Survivors of internet grooming and exploitation have called on the Prime Minister to strengthen online safety law, claiming tech companies have ignored and overlooked the violence they face.
The group, which includes online safety activists whose names have been changed to protect their identities following abuse, has written to Rishi Sunak to reiterate the bill’s call for a binding code of conduct on violence against women and girls (VAWG).
Other signatories include former Love Island contestant Sharon Gaffka, TV presenter Charlie Webster and presenter and activist Natasha Devon.
Ms Gaffka has previously spoken of being the daily recipient of unwanted images, threats of sexual violence and misogynist abuse online.
The letter comes as a poll commissioned by the NSPCC found that the vast majority of people (79%) think the law should take specific measures to protect women and girls from violence and harmful content online .
The online YouGov poll of 2,031 adults indicates overwhelming public support for the campaign, the NSPCC said.
The bill, which aims to crack down on illegal and harmful content by imposing new legal requirements on big tech companies, is currently being debated in the House of Lords.
The letter to Mr Sunak describes online violence against women and girls as a “pervasive and growing threat” affecting too many people in the UK.
The signatories state: “While our experiences vary, we have all been ignored and overlooked by tech companies that have not taken seriously enough the violence experienced by women and girls online.
“Tech companies have failed to recognize the risks posed by their platforms, built systems that expose us to significant harm, and made us unsafe to report our abuse.
“They have never seen our perspective or experiences as something to learn from, listen to and respond to, but instead work independently from the women and girls who face violence on their platforms.”
A code of practice, they explained, would “guide online services in tackling violence against women using online violence and ensure that harm prevention is built into platforms”.
The group argues that “the specific risks women and girls face will remain unaddressed” unless companies are required to do so.
They added, “We need to be able to evaluate the steps companies are taking and hold them accountable to implement meaningful changes that provide better protection for their users.”
Anna Edmundson, NSPCC Policy Director, said: “There is no way to address violence against women and girls without addressing how online services are being used as platforms to use girls for harassment and abuse and boys with sexist abuse to radicalize ideology.
“The government has signaled its intention to equate violence against women and girls offline with terrorism and child abuse, but at the moment their online response is shockingly falling behind.”
As peers in the House of Lords understood the line-by-line scrutiny of the bill this week, a former Tory minister accused tech companies of behaving with “an air of extraordinary”.
Apple and Google app stores should have the same child safety obligations as corner shops, it has been argued, as Parliament heard the platforms allow teens to access adult products offering casual sex and gambling.
Lord Bethell said this is allowed even if the tech giants “firmly know” the user is a child.
Proposed changes to the draft law include requiring platforms involved in the distribution of online content to prepare risk assessments and then take any necessary action, such as: B. Age security checks to prevent children coming into contact with harmful material.
A government spokesman said: “We are committed to protecting women and girls online. The Online Safety Act will tackle child sexual exploitation and abuse and ensure tech companies meet their moral duty not to blind themselves and law enforcement to the unprecedented levels of exploitation taking place on their platforms.
“The bill also makes it a priority for tech platforms to take proactive action against the most harmful content that disproportionately affects women and girls — like revenge pornography and controlling or coercive behavior.”
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