All too often, online gender-based violence is perpetuated by those one knows intimately. Maria’s story illustrates the impact of this, and gives insight into measures that can be taken to protect women from their abusers, and the power of women working together to achieve change.
Maria is a 25-year-old university student, who grew up with her family in a low-income neighbourhood in Lima, Peru. She loves art, and has ambitions to one day be a well-known and respected reporter. To this end, she decided to go to university to pursue this dream.
In her first year of university, Maria met and started a relationship with Luis, a fellow student. After Maria ended their relationship, Luis began to threaten and harass Maria, hiding behind a series of fake email addresses and social media accounts in order to do so. He resorted to blackmail, threatening to publicly share intimate material they shared during their relationship if she refused to go back to him and rekindle their relationship.
Although this abuse took place in online spaces, the fear Maria felt started to impact her daily activities and behaviours. She became scared of him appearing in the same classes at university, and she began altering her movements to avoid bumping into him. Eventually, Maria decided to confide in a friend.
A united front
Fortunately for Maria, she was not alone, and within her Faculty at university there were many other women who were already calling on university authorities to address all forms of gender-based violence which occur on campus. The Women’s Assembly, a space which brings together feminist activists, had already started conversations and proposed solutions to create a safe safe for women on campus, free from harassment, to allow women to study and enjoy university life. Through her friend, who led the Assembly, Maria’s story was added to the evidence being gathered to illustrate the terrible impacts that gender-based violence,
both offline and online, can have on women, especially in an academic environment. At Maria’s university, this cause was further championed by a feminist professor, who could influence decison-makers.
With the help of this professor, and through the efforts of her fellow students, Maria’s concerns were heard, and taken seriously by university authorities. Although official university policy around sanctions for all forms of gender-based violence still need to be altered, measures were put in place to prevent Luis from enrolling in the same courses as Maria, allowing her to focus on her studies and future career.
The Assembly will continue to call on authorities to codify these measures in official policy, and offer other types of support, including legal and psychological assistance. These measures will remove the pressure from students who experience abuse and who, like Maria, have to make special arguments in order to be protected. But the future looks bright: the Assembly continues to grow, and stories like Maria’s show that simple solutions focusing on sanctioning the perpetrators of online gender-based violence can have real positive impact on their victims.