June 8, 2018 / 10:20 AM / 16 days ago

UK's May urges web firms to protect women from 'vile' online abuse

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - British Prime Minister Theresa May will urge web companies to do more to protect women and girls from online abuse and human traffickers at a meeting of the Group of Seven rich nations in Canada, her office said on Friday.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in London, Britain, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville/Files

May will ask G7 leaders gathered in Charlevoix, Quebec, to press internet firms to ensure that women can go online without fear of rape threats, harassment, cyberstalking and blackmail.

“What is illegal offline is illegal online,” the Prime Minister said in a statement published by her office ahead of the meeting, which disclosed parts of her speech.

“Technology plays a crucial part in advancing gender equality and empowering women and girls, but these benefits are being undermined by vile forms of online violence, abuse and harassment.”

One in five women in Britain has suffered from online abuse or harassment, with 55 percent of those affected saying the experience led to anxiety, stress or panic attacks, according to research by the rights group Amnesty International.

More than 40 percent of women said social media giants Facebook and Twitter were inadequate in their response to the abuse, the study showed.

Internet firms should use the tools they employ to take down Islamist propaganda to also tackle content showing or promoting violence against women and girls, such as rape threats and violent pornography, May said.

New technologies and data analytics should also be deployed to identify and remove advertisements or websites linked to human trafficking, according to her statement.

Sexual exploitation accounts for about half of all cases of modern slavery in Britain, with gangs advertising many victims on adult service websites, according to the government.

From Britain and the United States to India and the Philippines, an increasing number of people are being trafficked online, often via social media and classified advertising websites such as Backpage.com, anti-slavery campaigners say.

Trafficking generates illegal profits of $150 billion a year globally, with about 40 million people trapped as slaves - mostly women and girls - in forced labour and forced marriages, according to anti-slavery groups.

Britain is considered a leader in global efforts to combat the crime. It passed the Modern Slavery Act in 2015 to crack down on traffickers, push businesses to check supply chains for forced labour, and protect people at risk of being enslaved.

Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Jared Ferrie. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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