Tag Archives: mobile phones

Sexual harassment though mobile devices in the Caribbean


St Lucia smallMy earlier research with colleagues in Islamabad indicated very high levels of sexual harassment in Pakistan using mobile phones, both in traditional ways for calls and texts, and also through access to online social media.  Evidence from other parts of the world also suggests that similar high levels are to be found in many countries with different cultural backgrounds and social structures,  However, there have been very few cross-cultural comparisons using the same methodology.  Together with Dr. Bushra Hassan from Pakistan, we are therefore using a similar online survey instrument to explore perceptions and experiences of the use of mobile devices in the Caribbean and in India (Hindi; English).

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Despite the support of more than 50 organisations and individuals across the Caribbean, for which many thanks are due, responses to the survey have been lower than we had hoped.  However, we are reporting our preliminary findings here in part to encourage further responses to the survey that will then enable us to undertake a more rigorous statistical analysis of the data.

Key findings include the following:

Perceptions of sexual harassment through mobile devices in the Caribbean

  • More than half of the sample think that all types of harassment are common in the Caribbean.  Sexual harassment, though, is the most common type of harassment, and 47% of the sample considered it to be very frequent
  • Women are perceived to be harassed much more than men, although men are also harassed; 46% of the sample considered that women were very frequently harassed through their mobile devices.
  • The most common reasons for sexual harassment are considered to be because social factors encourage it and it is a way of controlling someone
  • Messaging apps and social media are perceived as being the main ways through which people are sexually harassed through their mobile devices, although phone calls and text messages are also common.
  • A wide range of people are seen as  being responsible for sexual harassment, including strangers and people in positions of responsibility.  However, the most common perpetrators are perceived as being a former partner, someone known to the person other than a family member, and a current partner.
  •  In the Caribbean, when a man is sexually harassed 40% of the sample think a women is usually to blame, and 36% think a man is usually to blame.  When a woman is sexually harassed, 74% of respondents thought that a man was usually to blame and 36% thought another woman was usually to blame.  A major difference between Pakistan and the Caribbean is that when a woman was harassed through her mobile device in Pakistan, 54% of the sample thought that she was sometimes or always to blame, whereas only 29% of the Caribbean sample thought that the woman being harassed was to blame.
  • Another striking difference between Pakistan and the Caribbean was in the impact of such harassment.  In the Caribbean, 62% of the sample claimed to know someone who had suffered depression as a result of sexual harassment through a mobile device, but only 13% knew someone who had committed suicide, and only 2% someone who had been killed because of honour.  In Pakistan 53% of respondents claimed that they knew someone personally who had tried to commit suicide as a result of sexual harassment through their mobile devices, and a shocking 52% of respondents claimed to know someone who had been killed because of a loss of honour as a result of sexual harassment through mobile devices.

Experiences of sexual harassment through mobile devices in the Caribbean

  • Around 44% of the Caribbean sample said that they had been sexually harassed through their mobile devices (and 92% of these were women), and their experiences were rather different from the perceptions of harassment noted above.
  • In reality only 27% of these people were harassed frequently or very frequently by a former partner, whereas 42% were frequently or very frequently harassed by someone known to them other than a family member, and 46% frequently or very frequently by a stranger.
  • It is also interesting that many people keep silent about their harassment; 43% sometimes or always keep silent.  When they do tell people about it, it is nearly always with friends rather than family or people in authority.
  • Interestingly, respondents who had been sexually harassed in the Caribbean seemed to have more robust reactions than did those in Pakistan, who often felt guilty or ashamed.  In the Caribbean, 67% said that they had never felt guilty, but 60% said that that sometimes or always felt stressed by it, 76% said that they sometimes or always felt angry, and 71% sometimes or always developed mistrust of others
  • There were fascinating and contrasting views about whether sexual harassment was worse when done in person or through a mobile device.  Two examples of comments from respondents reflect this difference:
    • “Being harassed through my mobile devices is worse in my experience because it has always been by people that I know. Harassment from a stranger has never hurt as much or made me as fearful as harassment from people that I know. The harassment that I have experienced via mobile devices has also been much more explicit and violent than what I have experienced in other ways”.
    • “I feel worse when the sexual harassment is done in person. Mobile I can hide and ignore, while in person I feel stripped and ashamed and uncomfortable and become self conscious”

Lime-2These are some of the headline findings of our research, but we need many more responses to be able to undertake appropriate statistical analysis of the results that will help us to dig beneath the surface and explain why some of these patterns exist.  The highest levels of responses have been from Guyana, the Cayman Islands and Trinidad and Tobago, and so we would particularly encourage responses from other parts of the region.  We are also very aware that mobile devices are just one of the ways through which sexual harassment exists.  However, it is an additional and very prevalent means, and we need to be aware of the extent that it is used to cause misery and oppression.

If you have not already done so, please complete the survey at https://rhul.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/sexual-harassment-through-mobiles-in-the-caribbean and encourage others to do so as well.  Thanks very much!

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Filed under Caribbean, ICT4D, Inequality, mobile phones, Sexual harassment, social media

The use of mobile devices for sexual harassment in Pakistan


Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) continue dramatically to change our lives.  This is especially true with the rapid expansion of mobile devices connected to the broadband in many of the poorer countries of the world.  Whilst this can bring very many benefits, there is also a darker side to their use; ICTs tend to act as accelerators, both of good and of bad things.  With the  corporate ICT sector wishing to highlight the positive contribution that it can make to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the negative impacts of ICTs usually receive far less attention.  There is, though, now a growing body of evidence that in some contexts these may well outweigh their positive impacts.

In the course of qualitative research in 2016 with Dr. Bushra Hassan (formerly of the University of Sussex, and now at the International Islamic University in IslamIdentity construction 2 copyabad) on the use of mobiles by young people in Pakistan as symbols shaping their identity (published in Information Technologies and International Development earlier in 2017), we discovered a striking level of concern over the use of mobile devices for sexual harassment. The commentary below on Mobilink’s controversial advertisement at the time of our research, for example, highlights some of the tensions in what is widely seen as being a tightly constrained society with very traditional values.

Mobilink

We therefore decided to explore more about the use of mobiles for sexual harassment in Pakistan, and enlisted the help of Dr. Akber Gardezi (COMSATS Institute of Information Technology).  Together, we constructed and distributed a largely quantitative online survey in Pakistan in November and December 2016, and submitted a paper summarising the outcomes of this research early in 2017 to a special issue of ITID on Gender, Mobile and Mobile Internet.  At the time, we considered this to be one of the largest and most rigorous studies of the subject in Pakistan, and indeed few other studies have been as comprehensive anywhere in the world.  Subsequently, important new research has also been published about Pakistan especially by the Digital Rights Foundation.  The peer review process associated with academic journals meant that we could not release any of our results at that time.  We had hoped, though, that the full paper would have been published in time to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on 25th November.  Given delays in the production process, we are delighted now therefore to have received permission from the editorial team to release some of our most salient findings.

More than 2000 people opened the survey, and we had 530 completed responses from people from all walks of life in Pakistan.  The survey itself explored both perceptions and experiences of sexual harassment through the use of mobile devices in Pakistan, and we were able to disaggregate and analyse the data in terms of a range of socio-cultural characteristics including age, gender, ethnicity, religion, occupation and place of residence.

Some of our most important findings are as follows:

  • Mobiles are mainly used to harass women sexually, although men are also harassed; 48% of women and 18% of men in our survey had been sexually harassed through their mobile devices.
  • Direct messages and phone calls are slightly more frequently used than online social media for sexual harassment: 17.5% of respondents who were harassed claim to be receiving daily text messages harassing them sexually, and 11.9% receive daily phone calls doing likewise.  It is therefore crucial to note that surveys that only focus on online harassment miss more than half of the ongoing sexual harassment that exists.
  • There is considerable uniformity in the perceptions about and experiences of sexual harassment through mobile devices among people from different socio-cultural backgrounds.  Only about 10% of the many statistical tests that we undertook showed significant differences, and where there were differences these were usually relating to the gender, occupation or location of the respondents.
  • One of the most striking findings from our research concerns blame attribution: 54% of all respondents thought the when a women is sexually harassed through her mobile device she is always or sometimes to blame.  Only 38% of respondents thought that a man was to blame when he is harassed sexually.
  • The impact of sexual harassment through mobile devices on people living in Pakistan has a terrible cost: 53% of respondents claimed that they knew someone personally who had tried to commit suicide as a result of sexual harassment through their mobile devices; and a shocking 52% of respondents claimed to know someone who had been killed because of a loss of honour as a result of sexual harassment through mobile devices.  Blackmail is widespread.
  • Four main reasons were cited to explain why mobile devices are specifically used for sexual harassment: it is easy to send multimedia content using mobiles; mobiles can be used to target people at a distance; it is quick to use mobiles to harass people; and the perpetrators can easily hide their identities.  Our paper goes into much more depth as to how social and cultural factors influence such harassment specifically in Pakistan; women much more than men consider that patriarchy is particularly important in causing such harassment.
  • The three most important ways through which such harassment can be reduced were considered to be: requiring social media companies to monitor and delete users who sexually harass others; increasing penalties for sexual harassment; and requiring mobile operators to provide a free reporting service.  With respect to the last of these, it was great to see the Digital Rights Foundation opening a toll-free hotline (0800-39393) in December 2016 for victims of online harassment and violence.

Almost half of all respondents also provided detailed qualitative responses to many of the issues we raised in the survey, and we are immensely grateful to all those who took the time to reply.  For the full paper, which provides very much more detail on all of the above, do keep an eye open for the next issue of ITID (Hassan, B., Unwin, T. and Gardezi, A. “Understanding the Darker Side of ICTs: Gender, Sexual Harassment, and Mobile Devices in Pakistan”, Information Technologies and International Development, in press).

We are now undertaking directly comparable online surveys in the Caribbean and in India to examine how perceptions and experiences of the use of mobiles for sexual harassment vary across the world.  Please share the links below with people you know in these regions to encourage them to contribute to the survey so that we can get as diverse and large samples as possible:

It is time that all of us combine our efforts to reduce sexual harassment through mobile devices.  Such harassment is a horrible form of violence and abuse, and it particularly affects women.  Men especially therefore need to take greater action to influence each other in changing their behaviours so that the full benefits of ICTs may indeed be experienced by women across the world.

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Filed under 'phones, Ethics, ICT4D, mobile phones, Pakistan, Sexual harassment, social media

Nehru Place, Delhi: a digital hive


I went seeking some new and interesting ICTs on my last full day in Delhi, and my colleague Anushruti kindly therefore took me to Nehru Place in South Delhi.   I had never been there before, and it turned out to be a fascinating exploration of Delhi’s digital world; a hive of activity, with hundreds of small tech companies each competing for business, seemingly mainly selling mobile devices or offering laptop and phone repair services.

Nehru Place was built in the early 1980s as a commercial district, focusing primarily on the financial and business sectors.  However, as new financial centres have emerged across the city, its traditional role has all but vanished, and it has now been taken over by numerous small ICT businesses; it has often been described as the IT hub of South Asia.  It has a very informal atmosphere, with people also selling software (often pirated) and other small digital goods as pavement vendors on the wide streets between the buildings.

It is a very male dominated environment, and I was also fascinated by the gendering of the ICT advertisements on display (there is definitely a research project to be done on this); the dominance of a few corporate names on the hoardings, mainly Chinese, such as Lenovo, Oppo and Vivo, was a further reminder that India does not yet have much indigenous ICT manufacturing.  The prices of many of the goods on sale were also surprisingly high (India is definitely not the place to buy Apple laptops!).

As the photographs below show, Nehru Place has a  run down feeling to it, but the informality and vibrancy are clearly indicative of a lively digital scene, and it very much reminded me of a digital beehive, with everyone labouring away in their own little cell of the honeycomb that is Nehru Place.  Sadly, I couldn’t actually find what I was seeking to purchase, despite being directed from one shop to another in the hope that I would be able to!

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Filed under 'phones, ICT4D, ICTs, India, Photographs