1 in 6 sex cases Aware handles is tech-linked

One challenge in tackling such cases is the perception that sexual harassment or threats in online spaces or through technology "are wrongly thought to be less 'real', compared with physical contact".
One challenge in tackling such cases is the perception that sexual harassment or threats in online spaces or through technology "are wrongly thought to be less 'real', compared with physical contact".TNP FILE PHOTO ILLUSTRATION

Most common type is image-based, followed by contact-based harassment

Sexual harassment or violence need not always be physical.

For instance, a perpetrator could maliciously spread nude photos online of a former partner without consent.

Such "revenge pornography" is among sexual assault cases involving technology that the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) saw last year.

Of the 338 cases that its Sexual Assault Care Centre dealt with, 57 - or one in six - involved some form of technology to facilitate or exacerbate sexual violence or harassment.

It is not clear if this is an increase from the past, as this is the first time that Aware is specifically tracking such cases. The statistics released yesterday were from a research report by Dr Laura Vitis, a criminology lecturer at the University of Liverpool.

The most common type of assault was image-based sexual abuse, which 30 victims reported. This included revenge pornography and "sextortion" - attempts to extort or coerce using nude images. For instance, one couple filmed themselves having sex, and the woman later discovered that the man shared the content with an acquaintance as payment for a debt. The latter then posted the video on an online forum.

There was also sexual voyeurism, where the victims were filmed without consent. This included a domestic helper who reported being sexually harassed by a male employer who installed a camera in the bedroom where she sleeps with his child.

Ms Anisha Joseph, manager of the Sexual Assault Care Centre, said: "Disturbingly, some perpetrators also profited off these images, for example, by exchanging them to pay off a debt or selling them online.

One particular challenge about technology-facilitated sexual assault cases is that the police may have trouble going after perpetrators when the content is outside local jurisdictions, Aware noted.

"This shows that there is a market for such non-consensually obtained nude images of women within Singapore."

The second most common type is contact-based sexual harassment. Nearly one-third of the 60 cases involved harassment via text messages with explicit content, calls or non-consensual outings on social media. Many of the perpetrators were colleagues or employers.

In eight of the 57 cases, women who were raped or sexually assaulted also met their perpetrators in an online space such as via dating apps or social media.

The recent increase in the number of cases involving the taking of upskirt videos or photos shows how sexual voyeurism has become common in public spaces, especially on public transport, said Aware.

One particular challenge about technology-facilitated sexual assault cases is that the police may have trouble going after perpetrators when the content is outside local jurisdictions, it noted.

For instance, one man hacked into a victim's Dropbox, a Web storage service, and posted her images on local forums. But police were unable to proceed as the sites were hosted in the United States and, therefore, outside their jurisdiction.

Another challenge is the perception that sexual harassment or threats in online spaces or through technology "are wrongly thought to be less 'real', compared with physical contact", said Ms Anisha. "But technology is a big part of how we work and live - we cannot expect women to withdraw from online activities to avoid sexual violence. Instead, we must take the social and psychological harm of online violence and harassment seriously."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2017, with the headline '1 in 6 sex cases Aware handles is tech-linked'. Print Edition | Subscribe