As tech spreads, Myan­mar women be­come vic­tims of ‘re­venge porn’

The Myanmar Times - - News - EI CHERRY AUNG news­room@mm­times.com

LIKE many 20-year-olds in Myan­mar, Ma Yadana Kyaw Thu* has had a Face­book ac­count for sev­eral years to share her thoughts and pho­tos, and to stay in touch with friends.

But then, ear­lier this year, she started re­ceiv­ing dis­turb­ing phone calls from un­known men. Af­ter a while she re­alised some­one had cre­ated a fake Face­book ac­count in her name that pub­li­cised her phone num­ber and falsely claimed she was sell­ing sex.

Pan­icked and em­bar­rassed, she quickly changed her phone num­ber, while telling friends and fam­ily in Yangon’s Min­galar Taung Nyunt town­ship she lost her phone.

“My friends and I re­ported the abu­sive ac­count to Face­book, but I didn’t want to file a case at the po­lice sta­tion. If the court case lasts too long I would be ab­sent from work a lot,” Ma Yadana Kyaw Thu said. “Also, I don’t want my par­ents and rel­a­tives to know about this.”

She said she had no idea who was be­hind the abuse, adding that it took sev­eral months be­fore Face­book re­moved the fake ac­count.

Ma Khine Thu Zar, a 30-year-old mar­ried women from Tarmwe town­ship, re­called how she suf­fered ha­rass­ment af­ter she lost her mo­bile phone last year.

A man who found her phone tried to ex­tort K100,000 (about US$85) from her, threat­en­ing to oth­er­wise re­lease her pri­vate pic­tures on Face­book with her name and Pho­to­shop them to make her ap­pear nude.

Ma Khine Thu Zar tried to file a po­lice com­plaint but af­ter spend­ing a day wait­ing at the lo­cal sta­tion she re­alised po­lice were not go­ing to take any ac­tion. She was dis­traught for weeks un­til the threats stopped.

“I wor­ried that pho­tos would ap­pear on other web­sites, or that my hus­band would di­vorce me,” she told Myan­mar Now.

Women’s rights and tech-fo­cused ac­tivists say such on­line abuse cases are quickly be­com­ing more fre­quent af­ter in­ter­net and mo­bile phone use in­creased in Myan­mar in re­cent years, reach­ing 11 mil­lion in­ter­net users with 43 mil­lion SIM cards sold.

‘Re­venge porn’ abuse hits Myan­mar

Myan­mar’s ex­po­sure to the down­sides of so­cial me­dia net­works in­cludes hate speech, cy­ber-bul­ly­ing, sex­ual ha­rass­ment and, most re­cently, the unau­tho­rised on­line pub­li­ca­tion of in­ti­mate pho­tos and videos.

The lat­ter phe­nom­e­non – dubbed “re­venge porn” in West­ern coun­tries, where it has be­come a grow­ing prob­lem – has re­cently emerged in Myan­mar, said Daw Aye Thada Hla, a com­mu­ni­ca­tions co­or­di­na­tor of Myan­mar Gen­der Equal­ity Net­work.

She said a grow­ing num­ber of vic­tims of this abuse, mostly young women and girls, ex­pe­ri­ence its dev­as­tat­ing so­cial and psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact.

“Pri­vate video clips are found on so­cial net­works, but most of the vic­timised girls did not seek le­gal help,” Daw Aye Thada Hla said, adding that it was com­mon for the per­pe­tra­tor to try to ex­tort money.

Some­times pho­tos are taken by exboyfriends or stolen from de­vices, she said, while pic­tures are also shot of cou­ples’ in­ti­mate mo­ments in the park.

Ko Nay Phone Latt, an on­line ac­tivist and a Yangon Re­gion par­lia­ment mem­ber for the Na­tional League for Democ­racy, said the re­venge porn phe­nom­e­non ap­peared to be spread­ing.

“In the past it was only a prob­lem for celebri­ties, but now we heard it is hap­pen­ing to many nor­mal girls on Face­book,” he told Myan­mar Now.

Ma Ei Myat Noe Khin, pro­gram as­so­ciate of Phan­dee­yar, a Yangon-based or­gan­i­sa­tion for tech start-ups, said vic­tims of­ten felt stig­ma­tised in Myan­mar’s con­ser­va­tive so­ci­ety, even by other women.

“Some women put the blame for cy­ber abuse on the vic­tim,” she said.

Sex­ual vi­o­lence fac­ing women, such as rape and do­mes­tic abuse, is of­ten sur­rounded by a cul­ture of si­lence in Myan­mar, and vic­tims strug­gle to find jus­tice in a law en­force­ment and court sys­tem that is in­ef­fec­tive and cor­rupt.

Govt should raise aware­ness

Some urged the gov­ern­ment to work with NGOs to raise pub­lic aware­ness about on­line abuse and its pre­ven­tion, and toughen penal­ties for abuses.

MP Ko Nay Phone Latt said, “The Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion should run ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams on the ef­fec­tive and proper use of so­cial me­dia.”

Ma Ei Myat Noe Khin of Phan­dee­yar echoed his re­marks, say­ing, “Cy­ber abuses should be pre­vented through mea­sures im­prov­ing se­cu­rity and pri­vacy.”

Ko Yata­nar Htun, pro­gram co­or­di­na­tor of the Myan­mar ICT for De­vel­op­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tion (MIDO), said, “Few peo­ple un­der­stand cy­ber abuse and that in­ter­net tech­nol­ogy can be used in many ways, in­clud­ing the spread of false in­for­ma­tion on so­cial me­dia.”

MIDO runs cam­paigns against hate speech and anti-Mus­lim sen­ti­ment pro­pogated by Bud­dhist na­tion­al­ists in re­cent years. It also raises aware­ness about on­line abuses.

Ko Yata­nar Htun said it would help if vic­tims par­tic­i­pate in cam­paigns and pub­licly speak out to warn oth­ers against abuse and loss of pri­vate pho­tos.

Shin Thant, a net­work co­or­di­na­tor with Colours Rain­bow, which ad­vo­cates for les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der rights, said men’s con­ser­va­tive at­ti­tudes on women’s roles and sex­u­al­ity should also be ad­dressed.

Crim­i­nal pun­ish­ment?

Ac­cord­ing to MP Ko Nay Phone Latt, the gov­ern­ment could de­velop tougher laws against cy­ber abuse, and law en­force­ment should in­ves­ti­gate se­ri­ous cases.

Re­venge porn has be­come a pub­lic con­cern in many coun­tries in re­cent years, prompt­ing leg­is­la­tion that specif­i­cally crim­i­nalises non-con­sen­sual shar­ing of in­ti­mate pho­tos or video. In Asia, the Philip­pines gov­ern­ment passed the Anti-Photo and Video Voyeurism Act in 2009.

Ac­tivists said Myan­mar po­lice could take ac­tion un­der the 2013 Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion Law’s Ar­ti­cle 66(d), which sets a fine and prison term of up to three years for ex­tor­tion, threat­en­ing or de­fam­ing some­one “by us­ing any telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work”.

Crim­i­nal laws pun­ish­ing phys­i­cal and sex­ual abuse could also be amended to in­clude on­line abuse, Daw Aye Thada Hla of the Myan­mar Gen­der Equal­ity Net­work said. She added that the long-awaited Na­tional Pre­ven­tion of Vi­o­lence against Women bill in­cludes on­line abuse as an of­fence.

A po­lice of­fi­cer at the Tarmwe Town­ship Sta­tion in Yangon said po­lice were re­luc­tant to take ac­tion in cases of cy­ber abuse and need dis­trictlevel ap­proval to ac­cept a com­plaint due to a lack of IT knowl­edge in the force.

“We can’t ac­cept an of­fi­cial com­plaint on cy­ber abuse in the ab­sence of our po­lice of­fi­cer-in-charge,” said the po­lice of­fi­cer, who asked not to be named.

Hu­man rights lawyer U Robert Sann Aung said au­thor­i­ties only ever pros­e­cuted on­line of­fences deal­ing with theft of gov­ern­ment data or with so­cial me­dia posts al­legedly de­fam­ing the mil­i­tary or gov­ern­ment.

He added it would be hard for a civil­ian plain­tiff to know how to file dig­i­tal ev­i­dence of on­line abuse with the po­lice.

“Ac­tions are be­ing taken against only for na­tional-level cy­ber crimes at the mo­ment. I don’t know of any pros­e­cu­tion for cy­ber-re­lated com­plaints by or­di­nary peo­ple,” he said.

– Myan­mar Now *Some names in this ar­ti­cle were changed to pro­tect the iden­tity of abuse vic­tims.

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