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This Is How Latin America Advances in Policies Against Cyberharassment of Women

Gender violence is also experienced in the digital world, a place where there are legislative gaps. This is how te region has responded to cyberbullying of women.

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Latinamerican Post | July Vanesa López Romero

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Every November 25, 25N is celebrated the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which seeks to make visible and denounce the daily lives of thousands of women around the world who are victims, both of individuals who abuse work, sexual and psychologically from them, as from a justice system that has left them aside. Likewise, the commemoration aims to promote the basic, sexual and reproductive rights of women. Latin America, in particular, is a region that is ahead of the curve when it comes to feminist and intersectional social struggle. The well-known “green tide”, which began in Argentina, managed to fill not only the region, but also reached other continents and has become an international movement. 

However, despite the fact that this date has been proposed to eradicate violence against women, last 25N was sabotaged during its celebration in the Colombian Congress. In the midst of Senator María José Pizarro's intervention at the Violence against women and femicides hearing, an approximately 5-second video of a man masturbating appeared on the screens in the room. This event was denounced by the Legal Commission for Women's Equality, organizer of the hearing, which stressed that the attack "shows once again the harsh reality of the violence experienced by women." 

This fact also demonstrates the great legal vacuum that exists around the violence exerted in the digital field. Void that little by little has been analyzed and worked on from different legislative responses, since it is clear that digital media have become an instrument to harass and violate women. These responses seek not only to penalize cyberattacks, but also to create public policies to prevent them from happening in the first place. 

A Call to Legislate Around the World

This concern is not new, and more and more feminist groups and defenders of women's rights are getting their complaints about legislative gaps in constitutions heard. The Human Rights Council of the United Nations Organization and the Organization of American States have developed Digital Human Rights, which seek to ensure the protection of Human Rights in digital life, taking into account the different approaches that this can mean, like gender. 

You can also read: 25N International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women: History and Why To March

How Has Legislation Been Legislated in Latin America?

Although there are laws against cyberbullying in several countries in the region, these are usually widespread and there are no regulations that have a gender focus. This is important not only because it distinguishes the difference between these types of violence, but also because it recognizes that violence against women also occurs in these spaces.

Argentina, a strong country in the feminist struggle, implemented in 2013 the crime of sexual cyberharassment in its Penal Code together with the creation of specialized prosecutor's offices for this. This year, the country's government unveiled the Mica Ortega Law – Grooming Prevention and Awareness. This was named in honor of the 12-year-old teenager Micaela Ortega, who was sexually abused and murdered after being tricked through social networks. This program seeks to prevent, raise awareness and create educational tools that allow digital spaces to be safe for women. 

Mexico also recently implemented reforms to its Federal Penal Code in order to recognize digital violence and the violation of sexual privacy with the non-consensual distribution of images. These reforms resonate with the Olimpia Law, named after the case of Olimpia Coral Melo, who in 2014 was the victim of cyberbullying when a sex video was released without her consent. So far, 28 of the 32 states in Mexico have made reforms to align with these laws. 

For its part, Chile is currently working on a bill to reform its Penal Code in order to classify digital violence as a crime. In Ecuador, progress was being made in the first steps for a bill that will penalize cyberbullying, still without a gender approach, but it was vetoed by the government because the penalties could curtail freedom of expression. 

In the case of Brazil, the laws around cyberbullying with a gender perspective are also limited to the dissemination of images, but the term “virtual rape” has already been used on two occasions to penalize two men. The first in 2017, which threatened a woman to send images with sexual content through digital media, and the second last year, which forced two minors to have sex in front of a camera. 

Recently, the Constitutional Court of Colombia asked the congress to start the processes to classify digital violence against women in order to prevent, repair, prohibit and penalize it.