Plan International Ireland welcomes government commitment to tackle online abuse and harassment of girls and young women

Plan International Ireland welcomes government commitment to tackle online abuse and harassment of girls and young women

Plan International Ireland is calling for concrete action from government and social media companies to address the abuse and harassment experienced by girls and young women online. This comes after it was reported in October that 67% of young women in Ireland have experienced online abuse and harassment. At the global level, 58% of girls and young women have experienced the same.

Plan International is a development and humanitarian organisation that works to end child poverty and promote equality for girls across 77 countries and advocates for policies at the global, national and local level that promote children’s rights and gender equality. 

Marking the occasion of International Day of the Girl last month, Plan International launched the global Free To Be Online? report which details the findings of research carried out with over 14,000 girls across 22 countries about their experiences online. In Ireland, Plan International Ireland also launched the Girls Online: Experiences & Impacts in Ireland report featuring the experiences of 457 girls in the online space. As a direct result of their experiences of online violence, one quarter of respondents in both the global report and in Ireland felt physically unsafe. 

Perpetrators of abuse and harassment online find any reason to target girls and young women. In Ireland, respondents reported sexual harassment, stalking, threats of physical and sexual violence, racism, anti-LGBTQ comments, body-shaming, and other abuses as happening either frequently or very frequently. The global report also cites grooming, sexual exploitation, and human trafficking as forms of online violence which are occurring to girls and women. 

Since the campaign launched in October, almost 60,000 people across the world, including in Ireland, have signed an open letter written by activists to Facebook, lnstagram, TikTok and Twitter calling for better policies on their platforms to prevent and respond to abuse and harassment. Already, Instagram has agreed to a series of listening sessions with girls around the world.

Jessica Gill, a Plan International Ireland youth ambassador said “While self-regulation is an important step for social media companies, the government must also take responsibility to regulate these platforms and govern their use by individuals and other entities. Online violence against girls and young women should be viewed as a public health issue deserving of an appropriate response.”

Plan International Ireland are calling for a number of actions to be taken. The first is for social media companies to improve their policies. The second is for government to take concrete steps to ensure the urgent enactment of pending legislation addressing online abuse. This is vital if the government is serious about keeping girls and women safe from online violence and ending impunity for perpetrators. Action in this regard will deter those who seek to harass, abuse and exploit girls online. The final call to action is awareness-raising and education initiatives on online abuse and harassment.

Plan International has also launched a chatbot, Maru, a digital tool designed in collaboration with technology collective Feminist Internet. Maru is designed to support girls and women who are experiencing, witnessing or tackling online harassment by providing real advice and resources from experts and activists.

CEO of Plan Ireland, Paul O’Brien said “We have seen an increasing number of situations recently where girls and young women are abused, harassed and exploited online – in Ireland and overseas. Just last week, thousands in Ireland were affected by image-based sexual abuse. Online violence is a serious issue and has a real and detrimental effect. With the coronavirus pandemic driving all of us to spend more time online, it is more pressing than ever to have legislation in place and we wrote to the government earlier this month highlighting how urgent this is. 

He finished by welcoming the government’s commitment to enacting the Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017: “Once the law is in place, it must be properly implemented to ensure perpetrators no longer enjoy impunity and are held accountable for their actions. The establishment of an Online Safety Commissioner must also be seriously considered.”

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