The government’s OnlineSafety Bill constitutes a “huge missed opportunity” to protect women and girls, campaigners have warned.
Charities argue the legislation, which is being introduced to parliament on Thursday after lengthy delays, must explicitly reference violence against women and girls given the high levels of abuse they face on social media.
Ruth Davison, chief executive of Refuge, the UK’s largest provider of shelters for domestic abuse victims, said the charity has tirelessly fought to influence the legislation – noting it “presented a much-needed and overdue opportunity to improve women and girls’ safety online”.
She added: “Sadly, the bill as it currently stands is a huge missed opportunity and our calls for violence against women and girls to be focused at the heart of this bill have not been heard, which is very disappointing.
“Our Unsocial Spaces report published last year showed the scale of abuse being committed against women and girls online and how, for too long, online spaces have been unregulated and unsafe for women and girls, with online abuse continuing to go unchecked. This has a huge impact on the everyday lives of women and girls.”
Research conducted by Refuge demonstrated more than one in three women living in the UK – which amounts to 11 million women – have been subjected to online abuse or harassment on social media or another online platform. While researchers discovered this surged to a whopping 62 per cent of young women.
Ms Davison said: “As it stands, Refuge has little confidence that this bill will offer the necessary protections for women and girls; despite our clear calls.”
The charity is not just urging the government to specifically reference violence against women and girls (VAWG) in the legislation but also roll out a “dedicated VAWG code of practice”, she said.
“The focus instead is on particular criminal offences, including the non-consensual sharing of intimate images or so-called ‘revenge porn’, stalking and harassment,” Ms Davison added.
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