“It is a pity your mother did not have an abortion. Seriously. Poland would be more beautiful without such a parasite”, "You should be shaved bald, you disgusting creature”.
“A slut betrays her country. Don't you agree with me? Because I think it is a pity that the Polish underground state does not exist today - you would be treated accordingly.”
“You won't cheat your genes, you red pest, but at least you won't have offspring and if I ever meet you, I will spit at your face with pleasure”, “I regret that they do not hang people for betraying their country these days.”
These are just examples of cyberviolence that I receive on social media platforms every day. The quotes I have chosen are of a more delicate nature as not to offend my MEP colleagues.
Of course, I am not the only one suffering from such slurs. 52 percent of women and girls have experienced cyberviolence, solely since the Covid-19 pandemic has started. The numbers are even higher among female politicians, activists, journalists and other women who participate (or try to participate) in online public debate.
Gender-based cyberviolence is a modern challenge. But it is at the same time just a new face of an old enemy - violence against women. In the European Union of the 21st century, gender-based violence manifests itself every day and everywhere. Women can’t feel safe at home, can’t feel safe in public places and can’t feel safe even online.
"Gender-based cyberviolence is a modern challenge. But it is at the same time just a new face of an old enemy - violence against women"
The cyberviolence that women face is rooted in gender-based violence, which means it is different from that faced by men.
The kind of online violence women are confronted with includes sexist hate-speech focused on appearance or private and intimate issues, image-based sexual abuse, cyber-stalking by a former partner and threats of sexual violence, including rape.
These are just examples of gender-based cyberviolence, making women withdraw from digital political and social life. It is not only about the personal impact. It’s about the quality of our democracy. We simply allow women to be silenced and we allow women to be exclude from the debate.
I have seen the cyber dimension of gender-based violence evolving. As a lawyer, activist and women’s rights defender, I have been engaged in combating gender-based violence for over 20 years now. First in NGOs, then in public administration, later as a Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights in Poland, and currently as a politician.
I have always stood on the side of women and other victims of gender-based violence. This is why I have been honoured to work on the legislative initiative report on gender-based cyberviolence as a co-rapporteur.
The report includes recommendations for measures to be adopted, in the areas of prevention; protection, support and reparation of victims, prosecution and criminalisation, as well as data collection and reporting.
“This report sends a very strong message from the Parliament to the Commission, emphasising yet again that we do not agree with the Commission’s failure to act against gender-based violence, and that we demand specific actions"
It stresses that all actions should be victim-centred and have an intersectional approach. Moreover, with regards to personal scope, it covers not only women and girls, but also LGBTIQ people who also experience cyberviolence based on their gender identity and gender expression.
This report sends a very strong message from the Parliament to the Commission, emphasising yet again that we do not agree with the Commission’s failure to act against gender-based violence, and that we demand specific actions.
Legislative measures recommended in this report should be included in the comprehensive directive against gender-based violence in all its forms, including cyberviolence. The more precise we make our legislation, the better. It’s about the law, it’s about human rights, it’s about democracy. We need to guarantee that every woman is safe from gender-based violence.
To conclude, I would like to address all haters with the words of Polish singer Maria Peszek in her song “As a gun”:
"Words can hurt someone,
words can kill someone.”
Remember, you are responsible for you’re doing.
And finally - without cooperation from the major social media platforms we cannot fight cyberviolence. Their reporting mechanisms must become more accessible, timely and effective - unlike their current state. They need understand that there is a clear line between hate speech and freedom of speech. They need to take their responsibility for users’ safety.
While addressing all actors of this fight, including social media platforms, I am saying: either you are on the side of women or you are on the side of perpetrators. It is as simple as that.
Dr. Sylwia Spurek (Greens/EFA, PL) – attorney-at-law and academic, former Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights of the Republic of Poland, feminist and vegan.