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technology 25 Nov 2019

Addressing the gaps in protect women from online sexual exploitation and abuse

National and international laws are lagging behind technological advancement, leaving room to increased online sexual exploitation and abuse(OSEA) of women and girls, a new report has shown. Dubbed ‘The Ending Online Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Women and Girls’, the report by international women’s rights organization Equality Now indicates that current laws including in Kenya don’t give adequate protection, and regulations on digital service providers and platforms are inconsistent, meaning not enough is being done to keep people safe online. Equality Now is an international human rights organization that works to protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the world by combining grassroots activism with international, regional and national legal advocacy.

“We need comprehensive laws that hold digital service provides legally accountable for sexual abuse and exploitation on their platforms. Governments must also ensure law enforcement agencies have enough expertise and resources to investigate and prosecute alleged crimes effectively,” said Tsitsi Matekaire, Global Lead for Equality Now's End Sexual Exploitation program in a release. She is also a lead author on the report.

The Organization produced the report with legal research assistance from TrustLaw, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s global pro bono service and analyzed national laws in India, Kenya, Nigeria, the UK & the USA.

According to the report, Predators are increasingly using social media and online gaming platforms to target potential victims because these platforms offer anonymity and operate under very limited regulation.

“Women and girls are particularly vulnerable as offenders take advantage of sex, gender, and structural discrimination, and the true scale of the problem is unknown because many cases go unreported,” reads part of the report, Blaming international and national legal instruments for failing to keep pace with the complex, of the crime and ever-changing digital landscape and fuelled by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Loopholes identified in the laws include failure to adequately define OSEA or provide clear definitions of what constitutes “harmful content”, and commonly rely on community policing to identify perpetrators and inconsistencies internationally and nationally in definitions of OSEA, and the application of digital service providers’ and platforms’ terms and conditions . Others include that many laws pre-date important technological advances, such as camera-ready technology, and don’t adequately respond to the internet’s global and ever-evolving nature.

The report suggests that to curb the rising cases, governments have to review and update legislation and policies to fully protect people from OSEA, enact laws that clarify the role and responsibility of digital service providers in protecting users on their platforms, strengthen national capacity to address OSEA and collaborate with other key stakeholders including civil society organisations and digital service providers.

The International community is advised to develop and adopt binding international standards, review and update international and regional laws and instruments to ensure they align to the reality of the digital age and conduct up-to-date research and analysis on OSEA among others.

Digital service providers are called upon to apply a human rights approach in policies and practices to protect users from harm and collaborate with other stakeholders, including law enforcement, civil society organisations, and governments.

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