Sunday, June 20

Cyberbullying, threats and fraud: digital violence is targeting women amid the pandemic

What began as a charitable gesture turned into a nightmare of fraud and identity theft. In February of last year, the poet Mónica Rodríguez Licea received a message from one of her Facebook contacts inviting her to a campaign against breast cancer. The supposed initiative, sponsored by a Spanish hospital, required photos with the participants’ naked torso, in return, the women would receive financial compensation that ranged from 8,000 to 12,000 pesos.

After an exchange of messages on Messenger between her friend, also a poet, Rodríguez Licea, agreed to participate in the campaign for what she had to add to her social network the supposed doctor and coordinator of the project. This woman assured him by message that the images would be used only for an internal hospital campaign. “What the supposed doctor told me is that with these photos the patients will regain their confidence in themselves, that they will regain their self-esteem,” says the 30-year-old victim.

Rodríguez Licea acknowledges that at first she doubted the initiative, but once again her friend assured her that it was an altruistic, reliable project, in which she herself had participated. What this artist from Jalisco could not guess is that behind those messages was not her colleague but a person who sought to impersonate her identity.

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After sending the photos, Rodríguez Licea received a form, a mechanism that was the gateway to steal his Facebook account and reveal the deception he was subjected to. “To what extent is my safety compromised? What did I just do? How could I fall?” were some of the recriminations that came to Monica’s mind when she realized that she had been the victim of a scam.

Added to the anxiety and stupor the next day was the confirmation of one of her greatest fears: just as the aggressors used her friend’s Facebook account to reach her, her account on this social network had already been used so that more people in your circle of friends will fall for the same deception. A loop that affected at least 30 women. Despite the fear, anger and initial shame, Rodríguez Licea determined to raise his voice and present his case to try to stop the escalation of deception. In less than a week, she managed to contact about 60 victims of the same modus operandi, aggrieved not only from Jalisco, but also from Mexico City, Puebla and Veracruz.

Screenshots of the messages received by the victims of the fraud through Facebook.
Screenshots of the messages received by the victims of the fraud through Facebook.

Although there are dozens of people affected only in Jalisco by this fraud, to date there is no progress in the investigation or any accused. “The authorities take the record, they comply with the protocols that they have to comply with, but they are not fully, the file is there, but nothing has happened, what I do not understand is what the objective of having a cyber police is,” reproaches the Jalisco artist.

Agneris Sampieri, a member of the Network in Defense of Digital Rights (R3D), points out that in the case of the collective deception to which Rodríguez Licea was subjected, three relevant factors were combined: the economic crisis derived from the pandemic, helping a charitable cause and that someone who is within your circle of friends is proposing it to you.

In a country where 10 women a day die at the hands of machismo, the increase in virtual violence against women is a reflection of violence that continues to escalate despite the health crisis, warn the spokesmen of feminist groups. The organization Luchadoras has identified that year after year digital aggressions have become more sophisticated. The transfer of daily activities to spaces such as Zoom or Classroom has resulted in parallel to a transfer of violence to these platforms. Practices like zoombombing —The infiltration of people outside the meeting who spread lewd, sexist or obscene content — and the dissemination of intimate images without consent have been on the rise during the health crisis.

“The number of complaints we have received in the first four months of this year is greater than the first six months of last year,” says Lulú V. Barrrera, the director of Luchadoras. In 2020 alone, this group received 470 cases of digital violence through its support line, of which 90% were women. In 36% of these incidents, Barrera details, the aggressor was a known person, while in the rest of the aggressions it was an unknown person or it was not possible to identify the attacker.

According to the report of this group Justice pending. The Limbo of Investigations on Digital Violence in Mexico reveals that in the last three years 2,143 investigation folders were opened in 18 states of the country for the crime of disseminating intimate images without consent. Of this total, 84% of the victims were women.

Until 2019, according to the most recent report on cyberbullying prepared by Inegi, 9.4 million women in the country revealed that they had been victims of this attack, mainly of sexual advances and proposals. However, the representatives of groups agree that this number is just the tip of an iceberg because most of those affected prefer not to report due to lack of advice, resources and for fear of being disqualified.

The activist Candy Rodríguez points out that in 2019 she attended a maximum of seven cases of digital violence, this last year she attended to 20 affected, however, all the victims decided not to file a complaint. “They do not report because there are no protocols, they do not know where to turn, they are afraid that they will be scolded, there is a re-victimization. Some of the cases we find even confront them with the people who attacked them and digital violence is not taken seriously, it is taken as a game between adolescents that they have to solve. Younger girls suffer a lot of violence, they suffer it in silence and they take a long time to speak about it, ”says Rodríguez, a member of the Acoso.Online platform.

In cases like Rodríguez Licea, who have dared to raise their voices, the feeling is bittersweet in the face of the frustration of continuing without justice and with the question of how many more women will continue to be victims of deception and threats. After months of therapy and withdrawal from social networks, she has returned, little by little to regain confidence in these types of platforms. “They have already tried to steal my identity, but they did not succeed because I do know who I am, I am not that strange shadow that goes and is hurting people, for me it was important to go back and take control of things,” concludes Rodríguez Licea .

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