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The worldwide web. A trap, a blessing and quite frankly the most powerful, life changing yet life threatening tool to exist in the modern age. The extent of the impact of the Digital Age, referring to sometimes being noted as the “Information Age”, is sought to be a historical time period in which it according to IGI Global , “captures the ubiquitous nature of computing and the prolific use of technology in almost all aspects of human activity such that digital interaction is a defining characteristic of human activity”. The sexting is one of the main topics for current essay as it reffered to the topic of sexual harassment via streets to online spaces is shed upon a light, as well as the increasing statistics of sexting, revenge porn and the inability and ability for the government to address these issues.
Aside from the sensationalised concepts and ways that the modern age allows us to live our so called dream and unrealistic lifestyles behind a phone or laptop via international web platforms , the use of digital communication channels and the profound effects it has on the law on an international spectrum, particularly on sexual harassment, is astonishing, and disgraceful. Sexual harassment refers to ‘an unwelcome sexual advance, unwelcome sexual favours or other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature which makes a person feel offended, humiliated and/or intimated, where a reasonable person would anticipate the reaction in the circumstances’.
Sexual violence against women is recognised to be one of the world’s most repetitive crimes and seems to be a significant human rights issue and hate crime towards females. The upcoming issue regarding women’s safety, draws upon the focal point of having increased accessibility to technological platforms, in which women are now stripped of their rights to be safe in their own household. This revolutionary technology phenomenon is recognised from major leaders such as Australia’s own Federal MP Tim Watts, who addressed the issue of misuse of digital privileges being used to “stalk, intimidate, threaten and harass women”.
Through numerous online investigations, the figures continue to rise on a daily basis rate in regard to technology associated sexual assault, online sexual harassment, pornography in cases of revenge, as well as hate speech targeting women.
The mounting issue of ‘sexting’ is a high priority matter in Australia, with concerns for a dramatic influx if governments do not seek to prevent the occurrence and educate the younger generation. Sexting refers to the “creating, sharing, sending or posting of sexually explicit messages or images via the Internet, mobile phones or other electronic devices by people, especially young people”. Furthermore, the legal ramifications and repercussions of the prevalence of sexting, displays that current legislation enforced astonishingly “dictates that children who participate in sexting could potentially face child pornography charges and may even be placed on the Sex Offenders Register”. This sparks the controversary that the supplier of images, those who possess it or distribute it are at risk of offending. Although, a major concern stated by Cyber Safety Expert Susan Mclean is that “the laws make no distinction between sexting and more heinous sexual crimes such as paedophilia”. Therefore, initiating that the younger generation are wildly unaware of sexting legislation and the Criminal Code Act 1995 identifying the offence to “access, transmit, publish, possess, control supply or obtain child pornography”.
However, there are currently no Australian legislation that specifically refer to the act itself, consequently meaning there is “an overlapping matrix of laws”, implying that consequences are justified and offenders aren’t apprehended, therefore younger women are at greater risk of online harassment, emotional burden and defamation of reputation in the streets.
Similar to sexting, revenge pornography refers to the release of intimate images without consent. It is too be noted that the current laws in place in Australia are unable to respond effectively towards this crime as women continue to be perpetrated, due to lack of consequence, punishment and legal action. These images and videos released are acts of pure revenge from delusional lovers, seeking to embarrass, humiliate, as well as threaten. Anastasia Powell, a current member of RMIT university conducted a study in which 3,000 Australian adults between the ages of 18-54, were surveyed, and it was concluded that it was extremely common that threats via harassment and non-consensual image sharing are present. Therefore, our criminal law, is yet to catch up to the evolving and rapidly emerging form of abuse.
In accordance to the issue of social media, phone and digital applications, are progressively becoming a tool to monitor, harass and track female victims. This issue is deemed to affect one in six Australian women in their lifetime, in comparison to only one in 19 males. The use of digital platforms has enabled women to extend their views and awareness of sexual harassment in order to tackle it at an early stage and report it to legal authorities when present.
Online spaces have enabled women to have a platform to have their voices heard and have the ability to share their concerns and experiences between other women. Activism from movements such as #MeToo has increased feminist visibility and has strengthened females’ abilities to enact change. The rising growth and development of online spaces has enabled avenues for social interaction between women, particularly those isolated from loved ones.
The internet has continued to display the prevalent issue of violence against women and the incidence rates of abuse and mistreatment of behaviour. It has allowed for women to anonymously address these concerns, and have the ability to reach millions of people, particularly via social influences. In 2018, according to Women’s Health East, 88% of the Australian population are active internet users. This confirms that a significantly high number of females are at risk if we are a population of 25.415 million. The digital age has proven to be a vehicle for the execution of female violence. It is important to consider and recognise ‘the debate about whether the online environment is separate to physical reality. It is critical to create an online cyber environment for women to feel safe.
In attempt to address the legalities of sexual harassment, Australia established The Sex Discrimination act 1984 in order to oblige with Australia’s international human rights responsibilities. According to the Human Rights Commission, the act “protects people from unfair treatment on the basis of their sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, marital or relationship status, pregnancy and breastfeeding. It furthers seeks to protect workers with family responsibilities and makes sexual harassment against the law”.
The act can be depicted as a system of redress, aiming to promote and advocate for equality between female and male genders. The Act has further enabled educational and promotional tools to inform of equality and balance that must exist between the two genders. It looks to punish those who misuse their power in order to gain self-appreciation and accomplishment.
Whilst the act can be seen as a positive movement for Australian legislation, it appears to come with its downfalls. As women continue to experience inequality, and harassment or gender-based violence, women’s basic rights are provoked. The ability to uphold dignity, respect and feel safe in various environments such as work, home or in public space is to be addressed and accommodated for.
The ability to prove sexual harassment against a woman online or in the street can be extremely difficult at times, particularly when a superior male in involved. The act also ultimately does not change the views, values, beliefs and perceptions that are held deep within a person and their outlook towards lifestyle situations. A key criticism that sparked question and involvement of other individuals of the 1984 Act was that within a workplace environment if a co-worker had harassed another employee, it was not included in the provisions that were legally stated. It would only be deemed unlawful if an employer or superior had full awareness of the discrimination or harassment transpiring in the environment or permit the reoccurrence.
Lastly, men continue to overpower the business industry and politics, and continue to manipulate and overpower females in top positions such as CEO, prime minister, president or even chairman. In not only Australian waters, but also on a global spectrum, legislative frameworks have “failed to respond to the harm that is experienced by victims”.
In conclusion, the rapidly emerging effects of the technological revolution will continue to haunt us and make us aware of issues that must be addressed accordingly and to be cautious of our actions. However, with a forceful foot down, male recommended advice to women to “have more self-respect” and not take ‘sexy’ pics or go out into the street ‘sexy’ is to be looked past. We must not be brainwashed to believe that user naivete is the root of the harm, rather than “gender-based violence”. Overall, technology is not doing more harm than good; it is the individuals targeting victims who commit the harm. Ultimately, instead of victim blaming, it is essential that the social cause is tackled, and not to label females as creating exaggerated actions, or reinforcing anti-rape underwear, pepper spray or rape whistles. These only silence victims and therefore we need to recognise the unjust population of women in our society. Laws are to be addressed further and are to be extended to cover and apprehend offenders, so that women feel safe in their household and comfortable walking the streets day or night, working around males, or simply scrolling through a mobile application. The challenge is to take the tools of social media that do good and enable women to extend their experiences of sexual harassment and convert them into real policy action.
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