This most likely happens in the corridors of any European institution, this is why it is important to act: a woman passes by a group of men stationed on the sidewalk. Following this moment, she leaves a trail of whistles and vulgar comments for which, as if it wasn’t enough, she should feel flattered.
A teenager is walking home in the early hours of the morning. She hears footsteps behind her that only she is able to hear, alerted by a atavistic instinct and a deep-rooted cultural heritage which, since immemorial times alerts females that they should not be walking alone; and that if they shall commit such act of imprudence, they should avoid the shadows and tense their walk, as she is doing now with her bated breath.
Patterns of behavior that, far from being eradicated, have jumped without great mutations to the virtual ecosystem, a mirror at the end of the analogue, where they have perpetuated themselves, adapting to their specific language and taking advantage of their sometimes truly destructive potential, of their broadcast channels. Insults loaded with misogynist poison, disavowals based solely and exclusively on the sex of the issuer, verbal and graphic harassment through pornographic and violent photographs, in many cases reaching extortion.
The list of harassment tools is long, and increasingly sophisticated. In addition, they are not restricted to a few hours of the night, dangerous streets or poorly lit portals. To escape from the network of networks is much more complicated. Its ubiquity and scope increases the vulnerability of victims. No one is safe. We already denounced a few months ago journalists and policies such as those in Diario Público, through in the article “Internet masters do not stand up for women”.
No one can question how this condensation of hatred or contempt in a few characters, mostly directed at women, is a clear example of sexual violence, macho by definition. This cruelty does not only affect public figures, who, because of their prominence, can more easily become the target of the anger and animosity of Internet users. The ordinary citizen is just as exposed, as evidenced by the massive support received, with almost 80,000 accessions through the platformchange.org, which the Communication and Gender Agency registered last September with the number 0777/2018 before the European Parliament; or the one promoted by the magazine Píkara before the Spanish Parliament, because the Spanish State also deprives women of protection against digital violence.
And we did not invent this. For reference, an Amnesty International report recently denounced that one in five women in Spain suffer abuse on the Internet. 54% of these respondents reported having changed their behavior in the networks as a result of cyberbullying. Once again, it is the victim that is inhibited, the one that is repressed, the one that accelerates the pace, the one that lowers the head. The reason is none other than the helplessness they suffer from judicial bodies, since, all too often, the law has lagged behind the dizzying pace at which the digital world was imposing the rules of the game.
In Spain, legal protection against defamation is not practical and its legal gaps have turned the panorama into a quagmire of impunity that doubly victimizes, even though article 18 of the constitution guarantees the right to honor, privacy and self-image.
Faced with judicial inaction or tardiness, social networks that serve as a platform for these offenses do not have effective protocols to eliminate these defamatory contents while there is no judgment, and, moreover, they are in a jurisdictional limbo that allows them be outside of national legislations.
What do companies that manage social networks do when they are asked to protect themselves against such crimes? As we denounced in the article mentioned in Diario Público “their responses adopt the passive, unilateral and discretionary form of a simple automatic message, thus not only ignoring the seriousness of the case, but also discouraging the victims of the attacks even more, they have no resources until there is a judgement involved in the process. “
Only through mobilization and complaint will it be possible to stop the situations which cause any woman to hold her breath when she puts the key in the portal, or when her cell phone vibrates with the notification of a new attack in 140 characters. Please, parliamentary ladies and gentlemen, attend to our request.
Leon Fernando del Canto,
Barrister at Lincoln’s Inn,
Partners Del Canto Chambers