Kathmandu: Sunita Thapa (name changed) was 16 when she received rape threats. It started with accepting a friend request and getting a text message on Facebook. For her everything was going well until the harasser started asking intimate questions. His requests were for her to send him nude pictures and made her uncomfortable with questions about her intimate clothes.
But then he apologized and she let it go. But for her, things got out of hand when he pushed her to pick up his video call and showed his intimate parts. When Sunita responded negatively, his threats for her was to beat her up and rape her. He even threatened her to photoshop her face into a nude picture and make it online. She started getting threats from his friends too.
Thapa, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, is the subject of a new documentary, produced by Paradygm TV, a YouTube channel, which attempts to shed light on the problem of online harassment in Nepal.
Thapa’s problem was solved when she took advice from her teacher and she helped her to get out of this situation. But she was left with the trauma that scarred her for a very long time.
This is one incident among many others that has been happening to many people around the country. In 2021, in the span of 5 months starting from mid-July to mid-December, there were a total of 3906 complaints filed at the Cyber Bureau of Nepal, regarding online harassment.
Among these, 208 cases were of people below 18 years old, and 3482 were of people above 18 years old. Most of the victims of online harassment are unsurprisingly women.
SSP Bishnu Kumar K.C, the spokesperson for the Cyber Bureau, said that the reason behind the increasing complaints is that social media has become an even more vulnerable place for many people. “Many people with bad intentions find it easier to misuse social media platforms to manipulate and/or threaten people,” he said.
On the other hand, there are many cases that do not reach the authorities.
Ganesh Basnet, a sociologist, says that there are many reasons why people are reluctant to go to the authorities with their complaints, one of them being the patriarchal foundation we have been living on. “In the case of women, our society is one step ahead in blaming the victim, which is one major reason why people are not eager to make the issue public,” he said.
Furthermore, he added that in many cases, women themselves do not support other women who have been victimized. “This starts from the family itself when a mother asks her daughter to keep the issue quiet to save the family from embarrassment,” he said. This develops the concept that being harassed is demeaning to the victim, which compels them to suffer in silence.
This has a major effect on the harasser itself as they feel emboldened that the victim is incapable of defending herself. This itself is a major reason why many people do not fear the consequences of harassing an individual, and it affects a lot of people associated with the harasser.
‘Society plays a huge role in taking this action. If society backs down from blaming the victim, several people will be willing to come forward.’
For this to stop, firstly everyone must be willing to report or talk about these harassment cases. “Society plays a huge role in taking this action. If society backs down from blaming the victim, several people will be willing to come forward,” said Basnet.
In addition, people will also start fearing the consequences of harassing a person through social media, if people start reporting these incidents to the authorities.
But this is a gradual step to be taken, Basnet said. “It can start with telling close friends and family, because sometimes these issues of online harassment can be solved with the help and support of your close ones,” he said.