Plan International’s 2020 Annual State of the World’s Girls report focuses on the terrible rates of online abuse that girls and young women are experiencing across the world. 

The Free To Be Online report, which surveyed 14,000 girls and young women in 22 countries, found:

  • More than half of girls surveyed, from around the world, have been harassed and abused online
  • One in four girls abused online feels physically unsafe as a result
  • Online abuse is silencing girls’ voices.  

These findings parallel what WESNET is seeing in the domestic and family violence sector here in Australia and is also borne out in other Australian surveys about online abuse against women. 

“Girls’ experiences online are many and varied but there is a common thread: a particular type of quiet, modest behaviour is expected of girls – on social media, in public, at home.”

The report also highlights that the abuse falls into two main categories. Firstly, women and girls are experiencing abuse online simply for being female, and secondly, they get mercilessly abused and trolled if they try to speak up for equality and justice.  

We regularly see women who dare to speak up about violence against women being trolled and threatened with all forms of violence, much of it highly sexualised. 

“Gender stereotypes justify harassment, at least to the harassers, and enable them to target girls when they consider them to be acting outside of what is considered acceptable behaviour.”

We hear the stories of women who are forced off technology and isolated and silenced. In Australia, there is already a digital divide between girls and boys as young as 14, so it is essential that women and girls have access to technology. This is a human rights issue.

“Young women are very aware that the harassment they are subjected to online is part of a wider syndrome, “all mixed up” with entrenched ideas about male superiority.”

The #FreeToBeOnline campaign is calling for everyone to sign an open letter to Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and Twitter to build the kind of social media we want.   

It’s going to take way more than an open letter to the technology companies to fix this problem. We’ve been watching the commentary and the social media around this report launch, and someone is missing from the conversation. The abusers are invisible. While everyone is focussing on trying to get the tech companies to police bad behaviour, the abusers are laughing because no one is focussing on the real cause of this problem. We need a whole ecological approach to fixing this systemic abuse problem. We need prevention campaigns and we need real justice outcomes for women and girls because there’s a whole other pandemic of violence against women continuing to happen globally right now.