Cyberviolence, a rising threat in the Digital Age

New handbook highlights the issue of cyberviolence in the SADC region


Vienna (Austria), 19 October 2022 – Even spouses have been implicated in online harassment, a growing form of intimate partner violence resulting from the spread of digital technologies.

This is the downside of technological advancement, which is meant to be an empowering tool. Information Communication Technologies were hailed for providing opportunities for the full enjoyment of human rights, including the empowerment of women. But they also opened new channels for the perpetuation of violence against women and children.

Among the most common forms of cyberviolence are romance scams, where women seeking love become pawns, swindled of large sums of money. Having maintained an online relationship - often for long periods - many are devastated when, on seeking to move the romance to the next level, they realize that it was all a sham. By then they would have lost money “helping out” their new “partners”.

The internet has also extended the realm of intimate partner violence to the virtual world, as social media provides opportunities for stalking and harassment. In addition, the anonymity and extensive reach of the Cyberspace has been a boon for sex offenders targeting children. It allows them to communicate and network with like-minded individuals with almost no restraint. Social media enables them to target or to groom their young, unsuspecting, victims. 

“Cyber Violence against women and girls is fast becoming a global challenge”, said Ms Brigitte Strobel-Shaw, Chief of the Corruption and Economic Crime Branch in Vienna, speaking at the official launch of a handbook on Cyber Violence against Women and Girls in Southern Africa.

Ms Strobel-Shaw was among the 160 people who participated in a hybrid event on the sidelines of the 11th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), organized by the Gender-based Violence Programme at the UNODC Regional Office in Southern Africa, in partnership with the Permanent Mission for South Africa in Austria.

The event, moderated by UNODCs Regional Representative for Southern Africa, Dr. Jane- Marie Ongolo, allowed participants to reflect on the challenges of implementing recently drafted cybercrime legislation in South Africa. Discussion extended to an overview of the standards and guidance for the region contained in the new SADC Gender-Based Violence Model Law.

Ms Linda Naidoo, Coordinator of the Gender-Based Violence Programme in the SADC Region, presented an overview of the handbook and provided details on the capacity building interventions that the programme has supported. The Regional Court President of the Limpopo Regional Court in South Africa, Jakkie Wessels, highlighted the gaps in the legislation on cyberviolence against women and girls in the SADC region, saying this resulted in challenges to “prosecute such cases, with few cases ever going to court.”

Advocate Doctor Mashabane, the Director General at South Africa’s Department of Justice and Correctional Services, emphasized that “laws must be kept at a pace ahead with emerging forms of violence”, adding: “South Africa has several forms of legislation that address cyberviolence or online gender-based violence, but we continuously review the relevance and impact.”

The Secretary General of the SADC Parliamentary Forum, Ms Boemo Sekgoma, applauded UNODC on the launch of the handbook, indicating that “such materials are of paramount importance since the force of the reality is that in the SADC region, knowledge on recourses to cyberviolence is still limited and inaccessible for the majority of the population.”

Ambassador Rapulane Molekane to the South African Permanent Mission in Vienna, spoke on the mainstreaming of gender in criminal justice initiatives while Advocate Imalwa, Namibia’s Prosecutor General, detailed initiatives and commended UNODC’s Gender-Based programme for the support it provided to the country over many years.

Messages of support came from the representatives of the governments of Ghana, Angola, Namibia, Canada and the United Kingdom. Further endorsements were received from Ambassador Faouzia Mebarki, Permanent Representative of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria and Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee to Elaborate a Comprehensive International Convention on Countering the Use of Information and Communications Technologies for Criminal Purposes, and Nana Nkansaa Asamoa, the First Secretary in the Embassy of Ghana. The side-event provided an opportunity for a conversation on the need to strengthen capacity, awareness and advocacy in cyberviolence, globally.


Photo 1: About 160 people participated at the side event at COP UNTOC


Photo 2: The event was well-received with several messages of support