The internet and other digital tools are playing an increasingly central role in how Kenyans interact with one another. Such interactions include but not limited to; how they find and share information, how they connect with friends, family and professional networks, how they entertain themselves, how they seek answers to sensitive questions, how they learn about and access the world around them. In short, the internet has made the world a utopian place where most of our needs are met through the online tools at our disposal. The internet is not only built on the idea of a free flow of information but also on the idea of freely flowing discourse. Despite this utopia that the internet has created, one persistent challenge to this ideal is online harassment and digital abuse. One type of many forms of online harassment is cyber sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can exist towards any gender; however, this paper explores cyber sexual harassment towards the female gender mostly among the emerging adult women.
Arafa, Elbahrawe, Saber, Ahmed & Abbas (2018) define cyber sexual harassment as the sexual harassment that primarily occurs over the internet. Arafa et al. posit that cyber sexual harassment is an act of violence that mainly targets females. Online sexual harassment can occur via different mediums, including chat rooms, social network sites, messaging, emails, advertising, automatic linking, or spams (Arafa et al., 2018). Emerging adulthood is the age between 18 years and 25 years (Arnett, 2004). Lindsay, Booth, Messing, and Thaller (2016) extends this age to 29. They remark that this is the age where people’s engagement with the internet is at its peak. While online sexual harassment is an issue that cuts across all developmental stages, this group is most affected. During this time, young people focus their energy on relationship building and begin to search for greater intimacy commonly through dating relationships.
Online sexual harassments takes different forms, but most of them take the form of either gender harassment through verbal or graphic means in which harasser use gender-humiliating comments or sexual remarks or images, online sexual attention using direct personal communication to convey sex-related messages or sexual coercion through pressuring the victim to obtain sexual cooperation (Arafa et al., 2018). Unfortunately, sexual harassment is challenging to tackle since the harasser; in most cases, is anonymous. Additionally, although sexual harassment is a social phenomenon that can occur anywhere during daily communication, online virtual harassment makes the victims accessible anywhere and at any time. According to the study done by Burke et al. (2015), the majority of women in their emerging adulthood stage who have experienced online sexual harassment are enrolled in the learning institutions. Twenty percent of these students are repeatedly receiving unsolicited sexually obscene messages or sexual solicitation (Burke et al., 2015). More than 10 percent of the college and university students reported that they repeatedly received pornographic images and videos from people they did not know (Burke et al., 2015). More than a third of these women in their emerging adulthood reported that they felt anxious after the harassment; one-fifth reported that their sleeping and eating habits changed after the harassment, and the majority expressed that they felt helpless in dealing with the harassments.
Chawki and el Shazly (2013) also bring another critical aspect of online sexual harassment, which they call sextortion. Sextortion is a form of sexual exploitation where people get extorted with a nude image they shared online. Victims may be coerced into performing sexual acts with the people doing the extortion. The sextortion takes the form of sexual blackmail in which sexual information or images are used by the harasser to extort sexual favours from the victim. The Internet is often the source of such sexual materials and the threatened means of sharing it with others. Again, emerging adults do share their sexual information over the internet than all other groups consequently putting them at risk of sextortion than any other developmental group.
The issue of online sexual harassment should be tackled through cross-sectoral approaches. An effective solution would be establishing a multidimensional public-private collaboration between law enforcement agencies, the information technology industry, and ISPs. Without efficient public-private collaboration, online harassment can never be tackled effectively (Chawki and el Shazly, 2013). Innovative software programs can also help users to control the information they receive. This software can help internet users to block unwanted communication. The software programs should have the capacity to filter and block unwanted messages. I am glad the development of such software is ongoing, and some features like Cyber Sitter and Netnanny have been so useful in blocking and filtering unwanted communications (Chawki and el Shazly, 2013). Another recommendation to help tackle online sexual harassment should be to carry out extensive education programs to educate potential perpetrators on how to behave online. All internet users should be the first step towards self-protection. Internet education helps the perpetrators on how to behave and victims on how to respond to a variety of situations (Chawki and el Shazly, 2013). I wish that the public and private stakeholders should treat online sexual harassment as a matter of urgency and collaborate to find a lasting solution using multisector approaches suggested in this paper. Most of the females who are the victims of such misbehaviours are students whose education are adversely affected due to such harassments. In a broader perspective, every victim of sexual harassment is severely affected, and it is high time these behaviours are stopped.
Arafa, A. E., Elbahrawe, R. S., Saber, N. M., Ahmed, S., & Abbas, A. (2018). Cyber sexual harassment: a cross-sectional survey of female university students in Upper Egypt. Int J Community Med Public Health, 5(1), 61-5. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322027232_Cyber_sexual_harassment_a_cross-sectional_survey_over_female_university_students_in_Upper_Egypt
Arnett, J. J. (2004). Adolescence and emerging adulthood: A cultural approach. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Burke Winkelman, S., Oomen-Early, J., Walker, A. D., Chu, L., & Yick-Flanagan, A. (2015). Exploring cyber harassment among women who use social media. Universal journal of public health, 3(5), 194. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/31d9/b9e3142125581038bd51323fcd05c0fb39b3.pdf
Chawki, M., & el Shazly, Y. (2013). Online sexual harassment: Issues & solutions. J. Intell. Prop. Info. Tech. & Elec. Com. L., 4, 71. Retrieved from https://www.jipitec.eu/issues/jipitec-4-2-2013/3742/harassment.pdf
Lindsay, M., Booth, J. M., Messing, J. T., & Thaller, J. (2016). Experiences of online harassment among emerging adults: Emotional reactions and the mediating role of fear. Journal of interpersonal violence, 31(19), 3174-3195. Retrieved from https://www.burycollegeunicentre.co.uk/media/1708/experiences-of-online-harassment.pdf
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