Gender-based cyber violence report heads to EP plenary for final approval

The proposed report calls for a directive to establish a common criminal law definition of gender-based cyberviolence

During a meeting of the women's rights and gender equality committee (FEMM) on Monday, a vote was held to amend a draft report covering gender-based “cyber violence”, meaning any and all forms of online harassment directed towards women.

The Rapporteurs are Elissavet Voemberg-Vrionidi (EPP) and Sylwia Spurek (Greens).

Spurek, who was also chairing the session, opened the vote with poignant statement on the matter.

“Yesterday was a very important day in Poland 103 years ago women gained the right to vote in Poland and it's very upsetting that in the 21st century that we still need to deal with such a thing as gender based violence. Including cyber violence.”

The votes came in later that day and the amendments passed with 76 votes in favour, eight against and eight abstentions. The report reiterates the lack of a legal framework in the EU to combat gender-based cyber violence as well as the notable lack of effective protection and support mechanisms for victims of this kind of harassment.

Due to the pandemic, a concerning spike in these cases has been observed, no doubt in connection to more people remaining indoors and online.

MEPs emphasised the fact that the chilling effects of gender-based cyberviolence often spill over into real world attacks, which means these issues are underreported. The concerning intersection of all this sort of online abuse was highlighted by MEPs, who said that it was resulting in more extreme consequences for vulnerable people such as migrant women, minority women, people who identify as LGBTIQ, and teenagers.

Tackling this problem under EU law is the goal of this report. Some work has already been done in this regard, such as the Commission’s non-exhaustive list of the different sorts of gender-based cyber violence.

These include: cyber harassment; cyber stalking; violations of privacy; recording and sharing images of sexual assault; remote control or surveillance (including through spy apps); threats and calls to violence; sexist hate speech; inducement to self-harm; computer damage; unlawful access to messages or social media accounts; breach of the prohibitions of communication imposed by means of judicial orders; and, trafficking in human beings.

This was welcomed by the MEPs, as their proposed report calls for a directive to establish a common criminal law definition of gender-based cyberviolence along with sanctions against offenders to be harmonized across the Union.

The new directive should also be comprised of measures to promote and support preventative actions by member states, as well as specific stipulations to support, safeguard and ensure justice and compensation for victims.

All of this comes in the wake of strong statements made on the topic by Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen, who announced in her second State of the Union address that action was to be taken to prevent violence against women, whether offline or online.

This report will now go to the December 2021 plenary seeking adoption from the full house.

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This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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