Anti-Gender-Based Online Violence law pushed amid rise in sexually explicit groups on social media

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 6) — Followers of a social media platform exploiting women through sexually explicit photos may be as many as half a million, thus the urgent need to pass a law punishing online violence aganst women and children, a lawmaker said Thursday.

Senator Risa Hontiveros seeks to address the issue by calling for the passage of the Anti-Gender-Based Electronic Violence law, which penalizes violators up to 10 years in prison.

The law "will impose stiff penalties against people who exchange lewd and illicit photos of women and children on social media."

Hontiveros, who chairs the Senate Women, Family, and Gender Relations Committee, expressed alarm at the rise of so-called "Pastor Hokage" groups on Facebook and social media which objectify women through obscene images.

Netizens were outraged earlier this week over Esquire magazine's story titled "The Dark Side of Filipino Facebook," followed by "#HelltoHokage: An Updated List of pastor Sites to Report," which exposed the secret groups.

Many of the sites have since been taken down as netizens flagged them for violating Facebook's guidelines on content and posts.

The Anti-Gender-Based Electronic Violence Bill, or Senate Bill No. 1251, was filed by Hontiveros on November 22, 2016, but is still pending at the committee level.

It aims to hold those responsible for misogynistic and homophobic attacks on social media accountable through imprisonment between five to 10 years, and fines of ₱100,000 to ₱500,000.

"Harassing or threatening the victim through text messaging, posts in social media sites, or other cyber, electronic, or multimedia means" is punishable if it results in mental, emotional, or psychological distress, the bill says.

For the "Pastor Hokage" groups, "the maximum penalty should be applied given that these acts are repeated, involve multiple women at any given time, and may even be profited from."

"The online groups on Facebook have names such as the 'Pastor Hokage Bible Study,' with members who are mostly male. They use terms like 'Amen' to express their approval for obscene photos and sexist posts of women and children that are posted," Hontiveros said.

READ: How Facebook decides what violent and explicit content is allowed

She said her office is coordinating with Facebook, pro-women netizens, and the National Bureau of Investigation to conduct an investigation on the accounts behind the groups.

"These people have no right to enjoy our internet freedom only to abuse our women and children. We will not allow them to shame our young women, suppress their right to express themselves through social media and contribute to a culture of misogyny and hate. We will unmask all these misogynists, prosecute them to the full extent of the law and hold them accountable," Hontiveros said.

The term "Hokage," which is now equated to perverted men who hit on women, originated from a hit anime show, originally referring to the highest ninja in a specific town. Lewd and sneaky acts to make sexual advances on women are then called "ninja moves," hence, giving a sense of entitlement to the so-called "Hokages."

The senator also called for an end to the culture of misogyny and commodification of women in the country.

"Together with our campaign to make our streets and homes safe spaces for our women and children, we will do the same in the realm of social media," Hontiveros said.