Children and young people in romantic relationships are vulnerable to cyberbullying, online threats, blackmail, sexual harassment and abuse, often endangering their mental health. Girls and other marginalised genders are the worst hit, according to data collected by a non-governmental organisation based on calls received on its helpline over the last six months.
The RATI (Rights. Action. Technology. Inclusion.) Foundation is based out of Mumbai and works to address the issue of violence against children and women, both in physical and online spaces. Its helpline for children facing danger and harm online is called ‘Meri Trustline’, and can be reached through a phone call or Whatsapp at 6363176363 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The helpline, which uses the hashtagged slogan #DaroNahiDialKaro (meaning, ‘Don’t be scared, just dial’), is available between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. from Monday to Friday.
“Children and young people who are in romantic relationships are at-risk and girls and other marginalized genders are most affected,” the Foundation said, in an analysis of the helpline’s data. “The risk turns to danger when they experience friction in the relationship and their partner uses exchanged content to harass, threaten and shame. Existing social power dynamics coupled with content are used to isolate and control the victim,” it added.
The helpline received 491 calls over the last six months, out of which 139 cases were registered. Most of the distress calls were made by girls with ages ranging between 16 and 25 years. There were 117 cases of cyberbullying, 31 cases of intimate content being shared without consent, and 16 cases of mental health issues due to online abuse.
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“Under cyberbullying, children were faced with threats of online consequences, denigration, harassment through sexually explicit content and doxxing [which is the practice of publicly exposing private or identifying information about someone, such as a physical address or employment details]. Three cases were reported from outside India,” the report said.
‘Asymmetry of data’
Most of the calls made to the helpline were about harmful situations on Instagram, Whatsapp, Facebook, Snapchat and Youtube. Apart from these top five reported platforms, others included apps such as Telegram, Starmaker, Justalk, Amino and Free Fire.
“Perpetrators in cases are mostly male. Most of them are in the same age group of the victim. There is an asymmetry of data between perpetrator and victim. The perpetrator has greater knowledge of the victim’s contacts, networks and even sensitive information like passwords while victims have little and even unreliable data on their perpetrators,” the report explained.
The helpline offers comprehensive interventions that range from flagging and taking down sensitive content that harms the child, psychosocial support, and legal support. It also aims to empower children and other stakeholders with information that promotes a safe and healthy internet experience, with guidance and referral support.
RATI’s website also has a QR code which will send an automatic email to the organisation once it is scanned. “Only share with us information that you feel comfortable sharing,” says the webpage for the helpline. “We will only ask you for information that we need to support you and help you through the issue you are facing online. We promise no preaching, no commanding and no imposing our opinion on you.”