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70% increase reported in cyber harassment cases

February 18, 2021

Islamabad : In 2020, Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) helpline for cyber harassment recorded a total of 3,298 cases, which is an increase of 70 per cent from the total for the year 2019.

For the past four years, DRF has run and operated its Cyber Harassment Helpline, providing its callers with legal aid, digital safety assistance, and mental health counseling. Year 2020 proved to be one of the most challenging and demanding years for the helpline, not only because of COVID-19 related lockdowns but because of a surge in cases of online violence and harassment. During the pandemic, DRF Cyber Harassment Helpline operated 24/7 from June to September 2020 to accommodate the unprecedented surge in calls and complaints.

Average calls received on the helpline per month for the past year were 212, with July being the busiest month, with a total of 697 cases being recorded, during just that month alone. Among the total calls, 33 per cent of cases were related to blackmailing and extortion, which often entails the use of an individual’s personal information, photos, or psychological manipulations to make threats and demands.

This was followed by 23 per cent of cases that had to do with hacking, be it social media accounts, or recently, social-engineered WhatsApp hacking. Province-wise call breakup shows that the highest number of cases were reported from Punjab (57 per cent) followed by Sindh (11 per cent), Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (4 per cent), Islamabad (4 per cent), Balochistan (2 per cent), and Kashmir (1 per cent) Kashmir.

In her statement, Nighat Dad, DRF’s Executive Director, said that the year 2020 was a difficult year for the helpline. “However, we found new and innovative ways to keep working, especially when we realized that as lockdowns grew, so did cyber harassment. I am also amazed at the bravery of the people who called on our helpline. These people are extremely brave for speaking up, and their efforts will hopefully break the cycle of violence in Pakistan.”