Thursday, August 5, 2021

Online sexual harassment goes unnoticed

The cases of sexual harassment and assault are rife in Botswana, with offenders enjoying impunity. Online sexual harassment encompasses a wide range of behaviours that use digital content – images, videos, posts, messages, pages on a variety of different platforms (private or public). People subjected to online harassment experience a different kind of discomfort than the one which occurs in person. In addition to that, they feel, threatened, exploited, coerced, humiliated, upset, sexualised or discriminated against. Online sexual harassment allows perpetrators to engage in inappropriate behaviour without surveillance. Consequently, victims are faced with a unique decision regarding reporting. Among young people this is typically taking place in a peer-to-peer context, it happens around schools and local communities, and majority of the time plays out online in front of an active, engaged audience. Whilst it typically takes place amongst peers, it is possible for adults to sexually harass young people too or other adults online. Victims tend to deal with online sexual harassment in a manner they think is best, and this is usually by ignoring, downplaying or even blaming themselves for the harassment. 

While physical and verbal sexual harassment often stem from the harasser’s desire to control or intimidate the victim, online sexual harassment often times has other intentions. Posting explicit photos or sexual information (whether true or not) is often done to shame the victim. Some harassers may personally know the victim, have been turned down in person and are now retaliating online. If you are subjected to sexual jokes that make you feel uncomfortable, offended or intimidated, this is sexual harassment. Unwanted sexual advances are also a form of sexual harassment. This includes actions such as leering or unwanted and inappropriate sexual propositions, whether in person, over the phone. It is easy for online sexual harassment to spiral out of control. The lack of a physical link between the harasser and the victim makes it easier for them to say things one wouldn’t in person. For example, an employee who wants to ask another for a date but is too afraid may send a sexually suggestive email or text message instead because they don’t have the courage to face their co-worker in person. Women who have been the target of online harassment often find their harassment experiences to be more upsetting than their male counterparts. Meanwhile, men are less likely than women to say they’ve experienced forms of online harassment, but are often called offensive names and being physically threatened. 

Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at the University of Botswana, says “nearly 40 percent of people who use the internet experience some form of harassment at one point or another. This can range from mild forms of harassment such as name calling to far more severe forms such as stalking or physical threats. Young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 are the most likely age group to experience online harassment. Although men and women can experience harassment, women, particularly younger women, are more likely to receive more severe forms of it. Social media is the most common platform, but it can also happen within the comments section of a website and through personal email. Many forms of harassment can occur in the workplace, some employees may feel discriminated against by some of their co-workers. The advent of the Internet has made it possible for people to harass others any time they want. The anonymity of the Internet gives people the sense of power they need to harass others when they would not have been able to in person.”

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