May 20, 2023
Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) has recently unveiled its sixth annual Cyber Harassment Helpline Report for 2022, shedding light on the escalating issue of online harassment in Pakistan.
The report highlights key trends, case studies, and recommendations for policymakers and law enforcement agencies (LEAs) to address this growing problem.
Since its inception in December 2016, the Cyber Harassment Helpline has received a total of 14,376 cases over a six-year period. In 2022 alone, the helpline recorded 2,695 new cases, with an average of 224 cases reported each month. Notably, November 2022 emerged as the busiest month, indicating the urgency of addressing cyber harassment in the country.
The report encompasses data collected from cases reported via the helpline’s toll-free number (0800-39393), as well as through email and DRF’s social media platforms. The document includes informative case studies that offer insights into the experiences of helpline callers and highlights the challenges they face. Moreover, it provides recommendations aimed at policymakers and LEAs to tackle the issue effectively.
The Cyber Harassment Helpline, the first of its kind in the region, provides gender-sensitive, confidential, and free services to combat online violence. It offers legal advice, digital assistance, basic psychological support, and a referral mechanism for individuals affected by cyber harassment. In response to the increasing demand for its services, the helpline expanded its operations to seven days a week, including weekends.
Nighat Dad, Executive Director of DRF, expressed concern about the rise in cases involving financial fraud, scam attempts, and online smear campaigns targeting transgender activists and individuals in Pakistan.
She further highlighted the alarming trend of identity-based attacks, particularly hate speech against the transgender community, indicating the need for immediate action.
According to the report, women constituted the highest percentage of victims, accounting for 58.6% of complainants in 2022. Additionally, the transgender community faced a deliberate online hate campaign, making up approximately 1% of the individuals seeking assistance from the helpline. The report also sheds light on the inadequate response from social media platforms where these campaigns were orchestrated, emphasizing the need for their active engagement in combating cyber harassment.
The geographical breakdown of cases revealed that the highest number of incidents in 2022 occurred in Punjab (1,712), followed by Sindh (354) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (144). This breakdown serves to identify areas where law enforcement and remedial resources need to be more accessible. The report emphasizes the need for the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Pakistan’s designated law enforcement agency under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), to expand its cybercrime wings beyond the current 15 cities. It also points out the challenges faced by individuals outside Pakistan, both citizens and non-citizens, in filing complaints due to the lack of physical presence or a representative within the country.
In its recommendations, DRF urges policymakers to address the existing digital gender divide by removing financial, safety, and social barriers that hinder women’s access to digital devices and internet spaces. The report also suggests that the FIA enhance its technical expertise and invest in continuous capacity-building to expedite the investigation of cybercrime complaints. Furthermore, gender sensitivity training for officials in cybercrime wings is recommended, along with increased investment in research to meet the needs of litigants and complainants.
DRF, a registered research-based NGO founded in 2012, focuses on utilizing information and communication technologies (ICTs) to support human rights, inclusiveness, democratic processes, and digital governance.