PAP boosts efforts to tackle online harms ahead of International Women's Day

Panellists speak about online harms at PAP Women's Wing panel discussion on March 5, 2022. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - It takes courage to file a report against sexual harassment online, and many women stop short of doing so, but it is vital to take that step to prevent others from becoming victims, said Ms Georgette Tan, president of non-profit United Women Singapore.

Speaking on Saturday (March 5) at a People's Action Party (PAP) Women's Wing panel discussion on online harms, she added: "(It's) a huge, brave effort making that report and this is where a lot of people, unfortunately (many) women, don't take that step."

But it is important to make such reports to curb the abuse and prevent the perpetrator from harming other women, said Ms Tan, who is also a member of the Sunlight Alliance for Action, a cross-sector alliance that tackles online dangers, especially those targeted at women and girls.

Apart from staying calm, victims should record as much evidence of the harassment and, where possible, turn to a family member or colleague who can provide assistance and verification of the harassment, added Ms Tan.

She told The Straits Times that many are often hesitant because they might find it embarrassing or shameful.

At the event to conclude the party's celebrations of International Women's Day which falls on Tuesday, she and other panellists gave tips on what victims and those supporting them can do when facing sexual harassment online and cyber bullying.

Saturday's panel discussion forms part of the PAP and PAP Women's Wing's efforts to tackle online harms through education and empowerment.

To help children to be more forthcoming about their behaviour online, Associate Professor Elmie Nekmat at the National University of Singapore's department of communications and new media said parents can create a safe environment to encourage children to voice out what they do, and encounter, online.

Prof Elmie, who is also deputy organising secretary for the Young PAP Executive Committee, noted that parents are inclined to remove digital devices once they sense that their children are being bullied, but this might result in the children being unwilling to open up.

This comes amid plans by Singapore to introduce laws to raise the baseline of online safety.

Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo told Parliament on Friday (March 4) that online platforms will be legally required to take prompt action when users report harmful content and implement systems such as content filters to protect children.

The Ministry of Communications and Information will engage with technology companies and launch public consultations on the proposed new codes of practice later this year.

In a speech at Saturday's event, Mrs Teo, who chairs the PAP Women's Wing, noted that since January, some 1,500 people across the party's 93 branches have been taking part in community dialogues and workshops to raise awareness and equip themselves to support victims of online harms, particularly women and girls.

On Saturday, all PAP branches were also given a toolkit to support residents facing online hazards.

Apart from recognising the party's activists for their commitment towards tackling online dangers, the event witnessed the signing of an agreement between the National Trades Union Congress U Women and Family and 22 small and mid-sized enterprises, which pledge to implement a policy framework to prevent and manage workplace harassment, including online abuse.

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