16 Days of Activism: Chennai’s PCVC shines light on tech’s role in gender-based violence

In the global fight against gender-based violence, PCVC strongly advocates awareness of technology's impact, emphasising the urgent need for prompt action.

ByRoshne Balasubramanian

Published Dec 03, 2023 | 11:00 AMUpdatedDec 03, 2023 | 11:00 AM

PCVC is using this year’s 16 Days of Activism to educate people on how technology enables abuse, and solutions for safe usage of the Internet. (iStock)

Content Warning: This article contains references to gender-based violence, sextortion, and sexual abuse.

Envisioning a world devoid of technology has become increasingly challenging. Yet, within this technological advancement lies a shadowed realm. The burgeoning reliance on technology has birthed a darker aspect: the rise of technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV).

This troubling phenomenon stands as a pressing concern, exacerbating the preexisting issue of gender violence.

During the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence — an annual global campaign running from 25 November to 10 December — Chennai’s International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care (PCVC) has been utilising its platform to educate individuals about the role of technology in facilitating abuse.

Their primary focus has been on advocating for safe internet usage and responsible utilisation of smart technology, offering guidance on preventive measures.

In a conversation with Swetha Shankar, Senior Director of Programs, PCVC, South First explores more about the role of technology in instances of abuse.

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Q. Why has PCVC chosen to focus on the intersection of technology and gender-based violence for this year’s 16 Days of Activism campaign?

A. We’ve been closely examining how technology impacts women, particularly survivors of domestic violence. It’s always been a vital aspect of our safety planning and risk assessment. We’ve observed a prevalent pattern among survivors we reach out to. Many of them experience tracking through their social media accounts, as their partners often know their passwords.

Swetha Shankar. (Supplied)

Swetha Shankar. (Supplied)

Some survivors express that their partners have taken away their phones, leaving them without access to contact family or support networks. Often, the abuser is physically present when they try to communicate with others, creating a barrier to seeking help.

This aspect of our work has been ongoing for many years.

Q. How has the landscape of gender-based violence changed with the increasing integration of technology?

A. We’re noticing a growing number of young people reaching out to us with concerns about intimate images being shared online.

They might have met someone on a dating app or through other platforms. They’re coerced or blackmailed into engaging in sexual relationships, threatening to share these images if they refuse. This type of sextortion and blackmail victimises many young women.

These individuals are often young and afraid of their parents discovering their involvement in dating apps or their sexual activity.

This fear of social repercussions prevents them from seeking help. They worry about potentially severe consequences such as being taken away from their current living situation, forced into marriage, or facing other forms of familial or societal pressure. When they reach out to us, they’re scared and feel helpless, lacking guidance on what steps to take.

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Q. How do perpetrators use decade-old smart technology to facilitate gender-based violence?

A. We’ve encountered impersonation by abusive partners who create social media accounts in the victim’s name, adding friends and family who believe it’s a genuine profile. These accounts are then used to post nude images, further perpetuating the abuse.

This exploitation is not new and has been an ongoing concern. Even in the past with basic Nokia button phones, we’ve had cases where individuals were monitored through call records, fearing deletion would indicate wrongdoing.


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Technology has evolved, and now with online banking and various other digital platforms, the methods of abuse have expanded.

Technology-facilitated abuse is rarely isolated; it’s often interconnected with broader gender-based violence, such as dating abuse, intimate partner violence, or familial abuse.

Recently, our participation in a conference held by the Asian Network of Women’s Shelters highlighted the prevalence of technological abuse across Asia. We met with organisations working on gender-based violence to discuss emerging trends, interventions, legal frameworks, and advocacy strategies in their respective countries.

Our campaign’s focus is a culmination of these discussions and the multiplicity of challenges and issues we’ve encountered.

Also Read: TN’s Divya Manimaran, a DSO, is redefining gender roles

Q. You mentioned the surge in online abuse. Are these cases being reported as much as those happening offline? 

A. The reporting of all crimes tends to be low. It’s challenging to assert whether it’s lower than other crimes, but when it’s part of a pattern of abuses, such as with intimate partner violence, for instance, it might not stand out for survivors.

They often talk about violence as a whole, encompassing various forms of abuse. Some aspects, like denying access to technology or controlling its usage within the relationship, don’t always fall under any clear legal framework.

They might be experiencing domestic violence, yet there’s no designated space for reporting incidents like being denied access to a phone or having it taken away when the partner goes to work.

On the other hand, non-consensual sharing of images online, extortion, bullying, or scams are crimes and have reporting mechanisms.

Some people report such incidents, but not everyone we encounter chooses to report them. Some individuals utilise cybercrime reporting portals or approach cybercrime cells for help. However, there’s a need for heightened awareness and sensitisation in terms of how we respond to these cases.

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Q. How does societal judgement play a role?
A. Instant shaming or blaming individuals for sharing intimate images creates a barrier. Many young women fear societal judgment and are apprehensive about involving their families in situations where they’ve shared intimate images.

There’s still progress needed in changing attitudes and responding to these crimes while focusing on the actions of the perpetrator rather than shaming the survivor.


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There’s a prevalent fear of judgment and stigma attached to the idea of sharing intimate images, even within a relationship.

This stigma further complicates seeking support, especially if the relationship has become abusive.

Q. How can people recognise this sort of tech-facilitated abuse? What are the potential red flags?

A. It’s interesting that many people might not see asking for a password as violating privacy. Questions like, “Give me your password?” or “We need to log into each other’s accounts?” can be red flags in relationships.

In some relationships, sharing passwords might happen for reasons of convenience and trust, especially in a more established phase. But at the initial stages, these requests should prompt reflection on what constitutes building trust and what crosses boundaries.

When someone asks for a password and the response is “no,” observing their reaction is crucial.

If the person becomes defensive, accuses you of hiding something, or insists that sharing passwords is an expression of love and trust, it’s a concerning behaviour.

One person frequently subjects another to gaslighting, making them feel untrustworthy or unloving simply for desiring privacy or asserting personal boundaries.

Education plays a critical role in raising awareness about healthy boundaries and recognising early signs of manipulation or abuse, such as coercive behaviour related to technology in relationships.

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Q. Understanding healthy boundaries in relationships is crucial too…

A. Yes! Respecting one another, respecting boundaries, and communication are essential. In the initial stages, when boundaries break down, it might foster a false sense of trust, unfortunately.

16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence runs from 25 November to 10 December. (iStock)

16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence runs from 25 November to 10 December. (iStock)

Survivors frequently recount instances where they disclosed past traumas or personal details, only for their partners to subsequently exploit that information against them, compromising their emotional boundaries.

Establishing trust takes time. Conversations about sexual history, values, personal interests, finances, past relationships, family dynamics, and other important aspects help understand each other’s worldviews.

Yet, surprisingly, these discussions often take a backseat in our understanding of choosing a partner. These conversations should be central to our understanding before committing to a relationship.

For instance, many find themselves married and later discover significant differences in political beliefs. These conversations are crucial for healthy relationships, but sometimes they are overlooked.

Creating these discussions and avoiding secrecy in relationships is vital.

Also Read: NCRB 2021 data: Domestic violence against women on the rise

Q. Managing technology-related abuse within a marriage poses unique challenges. What steps can an individual take to navigate this situation effectively?

A. In marriages, dealing with tech-related abuse becomes more challenging. Survivors often face challenges when they confide in family and friends, receiving responses that normalise harmful behaviour within marriages.

There’s a societal narrative that you have to meet your partner’s needs, which perpetuates misconceptions about sexual relationships within marriages. There’s a lack of comprehensive sex education that focuses on pleasure, consent, and healthy sexual communication.

Unfortunately, the response they commonly receive is centred around conforming to marital expectations, where they’re told they must fulfil their partner’s needs because “this is how marriages work”.

Also Read: NCRB 2021 data: Domestic violence against women on the rise

Q. The discussions about sex seem to be lacking or missing entirely…

A. The narrative of sex continuously shrouded in mystery without proper sex education, suddenly thrusts individuals into unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations.

There’s a lack of dialogue, especially with young men. This absence of conversation about pleasure, how to communicate desires to a partner, and engaging in explorative experiences together, leaves both partners unsatisfied.

Men may feel entitled to sex, viewing marriage as an assured gateway to a legitimate sexual relationship.

There’s a crucial need to redefine discussions around sex and intimacy, moving away from the perspective that sex is solely something to guard against and abstain from or a subject shrouded in shame.

Conversations should focus more on pleasure, fulfilling relationships, and exploring intimacy in a meaningful way.

Q. What empowerment strategies does PCVC recommend for individuals to protect themselves?
A. We’ve long discussed safety and violence within communities, emphasising financial independence and self-sufficiency. Technology is also a means for survivors to safeguard themselves.

We educate survivors on staying safe, ensuring freedom alongside safety, and enabling them to make choices that uphold their autonomy.

Our work extends to raising awareness in educational institutions and corporate settings about the intersection of domestic violence, sexual awareness, and public spaces, highlighting how these issues intersect within those environments.

If you’re a victim of online harassment and need help, reach out to the Dhwani National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1800 102 7282.

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