A woman searching for love, like so many other women, turns to the plethora of dating sites and personal ads and meets a man online. You know the routine: a virtual connection forms, messages exchanged and a final, public place meeting to test the odds of fate. Once face to face, for whatever reason, she realizes she is not interested in taking the relationship further. The stars didn’t align. No spark. No harm done, right? Well, not to him. Apparently this was grounds for public humiliation. In retaliation against her disinterest, the man creates a website listing her as a prostitute with full contact information. After receiving propositions, through a Google self-search she stumbles upon the site. Stunned by what she’s found, she seeks help to remove the site only to learn that there are no laws in the Czech Republic to protect her or punish the site’s creator. There is absolutely nothing she can do.
Cyberbullying is the use of the internet and other forms of technology to harm others in a malicious, deliberate way. Sadly, this happens every day, and unfortunately, there is not much legal protection, in the Czech Republic and much of the rest of the world, for the victims.
Gail Whitmore, a certified counselor and crisis interventionist, moved to Prague from New York nearly 11 years ago. With over 20 years counseling experience, Gail has heard it all from victims of bullying, both online and off. I sat down with Gail to discuss cyberbullying in the Czech Republic and the One Billion Rising movement in Prague.
Gail explains, “cyberbullying is a tremendous problem, and depending on the level of expertise on the part of the aggressor, one’s identity can be smeared not only jeopardizing their reputation and their livelihood but also their life.
“Like most countries, women are not afforded a great deal of legal protection when it comes to any kind of sexual assault. In some cases, the claimant has to pay a monetary deposit to the court as a protection against abuse. If a woman chooses to file an injunction, she might achieve some level of protection within three days, but most likely she will require the help of an attorney, and that’s not always easy to find free of charge.”
In dozens of countries all over the world, people are bullied online, whether it is a few mean words on Facebook to a full-on “wreck their reputation” campaign. Many times, the abuse does not stay just online.
With the popularity of online dating and the threat of cyberbullying, it is imperative that people take into consideration a few tips for staying safe when searching for their soul mate. We all know the common tips: Don’t provide personal information, meet in a public place, etc. But Gail provided a few other tips to keep in mind.
Tips for Meeting People Online
I asked Gail if there were any tips she could offer to women meeting men online. Precautions? Safety tips? Lipstick color? (Not really that last one.) She was adamant about communicating, and I don’t disagree, that “the only one to blame in a bullying situation is the aggressor. It is never the victim’s fault.” However, in a more generalized situation Gail suggests “always listening to your gut when meeting new people.” This is typically a good indication of how you are responding to a new person and it’s a practice “people don’t do often enough.”
She also says, “Be cautious of those people who are too pushy about finding out personal information.” Someone constantly asking for your phone number and other personal details, although you are not providing it, is waving a huge red flag. Furthermore, if someone has found out personal information on their own, and perhaps shows up at your workplace, is not someone that is respecting the process of getting to know you online. This is definitely a good time to move on from this person.
Gail informs me that when a stalking behavior is evident, there is a law that protects victims in the Czech Republic. “Dangerous Pursuit” (Nebezpečné pronásledování) – According to Article 354 of the Penal Code. There are special provisions of the Civil Procedure Act (Civil Code) (Občanský soudní řád), namely Article 76b, which pertain to stalking-related abuse. If the perpetrator does not abide by the terms of this injunction, then he can be prosecuted by the police for non-compliance with law enforcement according to Article 337 of the Penal Code.”
Cyber-harassment is obviously not the only form of abuse reported on a daily basis. Domestic abuse, sexual assault, any form of gender-based violence and generally any unwelcome activity are all instances of crime. These can and should be reported to help rally against the aggressors.
Support and Help
Unfortunately, there are situations that require an external support system. Whether it be legal action or a fellowship of like-minded individuals gathering to lean on each other, there are some outlets in Prague that can provide just that. When abuse either online or off is experienced, these channels can be contacted:
Bílý kruh bezpečí / White Circle of Safety – primarily legal and psychological counseling for victims of domestic violence.
HollaBack! Czech / Ozvi se! – HollaBack! is a movement to end street harassment powered by a network of local activists around the world. They work together to ignite public conversations, and to develop innovative strategies to ensure equal access to public spaces. www.czech.ihollaback.org and www.ihollaback.org.
Gail Whitmore can be reached at 775 248 363 or Gail@CounselingInPrague.com
Stand Up Against Gender-Based Violence
Thanks to activists around the world, there are many organizations and groups that get together to speak out against gender-based violence. The fact that 1 in 3 women will be beaten or raped in her lifetime tells us there is much work to be done in order to bring awareness and an ending to this kind of abuse.
Gail, along with Jana Smiggels Kavková and Lindsay Taylor, has done something very special. Participating with V-Day, an organization to end violence and abuse against women and girls, Gail and her co-organizers have registered the Czech Republic as one of the 200 countries to “rise up to shake the earth through dance.” 2013 marks the 15-year anniversary for the V-Day organization and its creator, Eve Ensler, has declared this year the perfect time for One Billion Rising. Join the community at the steps of the National Museum on Valentines’s Day, February 14, at 16:30 to take part; visit the movement’s Facebook page for more information on the event.
I will be rising. Hope to see you there!