Online sexual and gender-based abuse often goes unreported but incidents are on the rise globally and advocates warn current laws aren’t enough to keep users safe.

Women and girls are especially vulnerable online and are at risk of doxxing, cyberstalking, threats, revenge porn, trafficking, and more forms of exploitation every time they open a computer or mobile phone.

The women’s rights organization Equality Now released a report this month calling for the end of sexual exploitation and abuse of women and girls online through increased regulations and accountability from governments and digital service providers.

Online violence is an extension of the gender-based violence women and girls experience in the real world, explained Tsitsi Matekaire, global lead on Equality Now’s End Sexual Exploitation program and one of the lead authors of the organization’s latest report.

“The root causes are still the same — discrimination, sexism, and misogyny — which is then extended and amplified on the internet,” Matekaire said. “While it is important for women to think about the measures that they can take, we need to look at it more from what is driving it. It's really perpetrators who are abusing their power.”

Online perpetrators are hiding behind anonymity and can exploit women and girls anywhere regardless of their location, she added.

Matekaire wants to turn the focus to be on closing loopholes online that make abuse possible, which includes Internet platforms having clear community standards, ensuring abusive material isn’t published on their sites, maintaining clear protocols for removing and restricting resharing of exploitative materials, and shifting the responsibility from victims to community reporting if abuse occurs.

While preventing online abuse starts with addressing the root causes of gender-based violence, here are five additional steps women and girls can take to protect themselves online.

  1. Take Steps to Browse Safely and Maintain Anonymity. 
  2. Remember to Secure Privacy.
  3. Check to See How Much of Your Personal Information Is Available Online.
  4. Be Mindful of What You Share Online.
  5. Utilize Safety Tools While Gaming.

Read the full article about helping women stay safe online by Leah Rodriguez at Global Citizen.