We live in the internet age, and our lives revolve around the internet. We can now work, connect, read, and entertain ourselves using the internet. We have an unlimited amount of resources at our disposal and the world is becoming more of a global village than it has been before. But do you know that with all the good that the internet represents for our time, bad things happen using the same internet? Do you know that you can be sexually abused on the internet?
Dating and flirting can also turn violent
Online Dating is a part of a sexual hookup culture. A lot of people including teenagers and young people log on to dating applications to find a partner, find love, or meet a potential date. The internet is contributing in no small measure to connecting people for so many things, including dating and romantic relationships. There is a significant number of persons who rely on dating apps to find a romantic partner, some others have found their life partners through dating applications and social media platforms. Some sexual acts are now done over the internet, such kind of sex is what is referred to as Cyber sex. Cybersex can be as pleasurable and gratifying as physical sex where there is an actual meeting and body contact. A significant number of sexually active persons engage in cyber-sex. For some of them, cybersex is part of sexual activities are involved in, but a small percentage choose this as an exclusive form of gratifying themselves sexually, reasons best known to them.
There is a significant number of persons who rely on dating apps to find a romantic partner, some others have found their life partners through dating apps and social media platforms. But as with most good things that science and technology have gifted mankind, social media platforms including dating apps have birthed a new evil. Blackmail, gaslighting, sexual coercion, revenge pornography, recording nude sessions of a partner without their consent, the live sexual abuse of children streamed via the internet. All these and more have become the shadow that lurks around using social media, dating apps, or having cybersex. This is when sex can turn violent.
When a romantic relationship turns violent
On the other hand, cyber sexual violence can happen in a relationship. When one partner uploads photos or videos of the other partner on the internet without the consent of the subject. The perpetrators, in most cases, does it not as revenge, but to control the partner. The photos or videos may have been taken with or without the partner’s knowledge but upload with the consent of the victim.
Let us take the case of Sandra. Her husband takes photos and videos of them having sex. He threatens to upload it on the internet if she doesn’t share her salary with him. To worsen the case, he threatened that if she ever leaves him, he would leak the video not just to her family but to her work colleagues and supervisors.
Is Social media the new evil?
In April of 2018, a teenage boy logged on to a dating app he had been using for a while. Harry was his name. He had a message from someone whom he only knew by the profile name Enigma. They had been chatting for a while and on this day, they had planned to share nude photos of them themselves. He messaged Enigma and turned on his webcam, they shared nude pictures. Enigma asked Harry to masturbate while they watch over the webcam, he agreed to it. The webcam session ended soon after.
One after during lunch break at school, Harry sat on the grass to catch up on some novel he had been reading. He kept hearing laughter and wondered what might be going on around him. He had been absorbed in his reading. A group of boys were laughing and staring at him and two girls walked past him and giggled. He was confused. He picked his bag and book and ran into the school building. In the hallway, other students looked at him as he passed. His face turned from surprise to horror when he saw what looked like nude photos of himself pasted on the lockers along the school’s hallway. Harry is in a psychiatric facility now. He suffered a mental breakdown and attempted suicide when he learned that the video of himself masturbating was on everyone’s phone. Harry is one among a huge number of persons who are going suffering or have suffered from this kind of experience. This incidence is one of many referred to as Cyber sexual violence.
At present, there is no universally-accepted definition of cybersexual violence. However, it can be described as the use of any social media platform or communication technologies to perpetuate any of the following:
- Sexual comments or advances
- Attempts to obtain a sexual act
- Unwanted sexual acts
- Sexual coercion
In addition, there is another aspect of the method employed by predators on dating apps and other social media platforms. It is Cyberbullying. This is now a prevalent form of bullying which takes place in a virtual space and has a sexual intent. Cybersexual violence, on the other hand, primarily targets girls and women in a sexual manner and is borne out of sexism and misogyny.
Cybersexual violence and Cyberbullying, though having their individual distinct features, have some things in common:
- The attacks can be carried out at any hour of any day in typically “safe” locations such as the home.
- The Perpetrators can use deception or anonymity to carry out their activities.
- The perpetrators use the internet as their tool to carry out their nefarious activities.
- The perpetrators do not feel inhibited in any way because of their use of the internet. Therefore they feel less empathy for their victims and find it easier to be cruel especially when they cannot see or be seen by their target.
Forms of Cyber sexual violence
- Cyber-harassment and cyber-stalking: monitoring or disrupting online communications, making threats, stealing personal information, or spreading false accusations
- Distributing sexual recordings, images, or messages without consent in order to harass or shame the targeted individual
- Luring and online exploitation of minors by adults who establish contact with children over the Internet for the purpose of committing a sexual offence
- Online sexual assault: constant threats of sexual assault
- Sextorsion: “sexual blackmail” in which a person is threatened with the electronic distribution of sexual images or information.
What can you do if you are a victim?
- Report the perpetrator’s account to the management of the app
- Log out of the app
- Talk to someone you trust
- Go to the police
- Go and see a therapist or counsellor
How can you help a victim?
Cybersexual violence and cyberbullying are sad realities of this computer age. Victims can suffer a wide range of mental ailments. If you know someone who is experiencing any of them, please support the person morally and encourage them to see government security agents to make a formal report so that the perpetrator can be brought to book.
In addition, encourage them to see a therapist or counsellor. Be a friend to them in this dark time of their lives and accompany them to recovery.