taken by social media platforms?
Furthermore, given the pressure on social media platform providers – particularly Facebook – announcements of efforts and adjustments have been made as part of a media companies’ system to identify and report harassment and violent events. Unfortunately, the focus has been on things like ‘hateful conduct’ to this point (Barker and Jurasz, 2017).
Haffner (2021) shows the language barrier and technical problem bring difficulty for users to troubleshoot various issues, including online harassment due to the country’s small population, and Facebook may not consider Cambodia a priority.
Similarly, TikTok has terms of service and declares that all users shall not intimidate, harass, bully, promote sexually explicit material, violence, or discrimination based on race, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, or age. However, many studies uncover that the company fails to control the self-guideline (Weimann and Masri, 2020).
- Using the law against online harassment
In the national context, the Cambodian constitution law is too broad to address the violence against women in the following article 31, article 38, article 45, and article 46 (Leang & Op, 2015). Moreover, chapter 2 on The Act of Selling/Buying or Exchanging of Human Being and chapter 3 on Confinement in Law on suppression of human trafficking and sexual exploitation (2008) does not explicitly address online harassment.
Generally, sexual harassment and indecent exposure are classified as misdemeanors, with penalties ranging from 6 days to 3 months imprisonment. Similarly, even though sexual harassment is stated in article 250, it is unclear how it applies and to which area, and no explicit examples of behavior are provided.
This ambiguity makes it difficult for local authorities to enforce the law, and even more difficult for victims to seek assistance (Leang and Op, 2015). Similarly, although local authorities received training on the prevention of gender-based violence and sexual harassment from the government or other women’s organizations, they still have difficulty defining an explicit definition of GBV and sexual harassment.
They assumed GBV as domestic violence and sexual violence; and referred to the Law on Prevention of Domestic Violence and Protection of Victims and Village and Community Safety Guideline (Pak et al., 2015). Referring to online harassment is much more complex and to implement in which law?
Critically, a draft of cybercrime law V.1 in Cambodia addresses only child pornography in article 27 and its absence to prevent all forms of online violence against women and marginalized groups (Open Development Mekong, 2017). Moreover, the legislative foundation for digital development is still incomplete and insufficient.
Cambodia lacks laws on data protection and privacy as well as on electronic transactions, public information, and cybercrime. These legal foundations are required to respond to the digital and technology sector’s rapid growth in scope and volume, as well as the introduction of new hazards. Incomplete laws are recognized in the Cambodia Digital Economy and Society Policy Framework 2021-2035 (The Royal Cambodian Government, 2021).
7. Conclusion and recommendations
While international and national actors are actively combating violence against women, including physical, sexual, psychological, and economic violence. The international frameworks, national strategic plans, and laws were established to prevent and respond to gender-based violence.
However, regarding the examination and reviewing of the global framework, regulations of social media, and national policies, it is clear that there is no clear definition or action to prevent and suppress online harassment. Meanwhile, women and marginalized groups experience gender-based violence.
Therefore, CEDAW committee ought to review and update the mechanism to monitor and respond to the violence against women, including online GBV harassment. They should give an explicit definition of online harassment. In addition, global social media companies must pay more attention to reviewing their online regulations and policies to ensure women and marginalized groups are free from online harassment.
Nationally, Cambodia must define an unambiguous term and enact the law on anti-online harassment. It should be ratified as a criminal law for zero tolerance and the imprisonment of all harassers. It must be circulated as raising awareness. Cambodian government or civil society organizations should state the report for the CEDAW committee not only physical, sexual, mental, and economic violence but also online harassment.
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Author’s Short Bio
NHEAN Monyvann is a straight, brown woman from Cambodia. Currently, she is a Feminist in Action Project manager at CARE International in Cambodia. She works for the transformative power of Cambodian feminist organizations with efforts to create a more gender-equal world. She delivers technical support to the various women-led organizations, women’s rights organizations, feminist CSOs, and social movements in the four thematic areas, including fighting against gender-based violence, women’s access to rights, women’s economic empowerment, sexual and reproductive health, and rights (SRHR) for advancing gender equality in Cambodia. She has nearly ten years of experience as a qualified social, gender, and development, humanitarian practitioner, as well as in disaster management, event and campaign management, and child protection. She had worked as a senior project officer and program coordinator for several international organizations. Notably, she adhered to workplace policy implementations and the reinforcement of community development action plans. Similarly, she collaborated with factory managements to improve the sexual harassment prevention mechanism, policy, and worker well-being strategies. She also worked as a trainer.
She was a recipient of the Asian Peacebuilders Scholarship (2020-2021) funded by The Nippon Foundation (Japan). She graduated with a Dual Master’s Degree, Arts in Gender, and Peacebuilding from the University for Peace in Costa Rica and Transdisciplinary Social Development (MTSDev) from Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines. She holds a Bachelor of Computer Science and Engineering from the Royal University of Phnom Penh.