Cyberviolence is an increasing problem worldwide - even more so since the Covid-19 pandemic - and is often gender-based and targeting women and girls. Cyberviolence hampers the full realisation of gender equality and violates women’s rights.

   What is cyberviolence against women?

“…all acts of gender-based violence that result in, or are likely to result in, physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life”. 

Istanbul Convention (Art.3)

Violence against women including in an online environment can take many forms: cyberharassment, revenge porn, threats of rape, and can go as far as sexual assault or murder. Perpetrators can be partners or ex-partners, colleagues, schoolmates or, as is often the case, anonymous individuals. Some women are particularly exposed, such as women’s rights defenders, journalists, bloggers, video gamers, public figures and politicians.

Predominantly, the root cause of violence against women and girls is gender inequality (discrimination, gender stereotypes, sexism). Moreover, women who have more than one commonly-targeted characteristic – for example, women of color, members of minority religions, or people who identify as LGBTQ – may be attacked more frequently.

Violence and abuse online may limit women’s right to express themselves equally, freely and without fear. Cyberviolence affects women disproportionately, not only causing them psychological harm and suffering but also deterring them from digital participation in political, social and cultural life.

  What can we do?

Cyber-attacks and violence against women are often not taken seriously. For this to change, states must address cyberviolence as much as any other form of violence against women, using all the tools at their disposal. If states do not act, online freedom of expression is threatened. If, on the contrary, they address online gender-based violence by using the existing international human rights framework, they will make of Internet an open, safe and free platform to exchange ideas.

Set up laws

In addition to the Lanzarote Convention on sexual abuse and exploitation against children and the Budapest Convention on cybercrime, the landmark Istanbul Convention is the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. It requires States Parties to prohibit psychological violence, stalking and sexual harassment. It also calls for preventive measures in the educational sector and ways to be found to encourage private companies and the media to set themselves self-regulatory standards, such as measures limiting any form of verbal abuse of women. 


Under the Istanbul Convention, perpetrators should be duly prosecuted and sanctioned. To make this happen in the field of cyberviolence against women, this specific form of violence should be covered by criminal law and should not remain unpunished. It requires easily accessible, safe and specialised online mechanisms enabling women to report abuse to the authorities and obtain both protection and the removal of harmful materials. Law enforcement agencies should be trained to be able to investigate and prosecute cyberviolence more efficiently.


58 % 
of girls have experienced online harassment

50 % 
said they experience more online harassment than street harassment

Plan International: Free to be online? (2020) 

46 % 
of women who had experienced online abuse or harassment said it was misogynistic or sexist in nature

36 % 
of women in the UK said it made them feel that their physical safety was threatened

Amnesty International survey  (2017)

20 % 
of young women in the European Union had experienced some form of cyber sexual harassment

European Union Fundamental Rights Survey on Violence against Women (2014)

   Online violence against women increasingly targets female journalists

Patrick Penninckx, Head of Information Society Department at the Council of Europe, recalls the importance of implementing available instruments and urges to continue working on this subject.