9 million women are victims of cyberbullying
Illustrations by Rosario Lucas/EL UNIVERSAL

9 million women are victims of cyberbullying

Mexico City
Montserrat Peralta and Alejandra Riquelme
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Just like the men, women aged 20 to 29 are the most at risk of being victims of cyberbullying – in 86% of the cases, the perpetrators are strangers

Itzel, 14, was checking her profile at the social network Ask.fm, when she found a message from an unknown sender that read: “Yesterday [at the party] your boobs and ass looked delicious in that dress.” She felt awkward about the message and deleted it. A week later, another message came in. She asked the person to reveal their identity but the reply she got was: “I know where you live, I see you come out of your house every day.”

The attacker identified as a man and wrote Itzel's address on his next message. He asked her to meet him behind a building at school. Itzel asked a friend to accompany her and both hid at the place of the encounter to reveal the identity of the man but he never showed up. “Let's play a game...guess who am I?” read his following message, after he apologized for not meeting her in person. Itzel blocked him.

This enraged Itzel's attacker and created multiple fake accounts on Ask.fm, Facebook, and Twitter to send her several messages and even a threat to rape her. Then the attacker hacked her social networks and email. Itzel began to fear for her safety and changed her routine and asked her teachers for help. The threats increased until Itzel finally said she would take legal action against him. She didn't hear from him again. 
Like Itzel, 9 million of Mexican girls over 12 have also been victims of cyberbullying, according to the Cyberbullying Module (MOCIBA), part of the National Survey on Availability and Usage of Information technologies at Homes (ENDUTIH) of the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI).

Just like the men, women aged 20 to 29 are the most at risk, followed by those between the ages of 12 to 19, and in 86.3% of the cases, strangers are behind the attacks.

According to the report “Online Violence against Women in Mexico,” prepared by Luchadoras MX (roughly, Female Fighters Mexico) in coordination with several organizations, “acts of gender violence performed, totally or partially, through the use of Information and Communication Technologies (CIT), social network platforms, and email, cause physiological and emotional damage, reinforce prejudices, negatively impact on someone's reputation, cause economic losses, set up barriers for public life, and may lead to forms of sexual or physical violence.”

The report states that the most common ways women are harassed online are the following:

-Spam or virus (23.7%)
-Multimedia content (13.8%)
-Phone calls (13.5%)
-Contact with fake identities (13.4%)
-Registration on websites (7.7%)
-Tracking of the victim's websites (3.9%)
-Dissemination of personal information (3.2%)
-Password hacking (0.5%)

For Alicia, the situation was different. Her attacker created a fake Facebook profile and sent photos of her to all her relatives. Alicia knew who had access to those photos: her ex-boyfriend. She confronted him and he swore he had nothing to do with it. Some time afterward, someone opened an Instagram account and uploaded the same photos – the account description had her phone and the message “Courtesy of my boyfriend.”

She asked her friends to report the fake account to get it blocked but since September 2017 to date, eight fake accounts under her name have been created in Instagram and two in Facebook. It was then that she turned to the Cyberpolice and the Justice Center for Women in Mexico City. Both agencies told her they could do nothing since the photographs had the consent of both, the recipient and the sender. “I agree, I sent them to him but I didn't give him permission to upload those photos, especially not after we broke up,” said Alicia.

Danya Centeno, attorney at the Digital Rights Defense Network (R3D), claims the response of the authorities has been inadequate. "They lack sensitivity, they fail to apply a gender perspective. We've noticed gender violence is usually made less, it's not seen as something real. Online threats, as long as they don't transcend to the physical aspect, are usually disregarded.”

Violation of rights

The rights to privacy, intimacy, freedom of expression and access to information and access to justice are the ones commonly violated in these cases. Regarding official numbers, Centeno explains the scenario remains unknown because there are no official statistics.

Centeno recommends reading abuse report policies of all the platforms to know how to correctly report someone and adds that “the consideration one applies to their physical life are also applicable to the digital world. If you don't open your door to strangers, then don't accept people you don't know”.


Cyberbullying in Mexico doesn't discriminate gender

In 2015, MOCIBA reported that 24.5% of Mexicans aged 12 or more have been victims of cyberbullying – most of the victims are men
Cyberbullying in Mexico doesn't discriminate gender Cyberbullying in Mexico doesn't discriminate gender


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