Earlier this week, Dawn reported on a group of lady doctors in Lahore being harassed by criminals who had hacked their social media accounts, and were using their private information to blackmail them.
That reminded me of a development from earlier this year, when the United Kingdom and United States criminalised revenge porn.
‘Revenge porn’ is the posting of sexually explicit content against the consent of people depicted in it. According to an organisation supporting victims of revenge porn, they see it as “non-consensual pornography, usually posted by a scorned ex-lover or friend, in order to seek revenge after a relationship has gone sour.”
“Scorned ex-lovers…seeking revenge after a relationship has gone sour…” Those words will sound all too familiar if you’ve grown up in Pakistan. Every school has its share of urban legends, and every friendship circle knows too well the effects of sourly-ended relationships.
More alarmingly, the BBC found that women from cultures that follow codes of honour are more deliberately targeted as victims. This makes Pakistan one of the worst places to be a woman, be it in a marriage or a monogamous relationship.
There are a growing number of Facebook pages hosting thousands of non-consensual photos of Pakistani women, and even more independent websites set up with the sole purpose of shaming the women who chose to trust their partners or friends.
After failed search attempts to find justice or support groups for victims, I turned to as much of the female population as I could to find out more. After questions in person, and on forums, it all poured in.
The responses confirmed my assumption – such blackmail and revenge is an everyday reality, with no avenue for help. Apparently, even the police seem to enjoy tormenting victims seeking help.
Girls have no one to turn to, and are often manipulated back into emotionally and physically abusive relationships. The humiliation and loss of ‘honour’ of having your family and community see private photos of yourself is often perceived as more dangerous than staying in an abusive relationship.
Some of the more surprising responses blamed the victims. Pakistan has a long legacy of repressing female sexuality, and blaming the victim if they choose to rise against the repression. The most worrying aspect of this culture is the strict code of silence when it comes to ‘honour’.
So where can victims of such revenge and blackmailing go?
I looked into the Federal Investigation Agency’s National Response Centre for Cyber Crime. Their website states that they “can entertain” the following category of complaints: Un-Authorised Access, Email hacking, Fake ID on social media … the list continues, but the use of private photos for revenge/blackmail does not make the cut.
When the Federal Investigation Agency and Police Departments of the nation are male-dominated – and an avenue for shaming – where can victims turn for support, legal advice, and counsel without risking their ‘honour’?
In this digital age, women need new measures of protection and empowerment.
Revenge porn is a violation of privacy, and in cultures of honour, used as a form of manipulation to victimise and abuse women.
As the United Kingdom and United States have pushed to criminalise the act, Pakistan needs stronger legal codes in place to protect every woman from such a despicable violation