Report calls for bystander intervention laws to address online violence against women in Pacific

13 February 2023
Press release
South Pacific event on VAWG

A new report by the Commonwealth Secretariat calls on policymakers from Pacific countries to consider adopting laws requiring bystanders to report online violence against women and girls.

The report was released at a conference, hosted by the Commonwealth Secretariat in Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moresby from 7 to 9 February on building effective anti-cybercrime frameworks in the Pacific region.

Role of bystanders

Drawing on extensive research and expert analysis, the report finds that existing safety laws tend to focus on direct perpetrators and ignore the damaging role played by bystanders. It investigates the role and culpability of bystanders as co-perpetrators who participate in violent acts against women and girls in cyberspace.

The report reveals that laws in many Pacific countries do not require witnesses of online abuse to report it to the authorities. The report calls on countries to enact new legislation or amend existing statutes to legally require bystanders to take lawful action to combat such abuse.

In this regard, the report analyses the rationale behind such legislation, as well as guidance on navigating the challenges in its creation and the complexities in its enforcement, given the often anonymous and transnational nature of online abuse and its enablers.

Positive change

Speaking about the report, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, said:

“The report sends a clear message that online violence against women and girls is a pervasive global issue, which must not be ignored. We know that violence often happens with the tacit knowledge of others, and evidence shows us that when bystanders intervene, it can make a positive difference.

“We need a new culture, where violence is no longer tolerated and is called out and reported to ensure that the internet becomes a safer space for women and girls. Regulations which persuade bystanders to take proactive steps to report incidences of online harm will be an important tool in instilling that culture.”

The report calls for a multi-faceted approach towards ending online abuse against women and girls, including mandating companies to police their sites and incorporate safety features, including encouraging their users to report abuse to the authorities.

Cyber security

In parallel, governments are urged to systematically engage companies, including social media platforms, messaging services and file hosting platforms, and enforce stringent measures to ensure firms proactively tackle illegal activity on their services, both on the part of perpetrators and bystanders.

“Cyber security concerns and issues affect every sector of the society,” said Sir Gibuna Gibbs Salika KBE, Chief Justice of Papua New Guinea, in his opening remarks at the conference.

He added: “Conferences like this help us to come together as Pacific Islanders and share knowledge and network while improving our competency to do our jobs better in our roles within various jurisdictions.”

Practical solutions

At the conference, Dr Tawanda Hondora, Head of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Rule of Law Section, highlighted that devastating ransomware attacks against judges and justice systems are on the rise globally, including in the Pacific region.

He said: “The Commonwealth continues to support its member countries in the Pacific region in strengthening their anti-cybercrime frameworks. In addition to this report, the conference is a timely platform for judges and senior magistrates to discuss experiences of dealing with cybercrime in the region and identify practical solutions as well as multilateral mechanisms to address this issue in the region.”

The Commonwealth Secretariat’s Rule of Law Section delivered the conference and report with funding from the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

Speaking at the conference, the High Commissioner of the UK to Papua New Guinea, H.E. Keith Scott, said: “A global threat requires a global solution and the Commonwealth Cyber Declaration’s vision remains key. Countries need to turn the vision into reality.”

Download the full report


Media contact

  • Snober Abbasi Senior Communications Officer, Communications Division, Commonwealth Secretariat
  • T: +442077476168 | E-mail