Cyberviolence at a glance
Cyberviolence comprises a broad range of conduct that most directly affects the dignity and rights of individuals. States have a positive obligation to protect individuals from the potential harms of the internet while ensuring human rights are protected (K.U. v. Finland). It is therefore essential that states manage to strike a fine balance between sufficiently interfering in order to protect persons from cyberviolence and harassment on one hand, and respecting the freedom of expression and right to privacy on the other hand.
While prevention is essential and should be given priority, criminal justice is part of the response.
Better training and awareness raising of criminal justice authorities regarding cyberviolence should be provided (including its investigation, prosecution and sanctioning, where it constitutes a criminal offence).
Use should be made of the tools available under the Budapest, Lanzarote and Istanbul Conventions of the Council of Europe, as well as the Protocol on Xenophobia and Racism to the Budapest Convention, but also Convention on Action against Human Trafficking, whether or not States are Parties to those instruments.
These Council of Europe international standards offer valuable guidance and tools to states in tackling cyberviolence.
Existing domestic legislation may in some circumstances be adequate to capture cyberviolence, or specific cyber offences may need to be introduced. Drafters should consider making offences technologically neutral so as to ensure they can be applied to emerging technologies and forms of cyberviolence. The success of international co-operation for emerging crime types can be influenced by the level of adequate criminalisation of cyberviolence domestically.
Service providers play crucial role in detection, prevention, investigation and prosecution of cyberviolence.
They also play a key role in combatting forms of cyberviolence that involve illegal content, by providing mechanisms for reporting and removing illegal content from platforms. The Council of Europe Committee of Minister’s recommendation on the roles and responsibilities of internet intermediaries calls on all states to provide a human rights and rule of law-based framework that lays out the main obligations of the states with respect to the protection and promotion of human rights in the digital environment, and the respective responsibilities of intermediaries.
A Mapping Study on Cyberviolence was carried out by the T-CY Working Group on cyberbullying and other forms of online violence, especially against women and children. The Group aimed to study the topic in the form of a mapping exercise, including comparative approaches to legislation as well as documentation of good practices.
Initiated in November 2016 and completed in July 2018, the study represents the findings of the Group and comprises:
- Mapping of acts that constitute cyberviolence and drawing conclusions as to typologies and concepts;
- Examples of national experiences and responses to such acts (including policies, strategies, legislation, cases and case law);
- Overview of international responses under the Budapest Convention and other treaties
(in particular the Istanbul and Lanzarote Conventions of the Council of Europe);
- Recommendations as to the further course of action.
It was taken note of by the 19th Plenary of the T-CY on 9 July 2018. The T-CY on that occasion adopted the “recommendations” and “follow up”.
As proposed in the T-CY Mapping study on cyberviolence:
Cyberviolence is the use of computer systems to cause, facilitate, or threaten violence against individuals that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering and may include the exploitation of the individual’s circumstances, characteristics or vulnerabilities.
This working definition is rather broad and needs to mature further. On the other hand, it is a reality
that any crime may have a “cyber” element that may change the nature and scope of the crime.
An increasing number of studies – many of them with statistical data – is available covering different aspects of cyberviolence, in particular targeting children, as the following examples illustrate.
Given that concepts and definitions are yet to be agreed upon, and that cyberviolence is often a continuum of offline violence, it is difficult to compare different sets of data and to arrive at an overall assessment of the scale and impact of cyberviolence.
Nevertheless, it is safe to conclude that cyberviolence is a growing problem with significant impact on an increasing number of individuals, in particular women and children, in many regions of the world.