No recent spike in tech-facilitated sexual harm, but AI poses concern for future: Women’s groups

The centre was launched in January 2023 by SHE and Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO) to help victims report online harms. It also offers free counselling support and legal clinics.

The most common types of online harms encountered by clients of the centre are cyber bullying, image-based sexual abuse, cyber stalking, and sexual harassment.

In one case, a woman faced harassment from her husband’s former mistress for two years.

The mistress stalked the victim on social media platforms, and subjected her to impersonation and doxxing.

Photos of the victim’s family were taken from her social media profile, edited crudely, and then uploaded online. The perpetrator also left unpleasant remarks on the social media profile of the school that the victim’s child was attending.

Victims often face more than one type of online harm, said SHE.

Based on SHE’s own research, the top harms encountered by Singaporeans are impersonation, cyber bullying, defamation, and image-based sexual abuse.

At Aware’s Sexual Assault Care Centre, half of the cases of unwanted sexual behaviour perpetrated through digital technology in 2022 were contact-based sexual violence, which is defined as explicit, coercive, and sexually harassing messages or comments on social media.

The centre received 179 technology-facilitated cases of sexual violence in 2022. Some 28 per cent occurred on messaging platforms such as Telegram and WhatsApp.

Social media platforms like Facebook and TikTok accounted for 19 per cent of all cases.

Those who sought support from the centre spanned a wide age range.

In cases where the victim’s ages were known, the bulk of them involved those between 18 and 34.

Those between 35 and 44 accounted for 13.4 per cent of all cases in 2022, while those under 18 accounted for 8 per cent. Four per cent of victims were over 45.

Almost eight in 10 perpetrators in the 179 cases were known to victims, with 29 per cent reporting that the perpetrator was an acquaintance, like a classmate or online friend. Another 27 per cent said it was an intimate partner or former partner.

Dating app contacts made up 17 per cent of perpetrators.

In one case at Aware’s centre, a man realised he had been “catfished”, or tricked, when he met someone from a dating app in person. The perpetrator appeared much older and different than his profile.

During the date, the perpetrator sexually harassed the victim and forced him to share graphic images of himself. When the victim declined future meet-ups, the perpetrator threatened to post the images online.

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