38/47 Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences on online violence against women and girls from a human rights perspective
Human Rights Council Thirty-eighth session
18 June–6 July 2018
Agenda item 3
Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil,
political, economic, social and cultural rights,
including the right to development
Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences on online violence against women and girls from a human rights perspective*
Note by the Secretariat
The Secretariat has the honour to transmit to the Human Rights Council the report of
the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, prepared
pursuant to Council resolution 32/19.
* The present report was submitted after the deadline in order to reflect recent developments.
United Nations A/HRC/38/47
I. Introduction ................................................................................................................................... 3
II. Activities of the Special Rapporteur ............................................................................................. 3
III. Online violence against women .................................................................................................... 4
A. Introduction .......................................................................................................................... 4
B. Definition, harm and manifestations of online and information and communications
technology-facilitated violence against women and girls ..................................................... 6
C. Application of the international human rights framework to online violence
against women and girls ....................................................................................................... 10
IV. Conclusion and recommendations ................................................................................................. 18
A. Recommendations for the United Nations ............................................................................ 18
B. Recommendations for States ................................................................................................ 19
C. Recommendations for Internet intermediaries ...................................................................... 21
1. The present report is submitted pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 32/19.
In accordance with the mandate’s priorities (see A/HRC/32/42), the Special Rapporteur on
violence against women, its causes and consequences, Dubravka Šimonović, analyses
online violence and violence facilitated by information and communications technology
(ICT) against women and girls from a human rights perspective.
II. Activities of the Special Rapporteur
2. On 5 October 2017, the Special Rapporteur, pursuant to General Assembly
resolution 69/147, presented her thematic report to the Assembly on the adequacy of the
international legal framework on violence against women (A/72/134), in which she
proposed the formulation of a global implementation plan on violence against women.
3. From 12 to 23 March 2018, the Special Rapporteur participated in the sixty-second
session of the Commission on the Status of Women, held in New York, at which she
delivered a statement,1 and attended several high-level panel discussions on issues relating
to violence against women. Within the context of the mandate’s initiative on strengthening
and institutionalizing cooperation between international and regional independent
mechanisms on women’s rights,2 the Special Rapporteur organized consultations and high-
level panel discussions on the themes “Institutional cooperation between global and
regional independent mechanisms dealing with violence and discrimination against
women” and “Fighting violence against women in politics” with the participation of the
Deputy Secretary-General, the Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality
and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), the Chair of the Committee on the
Elimination of Discrimination against Women, two members of the Working Group on the
issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, the Chair of the African
Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the President of the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights and the Rapporteur on the Rights of Women, the President
of the Group of experts on action against violence against women and domestic violence of
the Council of Europe and the President of the Committee of Experts of the Follow-up
Mechanism to the Belém do Pará Convention.
4. The Special Rapporteur and other international and regional independent
mechanisms on women’s rights also held a meeting with the Secretary-General, who
reiterated his support for the mandate’s initiative on institutionalizing cooperation between
independent international and regional mechanisms on violence against women.
5. On 4 November 2017, in Banjul, the Special Rapporteur participated in the sixty-
first ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and
delivered a statement3 at the launch of its Guidelines on Combating Sexual Violence and its
Consequences in Africa.
6. On 6 November 2017, in Washington D.C., the Special Rapporteur participated in
an event convened by the Follow-up Mechanism to the Belém do Pará Convention on the
theme “International and regional mechanisms on violence against women”. On the
following day, she attended a high-level event on “Regional and international Mechanisms
for a comprehensive approach addressing violence against women and girls”, with the
participation of the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States.
1 See www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Women/SR/StatementCSW12March2018.pdf.
2 See www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/SRWomen/Pages/CooperationGlobal
3 Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), “Statement by
Dubravka Simonovic, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women at the 61st Ordinary Session
of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights”, press release, 4 November 2017.
7. On 14 November 2017, in Geneva, the mandate holder attended the official launch
by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women of its general
recommendation No. 35 on gender-based violence against women, updating general
recommendation No. 19, in which the mandate holder actively participated upon invitation
by the Committee.
8. On 22 November 2017, the Special Rapporteur, together with a group of
independent human rights experts, marking the International Day on the Elimination of
Violence against women, issued a call to eradicate gender-based violence against women,
with a focus on sexual harassment and rape, urging States to update their national action
plans in accordance with the new general recommendation adopted by the Committee on
the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.4 On 7 December, in order to mark the 16
Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence campaign and International Human
Rights Day, the Special Rapporteur reiterated her call for the intensification of
international, regional and national efforts to prevent femicide or gender-related killings of
women, and for the worldwide adoption of a femicide watch or gender-related killings
9. From 25 February to 2 March 2018, in Bogotá, Colombia, the Special Rapporteur
attended the session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, at which she
delivered a statement during a hearing on sexual and reproductive rights of women and
girls in Central America. From 14 to 18 May, the Special Rapporteur, pursuant to her
mandate, participated in the twenty-seventh session of the Commission on Crime
Prevention and Criminal Justice, and attended different panel discussions on gender-based
violence against women and femicide.
10. The Special Rapporteur conducted a country visit to the Bahamas from 11 to 15
December 2017 (see A/HRC/38/47/Add.2; see also Add.1) and to Canada from 11 to 23
April 2018. During the period under review, the Special Rapporteur addressed, including
jointly with other mandate holders, a total of over 50 communications relating to issues
falling within the scope of her mandate. The Special Rapporteur also issued several press
releases and statements jointly with other human rights mechanisms.
11. On 23 November 2017, in follow-up to a previous letter dated 4 April 2017, the
Special Rapporteur addressed a letter to the Director of UN-Women as administrator of the
United Nations Trust Fund in Support of Actions to Eliminate Violence against Women, to
initiate cooperation with the Trust Fund, as envisaged by the General Assembly in its
III. Online violence against women6
12. Online and ICT-facilitated forms of violence against women have become
increasingly common, particularly with the use, every day and everywhere, of social media
platforms and other technical applications (A/HRC/32/42 and Corr.1). In today’s digital
age, the Internet and ICT are rapidly creating new social digital spaces and transforming
how individuals meet, communicate and interact, and by this more generally, reshape
society as a whole. This development is especially critical for new generations of girls and
4 OHCHR, “International Day on the Elimination of Violence against Women – 25 November”, press
release, 22 November 2017.
5 OHCHR, “16 Days of Advocacy on ending violence against women and International Human Rights
Day”, press release, 7 December 2017.
6 The present report was informed by inputs received from stakeholders pursuant to a call by the
mandate holder for submissions, and a meeting, held on 16 and 17 January 2018, on due diligence to
eliminate online violence against women, organized by the Due Diligence Project and the Association
for Progressive Communications and hosted by the Global Women’s Institute of the George
boys, who are starting their lives extensively using new technologies to mediate in their
relationships, affecting all aspects of their lives. In the section below, the Special
Rapporteur considers the phenomenon of violence against women facilitated by new
technologies and digital spaces from a human rights perspective.
13. Even though the core international human rights instruments, including those on
women’s rights, were drafted before the advent of ICT, they provide a global and dynamic
set of rights and obligations with transformative potential, and have a key role to play in the
promotion and protection of fundamental human rights, including a woman’s rights to live
a life free from violence, to freedom of expression, to privacy, to have access to
information shared through ICT, and other rights.
14. When women and girls do have access to and use the Internet, they face online
forms and manifestations of violence that are part of the continuum multiple, recurring and
interrelated forms of gender-based violence against women. Despite the benefits and
empowering potential of the Internet and ICT, women and girls across the world have
increasingly voiced their concern at harmful, sexist, misogynistic and violent content and
behaviour online. It is therefore important to acknowledge that the Internet is being used in
a broader environment of widespread and systemic structural discrimination and gender-
based violence against women and girls, which frame their access to and use of the Internet
and other ICT. Emerging forms of ICT have facilitated new types of gender-based violence
and gender inequality in access to technologies, which hinder women’s and girls’ full
enjoyment of their human rights and their ability to achieve gender equality.7
15. Terminology in this area is still developing and not univocal. In several official
United Nations documents, and in particular the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable
Development, reference is made to the general and inclusive term “information and
communications technology” (or ICT), while in other reports “online violence”, “digital
violence” or “cyberviolence” are used. In the present report, the Special Rapporteur refers
to “ICT-facilitated violence against women” as the most inclusive term, but mainly uses
“online violence against women” as a more user-friendly expression. Where appropriate,
she uses both terms, as well as the terms “cyberviolence” and “technology-facilitated
violence” as alternatives. Mindful that many forms of online violence covered in the report
are perpetrated against both women and girls, she uses the term “women” in an inclusive
manner, which includes girls whenever applicable, 8 while recognizing that girls are a
frequent target of this form of violence.9
16. Despite being a relatively new phenomenon and, consequently, the lack of
comprehensive data, it has been estimated that 23 per cent of women have reported having
experienced online abuse or harassment at least once in their life, and that 1 in 10 women
has experienced some form of online violence since the age of 15.10
17. At the normative level, the interaction between technology and women’s human
rights standards is marked by the recognition of the principle that human rights protected
offline should also be protected online.11 Since women’s rights are human rights and the
prohibition of gender-based violence has been recognized as a principle of international
human rights law,12 women’s human rights as developed through comprehensive regional
and international conventions, jurisprudence and norms should be protected online,
including through the prohibition of gender-based violence in its ICT-facilitated and online
7 See International Telecommunications Union (ITU), “ICT facts and figures 2016”.
8 Girls are also protected by legislation on child pornography, which is outside the scope of the present
9 See the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and
Sexual Abuse (the “Lanzarote Convention”). See also European Institute for Gender Equality, “Cyber
violence against women and girls”, 2017.
10 See European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, “Violence against women: an EU-wide
11 Human Rights Council resolution 32/13.
12 Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women general recommendation No. 35
forms. Furthermore, States have established positive obligations to ensure that fundamental
human rights are protected, respected and fulfilled.
18. Protecting women’s human rights and eliminating violence against women and girls
in public and private life in the “real world” remains a global challenge that has now spread
to the digital space of social media, such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, YouTube
and Tumblr, and in other mobile telephone communications technology, micro-blogging
sites and messaging applications (such as WhatsApp, Snapchat, Messenger, Weibo and
Line), which are now a part of everyday life for many people around the world.
19. This new global digital space has great potential for ensuring the faster and fuller
promotion and enjoyment of all human rights, including women’s rights. The power to use
this potential for protecting women’s human rights and achieving gender equality does not,
however, reside only in the technologies themselves; much also depends on the ways that
people access and use those new technologies.13 There is a significant risk that the use of
ICT without a human rights-based approach and the prohibition of online gender-based
violence could broaden sexual and gender-based discrimination and violence against
women and girls in society even further.
20. Owing to the easy accessibility and dissemination of contents within in the digital
world, the social, economic, cultural and political structures and related forms of gender
discrimination and patriarchal patterns that result in gender-based violence offline are
reproduced, and sometimes amplified and redefined, in ICT, while new forms of violence
emerge. New forms of online violence are committed in a continuum and/or interaction
between online or digital space; it is often difficult to distinguish the consequences of
actions that are initiated in digital environments from offline realities, and vice versa. At
this stage of development in ICT, it is essential that the different forms of online violence
against women and girls be addressed through legislative and any other measures necessary
to combat and prevent such violence, while upholding the right to freedom of expression,
including access to information, the right to privacy and data protection, as well as the
rights of women that are protected under the international human rights framework.
21. The aim of the present thematic report is to start the process of understanding how to
effectively apply a human rights-based approach to prevent and combat online and ICT-
facilitated violence against women as human rights violations, which shares its root causes
with other forms of violence against women and should be dealt with in the broader context
of the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.
B. Definition, harm and manifestations of online and information and
communications technology-facilitated violence against women and
22. Violence against women is a form of discrimination against women and a human
rights violation falling under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination and other international and regional instruments, according to which
violence against women includes gender-based violence against women, that is, violence
directed against a woman because she is a woman and/or that affects women
disproportionately.14 Article 1 of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against
Women further specifies that violence against women is any act of gender-based violence
that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to
women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether
occurring in public or in private life.
13 See Thomas L. Friedman, “How Mark Zuckerberg Can Save Facebook – and Us”, New York Times,
27 March 2018.
14 Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women general recommendations No. 19
(1992) on violence against women and No. 35 (2017) on gender-based violence against women,
updating general recommendation No. 19.
23. The definition of online violence against women therefore extends to any act of
gender-based violence against women that is committed, assisted or aggravated in part or
fully by the use of ICT, such as mobile phones and smartphones, the Internet, social media
platforms or email, against a woman because she is a woman, or affects women
24. It is important to note from the outset that the Special Rapporteur report does not
aim to define and catalogue all forms of online violence against women and girls. The rapid
development of digital technology and spaces, including through artificial intelligence (AI),
will inevitably give rise to different and new manifestations of online violence against
women. She therefore aims to address some major concerns and to highlight some
contemporary online forms of violence against women and girls brought to her attention.
As digital spaces morph and develop, so too must the application and implementation of
human rights norms to these areas. The Special Rapporteur considers online pornography
and virtual manifestations of violence in video games, or violent interactive environments
to be outside the scope of the present report.
25. The consequences of and harm caused by different manifestations of online violence
are specifically gendered, given that women and girls suffer from particular stigma in the
context of structural inequality, discrimination and patriarchy. Women subjected to online
violence are often further victimized through harmful and negative gender stereotypes,
which are prohibited by international human rights law. The Internet has become a site of
diverse forms of violence against women and girls, in the form of pornography, sexist
games and breaches of privacy. For women who engage in public debate through the
Internet, the risk of harassment is experienced online; for example, an anonymous negative
campaign calling for the gang rape of a woman human rights defender, with racist abuse
posted in her Wikipedia profile. Female ICT users have publicly protested about sexist
attacks (A/HRC/23/50, para. 66).
26. Acts of online violence may force women to retreat from the Internet. Research
indicates that 28 per cent of women who had suffered ICT-based violence intentionally
reduced their presence online. 15 Other common outcomes are social isolation, whereby
victims or survivors withdraw from public life, including with family and friends, and
limited mobility, when they lose their freedom to move around safely.
27. Online and ICT-facilitated acts of gender-based violence against women and girls
include threats of such acts that result, or are likely to result, in psychological, physical,
sexual or economic harm or suffering to women. 16 They can cause a high degree of
psychological harm due to the scale and repeated occurrence of such acts. Victims and
survivors experience depression, anxiety and fear, and in some cases may also develop
suicidal tendencies. Technology-facilitated violence may also lead to physical harm
(including suicides), as well as economic harm. In some instances, the threat of physical
harm becomes a reality, when sexually explicit images or videos are posted on specialized
advertising sites for prostitution together with private information, such as a victim’s home
address. Economic harm can be done when the explicit image of a victim of cyberabuse
covers several pages of search engine results, making it difficult for the victim to find
employment, or even preventing the victim from even attempting to find employment
because of the shame and fear of potential employers discovering the images. Risk of harm
arises from both online content (sexist, misogynistic, degrading and stereotyped portrayals
of women, online pornography) and behaviours (bullying, stalking, harassment,
intimidation facilitated and perpetrated via social media, tracking applications, and
15 See Japleen Pasricha, “‘Violence’ Online in India: Cybercrimes Against Women & Minorities on
Social Media”, Feminism in India, 2016.
16 See webpage of the Association for Progressive Communications on violence against women online
28. Women are both disproportionately targeted by online violence and suffer
disproportionately serious consequences as a result. Their access to technology is also
affected by intersectional forms of discrimination based on a number of other factors, such
as race, ethnicity, caste, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, abilities, age,
class, income, culture, religion, and urban or rural setting. These forms of discrimination
are intersectional in that they are not only the result of a single particular individual
characteristic but the result of the interplay between them, which can result in more severe
consequences. Women who have multiple identities are often targeted online on the basis of
a combination of these factors, including racial discrimination and hate speech. Some
groups of women, such as women human rights defenders, women in politics, including
parliamentarians, 17 journalists, 18 bloggers, 19 young women, women belonging to ethnic
minorities and indigenous women,20 lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, 21 women
with disabilities and women from marginalized groups are particularly targeted by ICT-
facilitated violence (see A/HRC/35/9).
29. Women human rights defenders, journalists and politicians are directly targeted,
threatened, harassed or even killed for their work. They receive online threats, generally of
a misogynistic nature, often sexualized and specifically gendered. The violent nature of
these threats often leads to self-censorship. Some resort to the use of pseudonyms, while
others maintain low online profiles, an approach that can have a detrimental impact on their
professional lives and reputations. Others decide to suspend, deactivate or permanently
delete their online accounts, or to leave the profession entirely. Ultimately, the online abuse
against women journalists and women in the media are a direct attack on women’s visibility
and full participation in public life.22 The anonymity of perpetrators further heightens the
fear of violence, resulting in a sense of insecurity and distress experienced by the victims.
In addition to the impact on individuals, a major consequence of online and ICT-facilitated
gender-based violence is a society where women no longer feel safe either online or offline,
given the widespread impunity for perpetrators of gender-based violence.23 Online violence
against women not only violates a woman’s right to live free from violence and to
participate online but also undermines democratic exercise and good governance, and as
such creates a democratic deficit.
30. While many forms of online violence are not completely new, they take many forms
and target women and girls in multiple and different ways by owing to the specificity of
types of ICT, such as fast spreading (“viral”) and global searchability, and the persistence,
replicability and scalability of information, which also facilitates the contact of aggressors
with the women they target, as well as secondary victimization. 24 Technology has
transformed many forms of gender-based violence into something that can be perpetrated
17 Inter-Parliamentary Union, “Sexism, harassment and violence against women parliamentarians”,
Issues Brief, October 2016.
18 See Human Rights Council resolution 33/2, in which the Council condemned unequivocally the
specific attacks on women journalists in the exercise of their work, including sexual and gender-based
discrimination and violence, intimidation and harassment, online and offline.
19 OSCE, New Challenges to Freedom of Expression: Countering Online Abuse of Female Journalists
(2016), p. 5.
20 See Association for Progressive Communications, “Erotics: Sex, rights and the internet”, 2011;
Jane Bailey and Sara Shayan, “Missing and murdered indigenous women crisis: technological
dimensions”, Canadian Journal of Women and the Law, vol. 28, No. 2 (2016).
21 Witness Media Lab, Capturing Hate: Eyewitness Videos Provide New Source of Data on Prevalence
of Transphobic Violence (2016).
22 See Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media of the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), New Challenges to Freedom of Expression: Countering Online
Abuse of Female Journalists (OSCE, Vienna, 2016), and Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on
the Press, 2016 Edition, Gender and Media Freedom Worldwide.
23 See Internet Governance Forum, best practice forum on gender access, 2016.
24 See Danah Boyd, “Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics, and
Implications”, in Networked Self: Identity, Community and Culture on Social Network Sites
(Routledge, New York, 2011), pp. 39–58.
across distance, without physical contact and beyond borders through the use of anonymous
profiles to amplify the harm to victims. All forms of online gender-based violence are used
to control and attack women and to maintain and reinforce patriarchal norms, roles and
structures and an unequal power relationship. This is particularly evident when violence,
threats and harassment follow speeches or expression related to gender equality and
feminism, or where defenders of women’s rights are targeted for their work.
31. ICT may be used directly as a tool for making digital threats and inciting gender-
based violence, including threats of physical and/or sexual violence, rape, killing, unwanted
and harassing online communications, or even the encouragement of others to harm women
physically. It may also involve the dissemination of reputation-harming lies, electronic
sabotage in the form of spam and malignant viruses, impersonation of the victim online and
the sending of abusive emails or spam, blog posts, tweets or other online communications
in the victim’s name. ICT-facilitated violence against women may also be committed in the
work place25 or in the form of so-called “honour-based” violence or of domestic violence
by intimate partners. Women who speak out about their abuse online are frequently and
increasingly threatened with legal proceedings, such as for defamation, which aims to
prevent them from reporting their situation. Such behaviour may form part of a pattern of
domestic violence and abuse.
32. ICT tools are also used for trafficking in women and girls, or as a threat to compel
them into trafficking situations. Abusers may threaten the disclosure of private information
online to maintain power and control over their victims to prevent them from leaving the
relationship and/or from reporting abuse and pursuing their legal rights in court.
33. There are many new emerging forms of violence against women with ICT-related
names, such as “doxing”, “sextortion” and “trolling”. Some forms of violence against
women carry the prefix “online”, such as online mobbing, online stalking and online
harassment. New forms of violence have also developed, such as the non-consensual
distribution of intimate contents (“revenge porn”).
34. Online violence against women may be manifested in different forms and through
different means, such as non-consensual accessing, using, manipulating, disseminating or
sharing of private data, information and/or content, photographs and/or videos, including
sexualized images, audio clips and/or video clips or Photoshopped images.
35. “Sextortion” refers to the use of ICT to blackmail a victim. In such cases, the
perpetrator threatens to release intimate pictures of the victim in order to extort additional
explicit photos, videos, sexual acts or sex from the victim.
36. “Doxing” refers to the publication of private information, such as contact details, on
the Internet with malicious intent, usually with the insinuation that the victim is soliciting
sex (researching and broadcasting personally identifiable information about an individual
without consent, sometimes with the intention of exposing the woman to the “real” world
for harassment and/or other purposes). It includes situations where personal information
and data retrieved by a perpetrator is made public with malicious intent, clearly violating
the right to privacy.
37. “Trolling” consists in the posting of messages, the uploading of images or videos
and the creation of hashtags for the purpose of annoying, provoking or inciting violence
against women and girls. Many “trolls” are anonymous and use false accounts to generate
38. Online mobbing and harassment refer to the online equivalents of mobbing or
harassment on social platforms, the Internet, in chat rooms, instant messaging and mobile
25 See International Labour Office, “Ending violence and harassment against women and men in the
world of work”, International Labour Conference, 107th session, 2018.
26 Instituto de las Mujeres del Distrito Federal, Programa Annual PAIMEF 2016: “CDMX Ciudad
Segura y Amigable para las Mujeres y las Niñas”, p. 20.
39. Online stalking is the repeated harassment of individuals, perpetrated by means of
mobile phones or messaging applications, in the form of crank calls or private
conversations on online applications (such as WhatsApp) or in online chat groups.27
40. Online sexual harassment refers to any form of online unwanted verbal or non-
verbal conduct of a sexual nature with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a
person, in particular by creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or
41. “Revenge porn” consists in the non-consensual online dissemination of intimate
images, obtained with or without consent, with the purpose of shaming, stigmatizing or
harming the victim.
42. All the above-mentioned forms of online violence create a permanent digital record
that can be distributed worldwide and cannot be easily deleted, which may result in further
victimization of the victim. Relevant data and surveys have shown that, in the majority of
cases, online violence is not a gender-neutral crime. Surveys of the gender dimension of
online violence indeed indicate that 90 per cent of those victimized by non-consensual
digital distribution of intimate images are women.28
C. Application of the international human rights framework to online
violence against women and girls
1. Soft law developments addressing online violence against women and girls
43. In the past decade, there have been significant soft law developments in the
understanding and recognition of online gender-based violence in the international human
rights framework on women’s rights and violence against women.
44. The issue of online gender-based violence was first addressed in 2006 by the
Secretary-General in his in-depth study on all forms of violence against women
(A/61/122/Add.1 and Corr.1), in which he noted that more inquiry about the use of ICT was
needed so that emerging forms of violence could be recognized and better addressed.
45. In its resolution 20/8, the Human Rights Council clearly stated that the same rights
that people have offline must also be protected online. The view of the Internet and digital
technologies as enablers of rights and the digital space as an extension of rights held offline
paved the way for discussions on how digital technologies had an impact on women’s and
girls’ rights, specifically with regard to gender-based violence.29
46. In 2013, in its agreed conclusions, the Commission on the Status of Women called
upon States to use ICT to empower women and to develop mechanisms to combat violence
against women and girls (see E/2013/27).
47. In 2013, the General Assembly, in its resolution 68/181, went further by expressing
its grave concern that women human rights defenders were at risk of and suffered from
violations perpetrated both online and offline by State and non-State actors, and called upon
States to exercise due diligence and to promptly bring perpetrators to justice.
48. In 2015, the Human Rights Council, in its resolution 29/14, recognized that
domestic violence could include acts such as cyberbullying and cyberstalking — thereby
reinforcing the framing of online gender-based violence as part of the continuum of
violence against women — and that States had a primary responsibility for preventing and
promoting the human rights of women and girls facing violence, including those facing
49. In 2016, the General Assembly, in its resolution 71/199, recognized that women
were particularly affected by violations of the right to privacy in the digital age, and called
27 See https://genderingsurveillance.internetdemocracy.in/.
28 See the website of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative at www.cybercivilrights.org.
29 See Association for Progressive Communications and Hivos, “Global Information Society Watch
2013: Women’s rights, gender and ICTs”, 2013.
upon all States to further develop preventive measures and remedies. In 2017, the Human
Rights Council, in its resolution 34/7, reaffirmed this call, noting that abuses of the right to
privacy in the digital age may affect all individuals, including with particular effects on
women, as well as children and persons in vulnerable situations, or marginalized groups.
2. International human rights law applicable to online violence against women and girls
(a) The right to live free from gender-based violence
50. International and regional human rights instruments set out States’ obligations to
combat all forms of discrimination against women, including online violence against
women, and to protect their human rights, including every woman’s right to be free from
violence. The core women’s human right instruments, such as the Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Declaration on the
Elimination of Violence against Women and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for
Action, predate the development of the Internet and ICT, and consequently the emerging
forms of online violence against women. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms
of Discrimination against Women has been progressively analysed by the Committee on the
Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which has addressed ICT-facilitated
violence against women in several general recommendations and concluding observations.
In its general recommendation No. 33 (2015) on women’s access to justice, it recognized
the important role of digital spaces and ICT for women’s empowerment. Furthermore, in its
general recommendation No. 35 (2017) on gender-based violence against women, the
Committee made clear that the Convention was fully applicable to technology-mediated
environments, such as the Internet and digital spaces, as settings where contemporary forms
of violence against women and girls were frequently committed in their redefined form. In
addition, it highlighted the important role of ICT in transforming social and cultural
stereotypes about women, as well as its potential in ensuring effectiveness and efficiency of
women in their access to justice (see general recommendation No. 34 (2016) on the rights
of rural women).30 In its general recommendation No. 36 (2017) on the right of girls and
women to education, the Committee also recognized how girls are affected by
cyberbullying, particularly in relation to their right to education. Recognizing the potential
that ICT and social media have to increase access to information and education, States
should develop and implement educational programmes, including comprehensive
women’s human rights education.
51. At the regional level, in the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and
Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, the States members of the
Council clearly request States to encourage the private sector, with due respect for freedom
of expression, to participate in the implementation of policies aimed at preventing violence
against women and to promote educational programmes for users on ways to address
abusive online content of a sexual or violent nature.
(b) The right to live free from gender-based violence and the right to freedom of
expression and access to information
52. Freedom of expression, enshrined in article 19 of the Universal Declaration on
Human Rights and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
which guarantees the right of everyone “to hold opinions without interference and to seek,
receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,
either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his/her
choice”, is now exercised in the digital space with the use of ICT and the Internet, including
the right to seek, receive and impart information freely on the Internet without censorship
or other interference. Freedom of expression is not, however, an absolute right, given that it
cannot be invoked to justify language or other forms of expression designed to incite
discrimination, hostility or violence (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
art. 20 (2)), including online violence against women. Legislation intended to protect
30 See also Carly Nyst, “Technology-related violence against women: Recent legislative trends”,
Association for Progressive Communications, May 2014.
women against online violence but not carefully designed in accordance with the
international human rights framework may have adverse collateral effects on other human
rights; for instance, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to
freedom of opinion and expression already pointed out that any State-imposed content
restrictions should be provided by law, pursue one of the purposes set out in article 19,
paragraph 3 of the Covenant, and respect the principles of necessity and proportionality
(see A/HRC/17/27, para. 24 and A/66/290, para. 15).31 In a joint statement with the
mandate holder, the Special Rapporteur had previously stressed that online gender-based
abuse and violence assaulted the basic principles of equality under international law and
freedom of expression, and underlined that ensuring an Internet free from gender-based
violence enhanced women’s empowerment. They also highlighted the fact that women
victims and survivors needed transparent and fast responses and effective remedies, which
could only be achieved if both States and private actors worked together and exercised due
diligence to eliminate online violence against women.32
53. Access to information includes access to ICT, which is often marked by gender
inequality or a gender digital divide, namely, gender-based discrimination against women
with regard to their access to and use of ICT, which hinders women’s full enjoyment of
their human rights. Women’s access to ICT is part of their right to freedom of expression,
and is necessary for the fulfilment of other basic human rights, such as the rights to
participate in political decision-making and to non-discrimination.
54. According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), between 2013 and
2017, the proportion of women using the Internet was 12 per cent lower than the proportion
of men using the Internet worldwide. In 2017, the global Internet penetration rate for men
stood at 50.9 per cent, compared to 44.9 per cent for women. While the gender gap had
narrowed in most regions since 2013, it had widened in Africa. In Africa, the proportion of
women using the Internet was 25 per cent lower than the proportion of men. In least
developed countries, only one out of seven women was using the Internet compared with
one out of five men.33
55. In this regard, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes that the
spread of ICT and global interconnectedness has great potential to accelerate human
progress, to bridge the digital divide and to develop knowledge societies. Under Sustainable
Development Goal 5, it sets the objectives of achieving gender equality and the
empowerment of all women and girls through, among others, the elimination of all forms of
violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres (target 5.2) and of
enhancing the use of enabling technology, in particular ICT, to promote women’s
empowerment (target 5.9). Moreover, Goal 9, target c urges States to significantly increase
access to ICT and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least
developed countries by 2020. Similarly, the Committee on the Elimination of
Discrimination against Women, in its general recommendation No. 34 (2016) on the rights
of rural women, highlighted that ICT played a key role for the realization of women’s
human rights and that States had an obligation to improve and promote gender equality in
the ICT sector.34 At the regional level, article 17 of the Protocol to the African Charter on
Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa states that “women shall
have the right to live in a positive cultural context and to participate at all levels in the
determination of cultural policies”.
56. In addition, in his report on ways to bridge the gender digital divide from a human
rights perspective (A/HRC/35/9), the United Nations High Commissioner for Human
Rights stressed that online violence against women must be dealt in the broader context of
31 In this regard, see also the factsheet of the European Court of Human Rights on Hate Speech (March
2018), available at www.echr.coe.int/Documents/FS_Hate_speech_ENG.pdf.
32 OHCHR, “UN experts urge States and companies to address online gender-based abuse but warn
against censorship”, press release, 8 March 2017.
33 ITU, ICT Facts and Figures 2017 (available from www.itu.int/en/ITU-
34 See also Carly Nyst, “End violence: Women’s rights and safety online, Technology-related violence
against women: Recent legislative trends”, Association for Progressive Communications, May 2014.
offline gender discrimination and violence, and that States should enact adequate legislative
measures and ensure appropriate responses to address the phenomenon.
(c) The right to live free from gender-based violence and the right to privacy and data
57. The right to privacy, as recognized under article 12 of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights and article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
has been challenged in the digital environment. Data protection norms have also been
challenged by ICT innovations that have increased the capacity of States and of non-State
actors to conduct surveillance, decryption and mass data collection and use, which have an
impact on the individual’s rights to privacy. Many forms of online violence are per se acts
of gender-based violence that violate women’s and girls’ rights to privacy; for example, the
publication or posting online without consent of intimate photographs or Photoshopped
images that are sexualized or have been created to humiliate, shame or stigmatize a woman
is a violation of a woman’s right to dignity and to live a life free from violence.
58. In a recent report, the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy highlighted the
need to examine cyberviolence against the more vulnerable, including domestic violence
enabled by digital devices, risks to the privacy of young children and embedded gender and
other biases in algorithms (A/HRC/37/62).
59. With the increasingly massive collection and storage of data by intermediaries and
other corporations, the protection of privacy is crucial. In 2013, the General Assembly has
expressed deep concern at the negative impact that surveillance and interception of
communications may have on human rights, as in the case of its resolution 68/167.
Companies that collect and store massive amounts of data should, like data banks, bear the
responsibility to protect their customers’ personal data. The General Data Protection
Regulation adopted by the European Union will, inter alia, require companies to implement
reasonable data protection measures to protect consumers’ personal data and privacy
against loss or exposure. It will also assert extraterritorial jurisdiction, given that it is
applicable to all companies in the European Union as well as to international companies
that collect or process personal data from subjects residing in it.
60. Encryption and anonymity, separately or together, create a zone of privacy to protect
freedom of expression and to facilitate the freedom to seek, receive and impart information
and ideas, regardless of frontiers. Anonymity online is an important role for women and
others at risk of discrimination and stigma, in that it allows them to seek information, find
solidarity and support and share opinions without fear of being identified. This holds
particularly true for individuals who face discrimination and persecution based on their
sexual orientation and gender identity (see A/HRC/29/32).
61. On related matters, a recent judgment by the Court of Justice of the European Union,
commonly referred to as Google v. Spain,35 established the “right to be forgotten” for
victims, according to which individuals may request to be delisted from search results
produced on the basis of a search term that includes their name when the data associated
with their name is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” for the purposes of data
processing and if the information does not pertain to a public figure or is not of public
3. States’ human rights obligations to prevent and combat online violence against
women and girls
62. States have a human rights obligation to ensure that both State and non-State agents
refrain from engaging in any act of discrimination or violence against women. States have a
direct responsibility concerning violence perpetrated by agents of the State itself. They also
have due diligence obligations to prevent, investigate and punish acts of violence against
women committed by private companies, such as Internet intermediaries, in accordance
with article 2 (e) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
35 See https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A62012CJ0131.
against Women. According to article 4 (c) of the Declaration on the Elimination of
Violence against Women, States should exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and
punish acts of violence against women.
63. Under its general recommendation No. 35 (2017), the Committee on the Elimination
of Discrimination against Women recommended that States encourage the private sector,
including businesses and transnational corporations, to take all appropriate measures to
eliminate all forms of discrimination, including violence against women, and to take
responsibility for any forms of violence. It follows that online and social media should be
encouraged to create or strengthen mechanisms focusing on the eradication of gender
stereotypes, and to end any gender-based violence committed on their platforms.
64. The fact that violations are perpetrated beyond the territorial limits and jurisdiction
of States also make it difficult for authorities, including law enforcement agencies, to
identify, investigate, prosecute perpetrators and provide remedies for survivors of gender-
based violence. It may also require extraterritorial cooperation between States.36
65. More specifically, States obligations concern a number of key areas, as described
66. Prevention includes measures to provide awareness of ICT-facilitated violence
against women and girls as forms of violence against women, as well as to establish and
provide information on services and legal protection available to stop violations and to
prevent their reoccurrence. States have an obligation to take all steps necessary to prevent
human rights violations perpetrated abroad by Internet intermediaries over which they
exercise influence, whether by regulatory means or by the use of incentives.38
67. The obligation to protect victims of online violence against women encompasses the
establishment of procedures for the immediate removal of gender-based harmful content
through the elimination of the original material or its distribution. Protection also requires
immediate judicial action in the form of national court orders and the prompt intervention
of Internet intermediaries and, occasionally, may also require extraterritorial cooperation.39
It includes the provision of accessible services for survivors, such as legal aid services.
Protection also includes the obligation of States to take positive action to eradicate all forms
of violence, including manifestations of online violence, even where an individual has not
come forward to make a complaint (for example, in the case of online forums generally
advocating for violence against women).40
68. Prosecution consists in the investigation of and instituting of proceedings against
perpetrators. Law enforcement bodies often trivialize online violence against women, and
their actions are unfortunately often characterized by a victim-blaming attitude when
dealing with these cases. The result of this attitude is a culture of silence and underreporting
where women victims are reluctant to speak out for fear of being blamed. Even when
women victims succeed in reporting a case and having it investigated, they encounter
36 See Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women general recommendation No.
37 See Zarizana Abdul Aziz and Janine Moussa, “Due Diligence Framework: State Accountability for
Eliminating Violence against Women”, Due Diligence Project, 2014; Zarizana Abdul Azis, “Due
Diligence and Accountability for Online Violence against Women”, APC Issue Papers, 2017; and
Internet Governance Forum, best practice forum on gender access, 2016.
38 Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women general recommendation No. 35.
39 See for example the case of Sabu Mathew George v. Union of India and Others, Supreme Court of
India, 13 December 2017.
40 See “‘Incel’: Reddit bans misogynist men’s group blaming women for their celibacy”, Guardian, 8
further obstacles posed by the lack of technical knowledge and ability in the judiciary
(including court systems, magistrates and judges). In addition, the costs of litigation prevent
many survivors, particularly poorer women, from pursuing their cases in court. It is
therefore vital that the responses of first responders — including Internet intermediaries, the
police and helplines41 — and of the judiciary and regulators be assessed in order to achieve
a faithful depiction of the reality of women’s experiences and to facilitate their access to
justice and remedies.
69. Punishment entails the duty to punish perpetrators for their crimes by means of
sanctions that are necessary and proportionate to the offence. The certainty of adequate
punishment conveys the message that ICT-facilitated violence against women and girls will
not be tolerated, which is particularly important for women victims of online violence, who
often do not receive an effective response from State authorities and perceive a culture of
impunity for perpetrators.42
(e) Redress, reparation and remedies
70. In most cases, victims of gender-based violence are granted reparations as civil
remedies and include financial compensation to cover the costs of the quantifiable losses
incurred (such as the cost of medical care, loss of wages and damage to property), injuries
and non-quantifiable losses, in addition to the need for survivors to rebuild their lives in the
short, medium and long terms. Reparation measures include also the immediate removal of
the harmful content as well as forms of restitution, rehabilitation, satisfaction and
guarantees of non-repetition, combining measures that are symbolic, material, individual,
and collective, depending on the circumstances and the claims made by the victim. They
should also include an immediate injunction to prevent the publication of harmful content.
(f) Role of intermediaries
71. The role of private intermediaries in the regulation and governance of the Internet
has progressively come under scrutiny, given that online gender-based violence is usually
perpetrated on privately owned platforms, which are frequently in use across many
jurisdictions. Internet intermediaries play a central role in providing digital spaces for
interaction and, as such, have specific human right responsibilities. These responsibilities
have not, however, yet been fully addressed under the international human right
framework; for example, while the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
affirm the responsibility of business enterprises to respect human rights in general, they do
not make any direct reference to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination against Women or other women’s rights instruments (see A/HRC/32/38,
72. Internet intermediaries, any corporation storing customers’, data, and those
providing cloud storage also have the duty to comply with human rights standards by
keeping the data secure, and should be accountable for the hacking of data if insufficient
safeguards are in place.
73. Although emphasis has been placed on the business and human rights
responsibilities of intermediaries, less focus has been placed on how their policies and
practices have an impact on women. Research indicates that inadequate and substandard
responses from intermediaries concerning online gender-based violence can have a negative
effect on freedom of expression, resulting in censorship by platforms, self-censorship or
41 Digital Rights Foundation, “December 2017: One Year of the Cyber Harassment Helpline Countering
Online Violence”, 7 January 2018.
42 See Internet Governance Forum, Best Practice Forums: Handbook 2015.
censorship by other users, and do not provide victims of harassment with any form of
74. Many intermediaries have now developed policies that allow for the identification,
reporting and rectification of incidents of harassment or violence against women committed
on the platforms of Internet service providers. In particular, social media intermediaries
have established separate mechanisms to address online abuse, including through the
establishment of internal rules aimed at “blocking” online abusers or removing contents
that are not considered permissible.
75. Another issue relating to the policies of intermediaries is anonymity and
pseudonymity. While anonymity provides a veil for harassers and makes it harder to
identify and take action against them, anonymity and pseudonymity are also crucial facets
of privacy and freedom of expression for women. Women who have anonymous or
pseudonymous online profiles are therefore also adversely affected by the policies on
anonymity of certain intermediaries. From a gendered perspective, women should be able
to use pseudonyms, which can help them to escape an abusive partner, stalkers, repeat
harassers and accounts associated with the sharing of non-consensual pornography.44 As a
result, women, especially women human rights defenders, who choose to remain
anonymous on websites like Facebook are often reported by harassers for possessing a
“fake” profile. Instead of engaging actions against the harassers, intermediaries sometimes
require the women concerned to disclose their identity, which can put them at risk of
serious harm. For this reason, the policy has come under severe criticism from civil society
groups. Responding to these criticisms, Facebook changed its policy slightly and now
requires complainants to provide some amount of proof. In this context, human rights
safeguards against arbitrary censorship by intermediaries are crucial.45
76. Overall, companies seem unwilling to report how much content is being flagged and
removed and under what self-designed criteria. Although some attempts have been made,
the transparency of decision-making and in the application of standards to guarantee the
prompt reporting of gender-based violence on platforms is limited.46
77. While preserving anonymity for users is essential, the identification of perpetrators
is necessary if online gender-based violence is to be addressed. Access to justice requires
identification processes and the ability to link digital identifiers, such as an IP address, to
physical devices and perpetrators by an independent judiciary. A variety of carefully
tailored legal tools could facilitate such an identification process.
4. National legal efforts to address online and information and communications
technology-facilitated violence against women and girls
78. Some cases of online violence against women have drawn media attention and
resulted in important debates on the need for legislative reforms, including the adoption of
specific laws; for example, the posting of images of a sexual nature shared online that
resulted in the tragic suicide of young girls47 have prompted a debate on the need for
legislative reforms, including the adoption of specific laws.
79. Owing to the pace at which online acts of violence against women can be
committed, victims require prompt relief from effective legal protection mechanisms,
remedies and redress. In reality, however, many States do not have a holistic legal
framework on combating and preventing violence against women, including with regard to
specific provisions on online and ICT-facilitated violence against women, and have not
43 See Rima Athar, “From impunity to justice: Improving corporate policies to end technology-related
violence against women”, Association for Progressive Communications, 2014.
44 See Lis Miss Hot Mess, “Facebook’s ‘real name’ policy hurts real people and creates a new digital
divide”, Guardian, 3 June 2015.
45 See IT for Change, “Technology-mediated Violence against Women in India”, January 2017.
46 See “#ToxicTwitter: Violence and Abuse against Women Online”, Amnesty International, March
47 For instance, in Canada the suicide of two girls prompted the Government of Canada to adopt, in
2015, Bill C-13 on the non-consensual distribution of intimate images.
acceded to all core human rights treaties. This creates multiple barriers to access to justice
for women victims and a sense of impunity for perpetrators.
80. Some States have updated their existing legal frameworks to address online violence
against women. The legal instruments most frequently used in this regard are cybercrime
laws, criminal laws, laws on domestic violence and violence against women, hate speech
laws and laws on data protection and privacy.
81. In some legal contexts, current laws may be sufficiently broad and flexible to be
applied to some forms of online violence, but this may not be the case everywhere. Where
there is no specialized law, victims are compelled to sue perpetrators through a patchwork
of related crimes that may not be adequate; for instance, some victims have brought claims
under laws relating to the protection of privacy or to defamation. In cases where gaps in
criminal laws exist, victims have attempted to seek recourse through civil means, but this
does not adequately address their rights to justice and remedy, and contributes to continuing
82. In many States, the non-consensual online dissemination of intimate or sexually
explicit images of an adult person, even if identifying information is included with the
image, is not per se illegal. In States where such acts are not criminalized, prosecutors are
limited to charging perpetrators with other crimes, such as stalking, harassment, unlawful
surveillance or the dissemination of child pornography. Without criminalization, victims
cannot protect their human rights to privacy and dignity. Even where criminal laws
specifically criminalize the non-consensual distribution of sexually explicit images, many
such laws have shortcomings; for example, many criminal laws require evidence of the
intent to cause harm or emotional distress to the victim, which may be difficult to prove,
making convictions harder to achieve. Moreover, many laws currently in place do not
address threats to release a certain image or video.
83. Some States have enacted specific laws to address online stalking, online harassment
and the non-consensual sharing of intimate images, while others have applied other
domestic laws to address these crimes. There is an example of a State classifying the non-
consensual dissemination of sexual images as an aggravating circumstance in domestic
violence-related offences, which allowed for penalties for convictions on charges of
domestic assault, stalking or violations of a restraining order. Other States have developed
legislation on ICT-related offences, such as the unauthorized modification of or access to
data and communications.
84. Other States have also expanded the application of family violence protection orders
issued by courts to cases of non-consensual distribution of intimate images and
cyberstalking. In other cases, victims subjected to online bullying have been given the
opportunity to request the court to issue a protection order against an individual. Some
States also require electronic service providers to assist courts in the identification of
individuals responsible for cyberbullying, which allows victims to sue perpetrators for
85. Even when a specialized legal framework is in place, legal and regulatory
mechanisms, including law enforcement officials, are not always trained or equipped to
implement it effectively owing to the lack of adequate gender-sensitive training and the
general perception that online abuse is not a serious crime.
5. Civil society-led initiatives
86. Certain non-governmental organization-led initiatives, such as specialized helplines,
have been organized with a view to providing support to women and girls who have been
subjected to online gender-based violence. One example is the Access Now Digital Security
Helpline, 48 which helps women at risk to improve their digital security practices and
provides rapid-response emergency assistance for women already under attack. The service,
which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week in eight languages, aims to respond to
all requests it receives within two hours. Another example is the Digital Rights
48 See www.accessnow.org/help/.
Foundation,49 based in Pakistan, which addresses online harassment, technology and gender
through research, advocacy and service delivery. Its Cyber Harassment Helpline is the
region’s first dedicated helpline for cases of online harassment and violence.
87. Awareness-raising initiatives have been organized, such as the Internet Democracy
Project,50 a not-for-profit initiative based in New Delhi, which provides research, advocacy
and spaces for debate on online violence and its prevention. In Germany, rape crisis centres
and women’s counselling centres seek to raise awareness, provide support and educate on
preventing online violence.51 Another example is the International Federation of Journalists,
which, together with the South Asia Media Solidarity Network, has campaigned against the
online abuse of women journalists and launched in March 2017 the ByteBack campaign,
dedicated to fighting online harassment.52 The Association for Progressive
Communications, a global network of non-governmental organizations, has organized the
“End violence: Women’s rights and safety online” project, which focuses on capacity-
building for human rights activists and women’s organizations in the use of technology in
88. Lastly (among many others), the Project Shift: Creating a Safer Digital World for
Young Women, led by YWCA Canada, aims to prevent and eliminate cyberviolence
against young women and girls. The project has also led to the preparation of “A Guide for
Trusted Adults: Practical Tips and Tools for Supporting Girls and Young Women
Navigating Life Online”.53
IV. Conclusion and recommendations
89. International human rights law and the Sustainable Development Goals and
targets on achieving gender equality, empowering women and girls and eliminating
violence against women in public and private life are fully applicable in digital spaces
and actions enabled by ICT. Moreover, the principle that human rights and women’s
rights protected offline must also be protected online should fully integrate the right
to live free from emerging forms of online and ICT-facilitated violence against women,
while respecting the right to freedom of expression and the right to privacy and data
protection. Given its characteristics, ICT should serve as a tool for accelerating the
achievement of all human rights, including gender equality, the empowerment of
women and the elimination of discrimination and violence against women.
90. Legal and policy measures to eradicate online gender-based violence against
women should be framed within the broader framework of human rights that
addresses the structural discrimination, violence and inequalities that women face,
and seek to create an enabling environment for achieving gender equality through the
use of ICT.
91. To achieve the above-mentioned goals, any effective response to online gender-
based violence against women will require the cooperation of States, Internet
intermediaries and all other stakeholders on the acceptance and implementation of all
core international human rights instruments, including those on women’s rights.
A. Recommendations for the United Nations
92. The Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, the Special Rapporteur on the
promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the
Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, and
other special procedure mandate holders and relevant treaty bodies should
49 See https://digitalrightsfoundation.pk/cyber-harassment-helpline.
50 See http://internetdemocracy.in.
51 See www.frauen-gegen-gewalt.de/the-federal-association.html.
52 See https://samsn.ifj.org/ifj-byteback-campaign/.
53 Available from http://ywcacanada.ca/data/documents/00000543.pdf.
coordinate, with the support of OHCHR and UN-Women, to tackle human right
violations online, in general, and online violence against women, in particular, in their
work, reports and recommendations.
B. Recommendations for States
93. States should recognize online and ICT-facilitated violence against women as a
human rights violation and a form of discrimination and gender-based violence
against women, and duly apply core international human rights instruments.
94. States should implement the principle that the human rights and women’s
rights protected offline should be protected online by the ratification and
implementation of all core human rights treaties.
95. States should, in accordance with the principle of due diligence, enact new laws
and measures to prohibit new emerging forms of online gender-based violence. Such
laws should be grounded in international women’s human rights law and standards,
as outlined in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
against Women (with due consideration for general recommendations Nos. 19 and 35
of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) and the
Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, and in other global and
regional women’s human rights instrument, such as the Inter-American Convention
on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (Belém do
Pará Convention), the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating
Violence against Women and Domestic Violence and the Protocol to the African
Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.
Furthermore, States should ensure that their legal frameworks adequately protect all
women’s human rights online, including the right to life free from violence, freedom
of expression and access to information, and the right to privacy and data protection.
96. States should collect and publish data disaggregated by sex on Internet and
ICT availability, and take measures to eliminate any gender inequality in access to
technologies, in accordance with article 4.1 of the Convention on the Elimination of
All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
97. States should also promote digital literacy in the use of the Internet and ICT for
all, without sex- or gender-based discrimination, and promote gender equality at all
levels of education, including online education, from early childhood onwards.
98. States should draft a United Nations resolution on women’s human rights and
online and ICT-facilitated violence against women, and develop United Nations
guidelines on the role of intermediaries in that respect.
99. States should, in accordance with the principle of due diligence, ensure that
regulations on Internet intermediaries respect the international human rights
framework, including that with regard to business and human rights, which should be
explicitly expanded to include women’s human rights instruments that prohibit
gender-based violence online.
100. States should ensure that effective measures are taken to prevent the
publication of harmful material that comprises gender-based violence against women,
and for their removal on an urgent basis. States should adopt, or adapt (as
appropriate) their criminal and civil causes of action to hold perpetrators liable. Such
legislative measures should be applicable also to threats of releasing harmful
information or content online.
101. States should clearly prohibit and criminalize online violence against women, in
particular the non-consensual distribution of intimate images, online harassment and
stalking. The criminalization of online violence against women should encompass all
elements of this type of abuse, including subsequent “re-sharing” of harmful content.
The threat to disseminate non-consensual images must be made illegal so that
advocates and prosecutors may intervene and prevent the abuse before it is
102. States should apply a gender perspective to all online forms of violence, which
are usually criminalized in a gender-neutral manner, in order to address them as acts
of gender-based violence. Criminal or civil causes of action should allow women
victims to pursue legal action, with adequate protection of their privacy, and avoid
secondary victimization of women; without such protection, victims attempting to
erase content may be exposed to the risk of having their case made even more public.
103. States should provide victims with legal recourse and appropriate legal aid in
order that they may request from the court an order that harmful content be
destroyed, in addition to an interim order that the perpetrator promptly cease
circulating the material pending a resolution of the legal case, in collaboration with
104. States should allow victims to obtain protection orders (for example,
restraining orders) in family or civil courts to prevent their abusers from posting or
sharing intimate images without their consent or engaging in other form of
harassment or violence, whether online or offline.
105. States should provide training for magistrates, lawyers, police and all other law
enforcement officials and frontline workers to ensure their ability to investigate and
prosecute perpetrators, and foster public trust in obtaining justice for cases of online
and ICT-facilitated violence.
106. States should also develop specialized, clear, efficient and transparent internal
and external protocols and codes of conduct for its law enforcement officials
addressing online violence against women to enable them to better understand that
online violence is a form of gender-based violence that warrants a serious, trauma-
107. States should provide protective measures and services for victims of online
gender-based violence; this includes specialized helplines to provide support to those
who have been attacked online, shelters and protection orders.
108. States should provide reparation measures, which should not, however, rely on
compensation only. Such measures should include forms of restitution, rehabilitation,
satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition, combining measures that are symbolic,
material, individual and collective, depending on the circumstances and the
preferences of the victim.
109. States should develop their cooperation with private intermediaries and
national human rights institutions, and support civil society organizations that
address online violence against women.
110. States should provide education, outreach and gender-sensitive training for
Internet users on online and ICT-facilitated violence against women and girls in
schools and communities as a way to prevent it.
111. States should inform children and teenagers about the risks of taking, or
allowing others to take, intimate images, and that the dissemination of such images is
a form of gender-based violence and a crime. Girls should also learn about safety on
social media platforms and the Internet, and how to protect their own privacy online.
112. States should guarantee the enforcement of strong data protection regulations
and ensure the accountability of data holders in cases of breach.
113. States should protect and encourage the development of technology, including
of encryption and anonymity tools that protect the rights and security of women
114. States should periodically publish incident reports at the national level, in
cooperation with private intermediaries, and promote the creation of national
observatories of online and ICT-facilitated violence against women and girls.
C. Recommendations for Internet intermediaries
115. Internet intermediaries should uphold the principle that human rights are
protected online, and voluntary accept and apply all core international human rights
and women’s rights instruments with a view to contributing to universal human rights
protection and achieving the empowerment of women, and the elimination of
discrimination and violence against them in digital space. In this respect, they should
actively cooperate with the treaty bodies and the special procedures, and in particular
with the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences,
and with independent international and regional women’s rights mechanisms.
116. Intermediaries should adopt transparent complaint mechanisms for cases of
online and ICT-facilitated violence against women and girls. Policies and procedures
for reporting and requesting the removal of harmful content should be easily
accessible and transparent. Intermediaries should publish clear and a comprehensive
contents moderation policy and human rights safeguards against arbitrary
censorship, and transparent reviews and appeal processes.
117. Intermediaries should provide terms of service and reporting tools in local
languages. Reporting tools should be accessible, user-friendly and easy to find.
118. Intermediaries should ensure data security and privacy, and ensure that the use
of data is in compliance with international human rights law and has the fully
informed consent of data providers.
119. Internet platforms should commit to eradicating online gender-based violence.
In this sense, they should allocate resources to information and education campaigns
on preventing ICT-facilitated violence against women and girls and on promoting
human rights and digital security.