As Bangladesh strives to actively participate in the globalized world shaped by information and communication technology, its pursuit of economic independence has led to a strong focus on the ICT industry. However, amidst this digital transformation, Bangladesh faces a grave challenge – the rise of cybercrimes, including non-consensual image sharing and video peddling. This article sheds light on the distressing reality of cyber violence against women in Bangladesh, with a particular focus on the malicious act of distributing intimate images without consent.Bangladesh has witnessed a rapid increase in cyber-related incidents in recent years, with the proliferation of internet usage and smartphone adoption. There were 66.94 million internet users in Bangladesh at the start of 2023, when internet penetration stood at 38.9 percent, also there were 43.25 million Facebook users in Bangladesh in early 2023, which accounted for 33.6% of its entire population(Kemp, 2023). Regrettably, young girls and women have become the primary targets of offensive and aggressive sexual advances, defamation, and harassment in cyberspace, often originating from anonymous or fake sources. In the context of non-consensual image sharing, malicious actors disseminate false and manipulated unclothed pictures of women, alongside spam, sex-act videos, rape threats, and indecent proposals, which have become disturbingly commonplace on social media platforms. Studies reveal that women in Bangladesh, particularly young women, bear the brunt of severe online abuse, often sexualized and violent in nature. As of December, 2017 the government’s Information and Communication Technology Division’s Cyber Help Desk has received more than 17,000 complaints, 70 percent of complainants were women(Cyber Violence Against Women: The Case of Bangladesh | GenderIT.org, n.d.).
Patterns of Cyber Violence:
Cybercriminals often record heinous acts of rape and use these videos and pictures to control and silence their victims. They continue to exploit and harm them by threatening to expose the material unless they submit to their demands. Another tactic is gaining the trust of victims, convincing them to have intimate encounters in places with hidden cameras. The recorded material is then used for blackmail, and sadly, these videos may end up on the internet, causing even more distress. Ex-partners, particularly ex-husbands and former lovers, also play a role in perpetuating cyber violence against women in Bangladesh. Seeking revenge, these individuals resort to posting intimate photographs and videos of their former partners online without their consent, intending to inflict emotional distress and harm their reputations.
Morphing, an insidious technique of seamlessly blending images or videos together using computer animation, is one of the most prevalent forms of cyber exploitation faced by women in Bangladesh. Perpetrators often resort to downloading girls’ pictures from various social websites, using either real or fake profiles, and then morphing them into explicit or compromising content. These manipulated images are then employed as tools of blackmail, threatening to expose the victims or their families if their demands are not met.
In the murky world of cyber pornography, women are objectified and exploited for perverse pleasure. Revenge porn, a particularly abhorrent form of cyber exploitation, involves the distribution of intimate or explicit content without the victim’s consent. Women in Bangladesh often fall victim to this vile act, with their private moments weaponized against them as a means of vengeance or control. The impact of revenge porn extends far beyond the virtual space, causing profound anguish, damaged relationships, and social stigma.
Insight from the Cyber Tribunal:
Nazrul Islam, the public prosecutor of the Cyber Tribunal, emphasizes that the majority of cases brought before the tribunal follow a similar disturbing narrative. Typically, a boy involved in a relationship with a girl records their private moments, only to later upload these explicit materials on social media platforms or pornographic sites. Alarming to note, many victims are unaware that they were being recorded, further adding to their trauma and shock when the private materials surface publicly.
The introduction of new Cybercrime Tribunals in various locations across Bangladesh is expected to bring relief to both justice seekers and the accused. Nazrul Islam also highlighted the challenges faced by the accused in finding suitable lawyers. In the past, when a case was filed in a location like Jessore and later transferred to Dhaka, the accused and their families were often unfamiliar with the capital city and struggled to find competent legal representation. With the introduction of the new Cybercrime Tribunals in different regions, Nazrul hopes that these cases can now be disposed of more efficiently.
The new tribunals aim to expedite the trial process and reduce the caseload burden on the Cybercrime Tribunal in Dhaka, which has been overwhelmed by thousands of cases in recent years. In 2021, 447 new cases were filed in just two months, averaging about five cases daily. Delays in delivering judgments were commonplace due to the logistical challenges faced by witnesses, complainants, and the accused, all of whom had to travel to Dhaka for hearings(Haque, 2021)
Legal and Institutional Challenges:
Though Bangladesh introduced the ‘ICT Act’ in 2006 (amended in 2013) to combat cybercrime and online harassment, its provisions are insufficient to address gender-based violence online effectively(Supan, 2015). The ‘Telecommunication Act 2001’ similarly lacks provisions to tackle cyber violence. The Pornography Control Act’s potential to combat cyber violence is hindered by institutional corruption and the influence of powerful individuals. Bangladesh established a ‘Cybercrime Tribunal’ to address cyber violence; however, it is reported that around 90 percent of online violence instances go unreported by victims, indicating significant gaps in reporting and accessing justice(Cyber Violence Against Women: The Case of Bangladesh | GenderIT.org, n.d.).
Awareness of our users:
In the digital age, the internet has become an integral part of our daily lives, allowing us to connect, communicate, and share content with ease. However, this technological advancement has also given rise to a concerning trend: non-consensual image sharing. Also known as “revenge porn” or “image-based abuse,” this malicious act involves the distribution of intimate or explicit images without the consent of the individuals involved. To combat this growing problem, it is crucial to raise awareness among users about the risks, consequences, and preventive measures associated with non-consensual image sharing.
Technological advancements have undoubtedly facilitated the sharing and dissemination of content, including intimate images. Social media platforms play a crucial role in both enabling and combating non-consensual image sharing. Here are relevant insights on Bangladeshi users cyber reporting data:
- According to a research study by ActionAid Bangladesh in 2022, a total of 63.51 percent of women respondents reported facing online violence, increasing from 50.19 percent the previous year. Women experienced abuse primarily on Facebook, followed by Messenger, Instagram, IMO, WhatsApp, and YouTube. The forms of harassment included cyberstalking, personal attacks, sending sexually explicit pictures and soliciting sexual favors, discrimination against women, making fake IDs, and making hateful and offensive sexual comments. Chart: Showing valid complaints at PCSW wing from Nov 2020-April 2022, Bangladesh.
- More than 73 percent of cybercrime victims in the country do not seek legal assistance, and that more than half of those who do find the support to be inadequate, as per a recently released report of the Cyber Crime Awareness Foundation. 
Given the pervasive nature of non-consensual image sharing, it is crucial to empower users with knowledge and resources to protect themselves and prevent such incidents. Here are some key aspects to focus on when raising user awareness:
- Open family discussions: The teaching of consent is utmost necessary in every household, whether it’s a boy or a girl. How relationships can be healthy and respectful- this is what we need to practice and instill as a core value as parents to our next generation. Also, Youths must get the confidence to share any personal issues with their family members- be it positive or negative. Parents and siblings are required to talk about cyber security awareness from an early age. They need to be supportive by voicing how it is not a victim’s fault or shame if his or her privacy is violated, rather they will be beside the person through any social pressure or legal process, whenever it’s needed.
- Education: Educational campaigns, both online and offline, can provide essential information about the legal implications, emotional impact, and preventive measures related to non-consensual image sharing. Schools, universities, and community organizations should collaborate to integrate this topic into their curriculum and awareness programs.
- Online Safety Guidelines: Social media platforms should emphasize the importance of consent and privacy to their users through easily accessible safety guidelines. These guidelines should offer practical advice on privacy settings, reporting mechanisms, and steps to take if one becomes a victim of non-consensual image sharing.
- Awareness in media reporting: We often see how a victim’s identity is more circulated in the media, whether it’s a media person or not instead of the culprit. Our media needs to be extremely sensitive about how to interview or report a victim. If not, legal actions need to be taken against such online and news portals who tend to take these opportunities to get popular.
- Mental Health Support: Victims of non-consensual image sharing often experience significant stigma and emotional distress. It is crucial to ensure the availability of mental health support services that are sensitive to the unique challenges faced by these individuals. The victims need to be assured of how their identity will be kept confidential throughout the process.
- Legal Support: Governments worldwide should enact and enforce legislation that specifically addresses non-consensual image sharing. Legal avenues should be accessible to victims, providing them with the means to seek justice and obtain protection orders against offenders.
Current laws and services available for the victims:
- Despite enacting several laws in the past decades to protect women and girls from violence and harassment, creating a safer space for women and girls is still a distant reality for Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, women and girls are facing these sexual harassment through offline and online. But many victims are not aware of the help available in these cases. Realizing our dream of “Digital Bangladesh, it is necessary to build safe cyberspace for everyone accessing it. On the other hand, many victims are not aware of the help available in these cases as:
- In case of any cyber crime or internet based complaint, first a general diary (GD) can be filed in the nearest police station or if there is a specific complaint, a statement can be filed under the relevant section of the Digital Security Act, 2018. If the concerned police station refuses to take up the case, a complaint can be filed in the Divisional Cyber Tribunal under jurisdiction. Complaints can even be made in writing to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC).
- A specialized branch of the police called the Police Cyber Support for Women also provides the necessary advice and legal assistance.
- The law enforcement agencies have recently undertaken several initiatives to tackle such offenses and have launched a hotline where victims can complain using the profile link or screenshots of the offender.
- Legal aid organizations like Ain o Shalish Kendra (ASK), Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), Bangladesh National Women Lawyers’ Association (BNWLA), etc. also provide assistance.
What to do immediately if my image is being used without my consent?
- You may file a complaint at your nearest police station. cognizable, the complaint will be lodged under Section 8(1) and 8(2) of the Pornography Control Act 2012, Section 29(1) of the Digital Security Act 2018.
- You may also get in touch with a lawyer, and your advocates at “I know, right” can be consulted and are just a click away (https://www.facebook.com/iknowrightbd/).
- You can also call the 999 National Emergency Helpline, which is a service under the surveillance of the Bangladesh police force. The 999 number is “toll free” and no fee is charged. 
Worldwide statistics on cyber crimes: To understand the magnitude of non-consensual image sharing, let’s explore some worldwide data and survey records that shed light on this pressing issue:
- Facebook, one of the largest social media platforms, reported removing 6.4 million pieces of content related to non-consensual image sharing in the first three months of 2021 alone.
- A survey conducted by the Data & Society Research Institute found that 1 in 25 Americans have had their explicit images shared without consent, and 70% of these incidents occurred through social media platforms.
- 41% of U.S. adults have personally experienced online harassment, and 25% have experienced more severe harassment. Majority say online harassment is a major problem; 41% have personally experienced this, with more than half of this group experiencing more severe behaviors.
- In India, the number of cyber-related crimes reported in 2018 was 208,456. In the first 2 months of 2022 alone, there were 212,485 cyber crimes, more than the entirety of 2018. The figures rose more sharply through the pandemic, with reported crime jumping from 394,499 cases in 2019 to 1,158,208 in 2020 and 1,402,809 in 2021. Between Q1 and Q2 2022, cyber crime across India increased by 15.3%. 
- The implementation of artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms by platforms such as Instagram and Twitter has helped detect and remove non-consensual image sharing content more efficiently. For instance, Twitter reported a 51% increase in account suspensions related to non-consensual nudity between 2019 and 2021.According to a study conducted by the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), nearly 10% of U.S. adults (approximately 21 million people) have been victims of revenge porn or know someone who has experienced it.
- A global survey conducted by NortonLifeLock found that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men have been victims of non-consensual image sharing, with the highest prevalence reported among young adults aged 18 to 29.
- A study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior revealed that 60% of revenge porn victims suffered significant emotional distress, including depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts.
- According to a report by the UK’s Revenge Porn Helpline, there was a 99% increase in reported incidents of non-consensual image sharing between 2015 and 2018.
- In March 2022, Nations of the world joined together to launch the “Global Partnership For Action On Gender-Based Online Harassment and Abuse” including The United States , Sweden, Denmark, Australia, The United Kingdom and the Republic of Korea, to work together to address technology-facilitated gender-based violence.
- Australia has a national law that criminalizes the use of a carriage service (such as the internet or a phone) to menace, harass or cause offense. It also has state laws that address cyberbullying, stalking and revenge pornography. The eSafety Commissioner is an independent statutory office that can help victims of online abuse by removing harmful content, issuing infringement notices or referring cases to the police.
YPF’s way forward regarding awareness build up and identifying the policy gaps:
- Through this article we are trying to identify the existing cyber security policies and
Limitations of existing cyber security policies.
- We are planning to write newspaper articles with our Expert Fellows.
- Host a webinar to discuss these pressing cyber security and users awareness issues with concerned authorities.
- Hold a dissemination session with our findings from this project and share with our youth & policymakers in our country.
- Awareness build up is a continuous process therefore we will be evaluating this project’s way forward every year to assess the gaps and recommendations.
Non-consensual image sharing is a deeply invasive and harmful act that affects individuals globally, regardless of age, gender, or background. The statistics and survey records presented in this article highlight the urgent need for user awareness regarding this issue. By educating users, promoting online safety guidelines, implementing legal measures, and providing mental health support, we can collectively work towards minimizing the occurrence of non-consensual image sharing and supporting its victims. Only through a combination of proactive efforts can we create a safer and more respectful online environment for all.
This article is written by Ramisa Nawar, Farhat Fatiha Chowdhury, Shanila Amrin, members of the Gender & Inclusion (G&I) Team . Supervised by Shakila Nahar & Saima Matin, Team Leads, G&I, Youth Policy Forum (YPF).
- Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI): Their website offers resources, research, and information on non-consensual image sharing and cyber harassment. https://www.cybercivilrights.org/
- NortonLifeLock: This cybersecurity company conducts surveys and research on various aspects of online safety, including non-consensual image sharing. Their reports can provide insights into the prevalence of the issue. https://www.nortonlifelock.com/
- Data & Society Research Institute: They conduct research on the social and cultural impact of emerging technologies. Their reports and publications often cover topics related to online privacy, digital rights, and online harassment. https://datasociety.net/
- Global Partnership to End Online Violence against Women Presents Opportunities For Tech and Government To Step Up , NDI, April 13, 2022
- The state of online harassment, Pew Research Center, January 13, 2021
- A naked law, Zaiba Tahyya, Mariha Zaman Khan, Tahsin Noor Salim, and Faran Md Aaraf, contributors at I Know Right.
- Let the Youth be free from cyber crime, Advocate Md Rayhan Ali, October 2022
- Whose job is to tackle Bangladesh’s growing cybercrime problem? Dipendronath Das, May 2023
- Why are cybercrimes going unpunished?
- The latest cyber crime statistics, July 2023
- Cyber violence against women: the case of Bangladesh | GenderIT.org. (n.d.). https://genderit.org/articles/cyber-violence-against-women-case-bangladesh
- Kemp, S. (2023). Digital 2023: Bangladesh — DataReportal – Global Digital Insights. DataReportal – Global Digital Insights. https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2023-bangladesh
- Supan, Q. M. (2015, May 19). CYBER CRIMES. The Daily Star. https://www.thedailystar.net/law-our-rights/cyber-crimes-70592
- Haque, N. T. (2021, March 31). 6 new Cybercrime Tribunals to be set up to ease case backlog. DhakaTribune. https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/242685/6-new-cybercrime-tribunals-to-be-set-up-to-ease
Featured Image Courtesy: Computer World