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Romania criminalises cyber harassment as a form of domestic violence

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Romania criminalises cyber harassment as a form of domestic violence
Copyright  FILE - Daniel Estrin/Copyright 2017 The Associated Press.
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Romania now recognises cyber harassment as a form of domestic violence, under a new legal amendment.

The new law, which came into effect on Thursday, amends the country’s 2003 legislation on domestic violence.

"This is a very important step in aligning our legislation to that of other EU member states," said Monica Statescu, a Romania lawyer who specialises in cybersecurity and intellectual property.

"It was very much a required change in this current climate of online activity, where people spend more time on social media."

Domestic violence will now include a provision specifically for "cybernetic violence" which intends to "shame, humble, scare, threat, or silence the victim".

This will include online threats or messages, or where a partner sends intimate graphic content without consent.

The law will also criminalise illegal access to communications and private data via computers, smartphones, or devices that can connect to the internet.

"In many cases, it's difficult to convince the authorities, or even the victims that this [harassment] is very serious," Statescu told Euronews.

"This is not just an exchange of messages, its actually a form of violence and is just as hurtful.

"It's much easier to threaten and harass someone when you are doing it in the comfort of your home, sometimes under the veil of anonymity."

The new law was signed by Romania's President, Klaus Iohannis, last week and follows a ruling against Romania by the European Court of Human Rights in February.

In the case, a woman had alleged that her former husband had accessed her Facebook profile and made copies of her private conversations, documents, and photographs.

But a Romanian court had dismissed her request to use the family computer as evidence, saying that this would be unconnected to the alleged threats and violent acts of her former husband.

However, the European Court ruled that Romania had “failed to take into consideration the various forms that domestic violence can take”, leading to the implementation of new provisions.

The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) has welcomed the legislation, adding that cyber harassment is a "serious and growing concern".

"The goal of offline and online violence is the same - to control women and suppress their existence in the public space, be it physical or digital," Jurgita Pečiūrienė, gender-based violence researcher with the EIGE, told Euronews.

The Institute says that across Europe, 77% of women who have experienced cyber harassment have also experienced sexual or physical violence from an intimate partner.

The new law in Romania also tasks the National Agency for Equality of Opportunity between Women and Men with promoting research in the field of artificial intelligence that would help prevent risks of "cybernetic violence".

But the law only applies to domestic violence cases and many in Romania are calling for the law to be broadened.

"This is just the first step in legislative reform," Monica Statescu told Euronews.

"Legislative authorities should enshrine the idea that cyber violence is also a form of violence, even if it occurs between people who don't know each other."

"This should also be a type of violence that should be regulated and sanctioned."

Click on the player above to watch Seana Davis' report in The Cube.