Have you ever received unwelcomed images online or friend requests from fake identities? These are two of the most common online harms faced by Singaporeans, according to a study done by RySense* in collaboration with the Sunlight Alliance for Action (AfA) and the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) to understand the prevalence and landscape of digital harms in Singapore.

Prevalence of online harms among Singaporeans

Nearly 1 in 2 (47%) Singaporeans have experienced a form of harm in the online space. Among the different types of online harms, cyberstalking stands out as a threat that women are more vulnerable to compared to men (Figure 1).

*Based on a January 2022 survey of 1,049 Singapore residents from RySense’s proprietary online panel, HappyDot.sg, aged 15 and above, and representative of national population.

Women feel less safe online

Women were less likely to feel safe from harms in the digital space (Figure 2, 72% males vs 61% females). They also felt that they were more likely to be targeted by online harms due to their gender (Figure 3, 18% males vs 27% females). This higher perceived prevalence and vulnerability to online harms in women indicates a gap in digital safety, and that more should be done to ensure a safer digital environment for women in Singapore.

Women fear damage to their reputation if they take action

Our study also revealed the worrying trend that people are afraid to take action against online harms. Among the list of reasons we presented to our respondents, the top 3 they gave were thinking it would not make any difference (44%), not knowing what to do (43%) and not knowing the identity of the perpetrators (43%) (Figure 4).

Women especially felt that damage to personal reputation is more likely for female victims who choose to speak publicly about their experience than male victims (Figure 5). This finding reflects the anxiety and potential discrimination that women expect, if they speak publicly about their harassment experiences. Hence, more can be done to build a safe space for women to speak up against their perpetrators and to empower them to do so.

The road ahead

The threat of online harms towards women in Singapore is very real. While tackling the problem may involve a combination of approaches such as legislation, policies and education, it is essential that society be aware of the unhealthy stereotypes that women are subjected to and the need to combat them. As we work towards reinforcing a culture of safety and respect for women, hopefully in time to come, they will feel more equipped and empowered to navigate the online space with confidence.