FORUM: We need a comprehensive strategy to protect women from online harm now

The Straits Times published an edited version of a letter by SHE in its Forum page on 6th February 2024. The full text is reproduced here:

FORUM: We need a comprehensive strategy to protect women from online harm now

I refer to three separate stories: “More teens sexually exploited by online predators, many cases unreported: Lawyers and counsellors”; “No recent spike in tech-facilitated sexual harm, but AI poses concern for future: Women’s groups”; and Deepfake porn images of Swift spark outrage and calls for new laws”—all published coincidentally on January 28, 2024. They reflect how tech has not just delivered conveniences, but also created opportunities for the unscrupulous.

At SG Her Empowerment (SHE)—an independent non-profit organisation that strives to empower girls and women—we are deeply concerned about online harms, as young women are disproportionately the victims of certain types of tech-facilitated misconduct. We established SHECARES@SCWO, Singapore’s first support centre providing free counselling and legal assistance for targets of harmful online behaviour.

Malicious use of generative AI like deepfakes can cause serious harm, and the resulting reputational issues, distress and embarrassment can last a lifetime. Once deepfake images are out there, there is always a risk they may resurface and hamper a woman’s ability to find a partner, job, or seek out leadership roles.

Tackling these issues requires an innovative, collaborative, international and multi-faceted strategy.

In Singapore, encouraging steps have been taken, including the strengthening of the Code of Practice for Online Safety, the passage of the Online Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Act and the Online Criminal Harms Act, and the Infocomm Media Development Authority’s Model AI Governance Framework for Generative AI, which includes principles that can be applied to the use of deepfakes, focusing on ethical use and accountability. The MCI is seeking international feedback, and SHE will be submitting comments. We can also take inspiration from our Australian counterparts in setting up an independent e-safety commission to ensure a comprehensive and effective approach to the issues.

It is critical for stakeholders to work in partnership and align governance and regulatory frameworks. To support such work, SHE recently completed a Safeguarding Online Spaces Study that revealed worrying gender differences over attitudes to online activity and awareness of legal recourse. The study will be released on 8 February 2024 in conjunction with Safer Internet Day.

As more egregious abuses develop, we have urgent work to do, and we must all do it together.


CEO, SHE (SG Her Empowerment)