Challenges to the investigation and prosecution
A range of issues arises in relation to cyberviolence that need to be taken into consideration. For example:
Victims have no information on available remedies:
A particularly-distressing aspect of cyberviolence is that victims may not know how to get help. They may be warned viciously not to contact law enforcement, and they may not know whom to contact anyway (see further discussion below). Their normal methods of communication may be cut off or compromised and a sustained attack may so shock and disturb them that their ability to defend themselves, or even to think straight, may be diminished.
Limited help by law enforcement:
Victims may have the impression that law enforcement was of little use, or that it required great persistence to obtain useful aid. Cyberviolence may involve methods that are particularly difficult for police forces to investigate, and victims may be told – correctly or incorrectly – that there is nothing that law enforcement can do. Like any other form of violence against women, online violence against women is often overlooked because of a lack of awareness and gendered understanding of violence. Victims’ experience are often considered as “incidents” rather than patterns of behaviour, and victims are blamed for the violence they face.
And thus, a single individual’s complaint may fail to reveal that it is part of a larger pattern in which a particular perpetrator may be targeting dozens of victims in multiple jurisdictions, such as was the case with Aydin Coban who victimized more than three dozen teenage girls and boys in many countries including the Netherlands and Canada (leading to the suicide of 15 year-old Amanda Todd).
In some countries, only certain police forces have authority to investigate such crimes. It may be difficult for victims to learn which unit to turn to or, as a practical matter, it may be difficult to work with the unit (if the unit is in the capital and the victim is hundreds of kilometres away). Victims may also encounter law enforcement or officials who are unacquainted with the phenomenon and do not understand the potential gravity. Finally, local law may not address certain types of attack under criminal law (possibly for valid reasons), so there is simply no legal basis for prosecution.
Protection of children versus protection of adult victims:
Children may to some extent be better protected than adults because child exploitation statutes may be usable to cover cyberviolence against children. If a 14-year-old girl is stalked and secretly filmed, for example, child exploitation statutes may be available for a prosecution. However, a country’s statutes may not offer the same protection to a 19-year-old woman.
Role of social media providers:
Various Internet/social media platforms can play a role in cyberviolence. Information on social media can be used to identify and locate victims, to learn about their vulnerabilities (what shifts they work and their commuting hours, for example), to gather details about them, and for other purposes. Other platforms may be used to post victimizing messages – solicitations for rape, for example – or to threaten targets.
Of course, some platforms have fostering crime as a business model, so complaints and removal are irrelevant to them. Other platforms offer mechanisms for complaints or for removal of postings. These mechanisms may not be sufficient or quick enough, and victims may find that a posting has been disseminated widely and removal in one location is useless.
In some countries, groups have begun to protest the lack of action by providers. There is an opportunity for Internet platforms, especially those with wide reach and sufficient staffing, to take active steps against cyberviolence, including removal of posts and preserving evidence.
In January 2018, it was reported that Facebook reached a settlement in Northern Ireland with a teenage victim of revenge porn “after her [intimate] photo appeared several times between November 2014 and January 2016. She alleged misuse of private information, negligence and breaching the Data Protection Act. Her lawyers [….] claimed the settlement had “moved the goalposts” in terms of how social media networks such as Facebook would have to respond to indecent and abusive messages and images being posted on their sites.”
Free speech versus hate speech:
Countries have different views about the degree to which speech should be limited by society – that is, where to set the balance between one person’s fundamental right to express him/herself and another person’s fundamental right to safety. For example, a website may post the schools that the children of police attend, with photos of the children. If no explicit threat is included on the site, countries may differ about whether such postings constitute illegal speech. If an explicit threat is included, countries may still differ about whether it is serious enough that it constitutes a crime.
Many countries restrict or ban hate speech, normally defined as expression that attacks discrete identifiable groups, such as religious, ethnic, or national groups.
The US does not restrict hate speech absent a sufficient level of danger. Given the current concentration of data subject to US law, US domestic law has much influence on the Internet. Its rejection of many restraints on speech has repercussions for people who are outside the United States. In addition, because of US law, the US government sometimes declines to provide mutual legal assistance in cases that involve hate speech.
As private entities, providers are permitted under US law to make their own rules about what material they carry on their systems. Some choose to regulate content, but others permit speech that is illegal outside the US. In recent years, European countries have sought cooperative agreements with such providers to remove speech that is illegal by European standards. Some countries have taken binding steps to enforce such removal.