More needs to be done to provide victims of online crimes with adequate support and the right information
After someone posted his nude photo on Instagram, a fifteen year old boy from Belgium tried to have it removed. But his pleas to the administrator of the account to delete the photo fell on deaf ears and the police said they would look into the matter. In June this year, he killed himself.
"He never told us what he was going through; we had no idea. He must have felt ashamed. The worst part must have been the likes and reactions below the photo. His full name was revealed. Imagine what this feels like for a 15-year old. He must have thought he would never be able to remove the photo. He must have felt there was no end to this," his mother S. S. said.
Her heart-breaking video testimony was shown at the conference on Supporting Victims of Cybercrime, hosted last week in Brussels by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and organised by Victims Support Europe (VSE), Europe's leading umbrella organisation speaking out on behalf of victims of crime.
Held with the aim of raising awareness about the ways to better support and protect victims of online crimes, this partnership event also gathered representatives from the Commission and European Parliament, as well as from other victim support organisations and social media.
Addressing the conference on behalf of the EESC, the President of the Section of Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship, Pavel Trantina, said: "We continue to face challenges in providing support for victims across a wide range of circumstances and in ever-evolving circumstances and situations. The topic of cybercrime is of growing importance."
The EESC vows to continue working on this problem in the future, Mr Trantina said.
The EESC has already raised the issue of cybercrime in several of its opinions. It also produced an opinion on the Victims' Rights package in 2011 and worked closely with the VSE to help influence EU legislation on support for victims of crime. The directive on the protection of victims' rights came into force in all Member States in 2015.
The speakers at the conference agreed that tools were already in place to assist victims but that more needed to be done to help them be better informed and understand their rights.
"Victims need to be made aware what to do, how to do it and know that they are not alone,” said Levent Altan, executive director of VSE, adding that victims of online crimes should have a right to specialised support tailored to their own needs.
MEP Miriam Dalli said that victims needed to be given access to information about how to file a complaint and how to stand up for their rights, as well as about to whom they should speak if they fall prey to cybercriminals.
She warned against careless posting of private material online, maintaining that 6-12% of 9-15 year olds have already been cyberbullied in their life. She maintained that the new EU legislation on cybercrime should include a section on cybercrime victims.
Ms Ann Moulds, founder of Action against Stalking, fights for further harmonisation of laws against stalking and its recognition as a criminal offence, to prevent "stalkers falling through the net".
"Stalking is a psychological crime, a crime of mental rape," Ms Moulds says. Moreover, 34% of people who have been stalked have actually been physically or sexually assaulted.
It was also agreed that victims of online crime ran a great risk of re-victimisation after their images and hateful comments have been posted across the Internet, which left them feeling tremendous shame and guilt, to the point of being ashamed of reporting it to the police or seeking help.
And there are a number of valuable measures and initiatives that provide support and help.
As a focal point for fighting cybercrime, Europol has recently mounted a campaign against sexual coercion and extortion of children called "Say No!", with videos available in different languages.
In Germany, NGO JUUport extends help to young cybercrime victims, with volunteers aged between 15 and 21 offering free advice against cyberbullying, sexting, hate speech, fraud and other offences.
Recognising that cybercrime is a wide-reaching societal problem, the speakers at the conference agreed that it needed to be tackled in a comprehensive manner by joining efforts at all levels in both public and private sectors and across borders. Special emphasis was put on cooperation with social media companies.
Julie de Bailliencourt, Safety Policy Manager at Facebook, said her company had zero tolerance for hate speech, bullying, revenge porn and any predatory behaviour towards children. It had developed lots of tools for security, safety, privacy and reporting and the vast majority of complaints were reviewed within 24 hours.
"The right to be forgotten is here," de Bailliencourt said. "People need to understand that social platforms are also there to help. We have the means to remove the content. If you delete your Facebook profile, it will be deleted."
However, a lot remains to be done on the ground to make sure the right to be forgotten is granted to all.
In her video testimony, the mother of the Belgian boy said she was not even allowed to mourn her son, as another false Instagram account had been opened in his name shortly after his funeral.
"Somebody was pretending to be my son. It took me three weeks to have this account shut down. I kept getting those standardised messages which had nothing to do with our case."
"The police also said it was difficult for them to have the content quickly removed from social media – and for my son this would have made the world of difference," she said. "We can't make this that easy for bad people."