PH online searches on violence against women surge amid the pandemic, study says

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 3) — A study by an international group revealed that online searches related to violence against women in eight Asian countries, including the Philippines, increased from October 2019 to September 2020.

The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women partnered with UN Population Fund and analytics company Quilt.AI to look into the data from online searches and public posts in Asia “to identify trends of violence-related searches, as well as help-seeking behavior.” Aside from the Philippines, also part of the study were India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

The report published this month said increase in cases of domestic violence is “strongly manifested online, as search queries related to VAWG [violence against women and girls], including physical, sexual and psychological violence, all rose during the same period."

Searches specifically related to physical violence rose 63% in the Philippines, 55% in Nepal, and 47% in Malaysia during the said period, peaking during the implementation of strict community restriction. No data was provided for Asia as a whole.

It said some countries initially saw drops in their reported cases, but this may be due to inability of the victim to seek help during a lockdown, which took place in April for most countries. This later increased as governments slowly eased restrictions, it added.

The rise in online searches was also supported by the increase in help-seeking searches compared to the pre-pandemic period.

“Evidence shows help-seeking searches increased in all countries except for India and Indonesia,” the report read. It noted a 14% decline in such searches in India and a 1% drop in Indonesia. For most countries, this means victims are looking for information on what do when they are abused, or those close to them are searching for ways on how to help.

Malaysia had the highest increase with 70%, followed by Nepal (47%), and Thailand and Singapore (29%). For the Philippines, help-seeking searches increased by 10%. No data for Asia was also indicated.

The report noted that most searched keywords may imply increasing cases of abusive husbands or partners and sexual abuse. Searches related to various forms of violence also exhibited “sharp increase” between pre-pandemic and during the pandemic, it added.

Moreover, help needed by women differed by country despite increase in help-seeking behavior. Victims in most countries also do not see turning to their law as a way to help them, it added.

Online misogyny on the rise, but so is support for victims

The UN report also said all countries saw more instances of online misogyny during the pandemic, such as trolling, sexual harassment, and victim-blaming. Thailand and the Philippines topped the list with the biggest increase in number of tweets with misogynistic language.

Despite this, supporters used social media to express their frustration with the weak response of governments. Tweets of support for victims also increased, with Bangladesh and Thailand taking the first and second place. In the Philippines, there has a been a drop tweets supporting victims, with the study recording a -4% in the rate of change in support tweets.

Meanwhile, the study also said violence against the vulnerable is drawing attention, but not enough to address it.