Many young netizens find internet as a tool to express their sexual desires, says the study.
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Even when they face severe online abuse and harassment, women in Kerala are hesitant to file an official complaint, a recent survey by a Kochi-based IT firm has found. The survey also found that many young netizens view social networking sites as a platform to express their sexual desires.

The Kerala-specific survey, carried out in June by Gois Software Labs (GSL), focuses on online abuse faced by women and how it affects their freedom of expression.

"Most people were reluctant to give any information and were apprehensive about giving details or even basic information about online abuse that they had faced," says Nandakishore Harikumar of GSL. 

"Many women do not know how to deal with such abuse. And any kind of online activity, like posting a comment on a public post, can trigger abuse. Also most men treat social media as dating sites," he says adding that awareness against online abuse needs to be inculcated in children right from the school level. 

In 2012, then home minister of Kerala, Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, had said that a staggering 80,000 cyber-crime related complaints were registered with the state police between 2011-12. Of those, 50,000 were related to harassment of women.

Teenagers and women accounted for the majority of victims of cyber-crimes and there was a "nefarious attempt" to trap young girls to indulge in wrongdoing, Thiruvanchoor was quoted as saying by PTI

GSL’s study was conducted with a sample size of 100 women respondents through online survey. Since many women were hesitant to reveal details of online abuse, 32 valid responses were taken for further analysis. 

The survey carried out by the firm aims "to analyse to what extent women are being harassed, objectified, humiliated and threatened through various means on social media platforms". 

Here are some of the findings of the survey:

1. Women hesitate to register a complaint with the police even in the severest of cases. 

89% of the respondents said they had not filed a complaint against their online attackers and 50% stated that they preferred to ignore attacks on the internet.

Many women were discouraged by their husbands and families from filing a complaint. 

The survey asserts, "There were instances wherein the victims of cyber-bullying were challenged by the abusers to file a case against them as they are sure that no one would approach the Cyber Police and some of the victims were even forced to delete their profile from FB. This is referred to as ‘cyber assassination’”.

2. Victims are not aware of the legal recourse against online abuse

Only 28% of respondents said they were slightly aware of the legal recourse against online abuse directed at women. 16% had no knowledge about such provisions. 

12% of respondents said that when it came to policies and security measures to protect personal information on the internet, "their awareness on such matters is close to zero".

3. Online harassment is not limited to a specific group of women 

Online harassment against women is not targeted towards a specific group or a particular social class, and women from all sectors are vulnerable to online abuse, says the survey. The survey adds that "women get targeted just because they are ‘women’, and they are perceived to be less tech savvy to easily fall prey to perpetrators online.”

4. Women are abused for uploading posts of achievements 

The survey notes that when women put up posts stating their achievements, they are humiliated and abused and their modesty is questioned. On the contrary, similar posts made by men "are always welcomed with support and admiration and receives very less negative remarks".

5. "Pongala", a Kerala-specific term for online mob activity

According to the survey, Keralites have a special term, "Pongala" (a slang term meaning "to make life miserable"), on social media to describe "coordinated attack on selected individuals, ideas or concepts and at the same time there appears to be a rise in comments against women on the internet, displaying a clear gender bias". 

It adds that online abuse against women is often ignored due to the misconception that only physical violence constitutes gender-based violence. 

6. Victims only block abusers

Female victims of online abuse or harassment mostly block or ignore their abusers instead of filing an official complaint. 

89% of the respondents said they had not filed a complaint against their online attackers and 50% stated that they preferred to ignore attacks on the internet.

7. Young netizens view social media as a platform to express their sexual desires. 

This is why women frequently get anonymous messages from unknown people, far more than men do. 

Facebook, WhatsApp and phone calls and texts are the most common channels used by online abusers, according to the respondents. 

8. Abusers take advantage of the anonymity that the internet provides

"Mostly the abusers who target female internet users leverage on the scope of the medium to remain anonymous without revealing their identity and there is only little legal recourse to punish offenders who make anonymous and offensive statements online,” the report states.