Call for stronger laws as victims reluctant to report digital gender based violence

Home*Cover Story*News

Call for stronger laws as victims reluctant to report digital gender based violence

Head of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) Gender Based Violence Unit, Supt Claire Guy-Alleyne, is calling for stronger laws and law enforcement efforts to address cybercrimes, noting that perpetrators must be held accountable.

Speaking at a virtual town hall meeting on “Technology-Facilitated Gender-Based Violence and Its Impact on Mental Health” organised by the Division of Gender and Child Affairs, Office of the Prime Minister, Guy-Alleyne said digital gender based violence is a rampant issue but victims are reluctant to report the crime as a lot of them feel they will not be believed.

Digital gender based violence, refers to any act of violence that is perpetrated through digital media. This can include harassment threats, stalking, pornography, fishing, impersonation, and the sharing of child sexual abuse material.

Guy-Alleyne said: “We do not have a Cybercrime Act, but in Trinidad and Tobago, there are laws that govern us and that the police can use to combat some of these heinous online crimes. We have the Summary Offences Act, Chapter 11:02, Section 106, which speaks about the misuse of telephone facilities and false telegrams.

“We also have the Offence Against a Person Act, Chapter 11:08, which speaks about harassment. We have the Computer Misuse Act, Chapter 11:17. We also have a series of offences under the Children Act, like child pornography, where we talk about exposing a child to child pornography, and we really need to amend the laws and change the terms of that narrative of child pornography. We need to have it removed. We also have sexual communication and the Sedition Act, chapter 11:0. These are just some of the laws that we have governing us in Trinidad and Tobago,” Guy-Alleyne said.

She called for more collaboration between sectors which “is vital in addressing GBV and child abuse, Government agencies and law enforcement, health care providers, schools, and community organisation, all must work together to develop effective and comprehensive policies, protocols, and seamless referral systems to ensure a coordinated response and effective protection for survivors”.

She added “technology companies also have a responsibility to ensure the safety and security of their users by including and implementing safeguards and moderation mechanisms.

“We need to increase awareness about these types of violence and their impact on victims. It is imperative to provide survivors with a comprehensive network of support, ensuring that their physical, emotional, and psychological well-being is always met. We also need to invest in resources and support for survivors, for example, by investing in more shelters. We need more financial support, counselling services, and legal aid. Promoting gender equality and challenging harmful gender stereotypes can create a more inclusive and respectful society, and when you do this, everyone’s rights and dignity are upheld,” she said.

“Prevention plays a pivotal role, and by educating our children, adolescents, and adults about healthy relationships, it is critical that when we do this, we empower individuals to protect themselves. This can include monitoring of online activity, the establishment of specialised task force, and harsher penalties for those convicted of GBV or child abuse offences. It is essential to address the underlying factors that contribute to GBV and child abuse, such as gender inequality, social norms, and the lack of education. Digital GBV and child abuse are two critical issues that require our immediate and constant attention and action. While technology has facilitated new forms of violence we must also recognise its potential as a tool for combating these crimes. There are positives to working together,” Guy-Alleyne said.