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Brussels starts fight against cyber violence

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The majority parties in the Brussels Regional Parliament have submitted a proposal to fight cyber violence and to better help people who fell victim to it, on Tuesday.

The proposal was launched by Leila Agic of the Brussels socialist PS party, on the occasion of Women’s Rights Week from 6 to 14 March, as figures show that 90% of victims of cyber violence are women. In 60% of cases, their name is made public and their image is tarnished.

“Dick pics, phishing, revenge porn, … Online violence comes in many forms, but knowledge of it is poor,” said Green MP Lotte Stoops. “The fact that cyber-hate is also an attack on a person’s intimacy often makes victims feel ashamed and unable to ask for help.”

While new technologies have allowed for greater freedom of speech by giving space to under-represented movements, “they have also served as a mouthpiece to vent and amplify the already existing violence,” according to Agic.

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“This is especially true for previously marginalised groups, such as people of racial background or people from the LGBTQI+ community,” she said, adding that the speed and ease of digital communication create a sense of impunity, which only makes it worse.

With the resolution proposal, the parties call for a study to be carried out on cyber violence in the Brussels-Capital Region so the authorities can get a better idea of the extent of the issue, and implement targeted cross-policy measures.

Additionally, information and awareness-raising campaigns are necessary, especially in schools, the parties stressed. “Adolescents are more vulnerable and are more likely to be the target of these attacks.”

On top of that, victims have to be made aware of their rights, and of the tools and structures that they can use for assistance. A virtual and physical point of contact should make it easier to report criminal acts, as well as provide specialised support in police zones and assistance in filing a complaint.

According to Green MP Margaux De Ré, both freedom and security of expressions must be guaranteed on all platforms.

“If you publish the painting L’Origine du Monde on the internet, the image will be removed within minutes,” she said. “Conversely, accounts that share sexual videos without the consent of the targets can take several days to be removed and the perpetrators are never prosecuted.”

De Ré stressed that even though cyber violence happens in a virtual space, “the violence that people experience is very real.”

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times