Besides facing the devastation of war and suffering human casualties, Yemeni society is also grappling with another serious threat – online blackmailing of young girls.
Discussing the reasons behind the spread of this exploit, Nabilah Saeed, a Yemeni women’s rights advocate, told Anadolu Agency that there are many “overlapping” reasons that make girls vulnerable to online blackmailing.
“The most noticeable reason is the lack of digital literacy among young girls and using communication devices impulsively, which directly drags them into the hands of blackmailers easily,” she said.
Saeed noted that other reasons include girls’ insensitivity in sharing their personal photos or videos online, the absence of family control and poverty.
“Nowadays, more people turn to social media platforms for more socialization, but that is where more illegal practices begin,” she said.
“Poverty drags young girls into fake relationships,” Saeed said, adding that blackmailers promise their female targets work, money, or even marriage in exchange for their sexual photos. But once obtained, they threaten them to share their embarrassing photos publicly unless demands for money or further images are met.
According to Data Reportal, an online platform designed to provide data and insights about internet users worldwide, as of February 2022, the number of internet users in Yemen reached 8.24 million, of whom 3.5 million are active social media users, with 15.7% female users.
“The girls who do not accept or cannot afford to pay the required money are asked to share photos of their female friends and relatives, and those who refuse, their scandalous photos are published on social media networks,” she said.
“Feeling of insecurity, and fear of their family’s violent reaction, push girls to grant the blackmailers’ wishes,” he said.
Data Reportal states in its latest report published in February 2022 that the first two top Google searches in Yemen in 2021 are “Photos” and “Girls” respectively.
A Second Chance
Mokhtar Abdulmueez, a Yemeni activist fighting cybercrime, talked to Anadolu Agency about how he and his friends volunteered to tackle this problem and protect the victims.
In mid-2020, Abdulmueez started an initiative to fight online blackmailing and help victims to protect their privacy and dignity.
“I believe that we all deserve a second chance, and that is why I try to help the victims for free.”
“After receiving requests directly from the victims, I study the case and determine the most appropriate solution,” he said.
Most cases were resolved either by deleting the accounts of the blackmailers, or deleting photos and videos from their phones remotely, he said.
In other cases, with the help of people, Abdulmueez said that he managed to file official complaints against blackmailers, citing successful arrests.
Abdulmueez said girls are always blamed for being victims of this unlawful act, calling everyone to raise community awareness about this issue and start helping.
Over the last two years, Abdulmueez and his friends have helped around 4,000 female victims of cyber blackmailing, including some men too.
“Using my experience in the field of information security, I want to end the suffering of people, particularly the young girls,” he said.
‘Society Should Help’
“Unfortunately, society is not being very helpful in fighting this problem. Many people, men specifically, do not accept the idea of girls having the right to use their phones freely, especially with cameras,” Abdulmueez said.
He noted that some men believe that female victims of sexual blackmailing “deserve to be killed if their pictures are leaked to the internet.”
Sometimes the victims have to pay some money for the police to look into their cases, which is “another kind of blackmailing,” Abdulmueez said.
He also said that there is a case where “one girl was killed by her relatives because some scandalous photos of her were shared online.”
Abdulmueez believes that teaching young girls how to secure their phones and social media accounts properly can minimize the misuse of technology.
Saeed agrees that raising awareness among the community and social network users is the “first step” to solving this problem, through continuous programs that seek to reduce online blackmailing.
“Girls can be integrated into voluntary community projects that keep them busy and reduce their presence in cyberspace,” she suggested.
Saeed thinks that it is the responsibility of the guardians and family members to define a flexible policy that satisfies the need of their young girls but keeps them away from slipping into the hands of online blackmailers.