Beyond the Screen: Perceptions of Lawyers on Response Mechanisms for Cyber Sexual and Gender Based Violence in Sri Lanka

Home / Beyond the Screen: Perceptions of Lawyers on Response Mechanisms for Cyber Sexual and Gender Based Violence in Sri Lanka
February 22, 2024

The pervasive issue of Cyber Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (CSGBV) has emerged in Sri Lanka alongside the increase in digital penetration and internet accessibility. This study, conducted in 2023 as part of the project “Caught in the Web – Tackling Gendered Drivers of the Conflict and Exclusion in Cyberspace”, commissioned by Search for Common Ground Sri Lanka (SFCG), is aimed at assessing the perceptions and experiences of lawyers in Sri Lanka regarding existing response mechanisms relevant to CSGBV. This executive summary provides an overview of the research methodology and the key findings.


This study employed a ‘mixed methods’ approach, combining both quantitative and qualitative research methods, to provide a comprehensive understanding of lawyers’ perceptions of response mechanisms to address CSGBV. The quantitative survey reached 92 lawyers, although there were some challenges in achieving complete gender parity in the responses. The majority of respondents were from the Western Province, and age-wise, the study primarily represents perceptions of young lawyers. The qualitative aspect of the research aimed to provide a more nuanced understanding of lawyers’ perceptions of CSGBV response mechanisms. Data was collected through desk reviews, Key Person Interviews (KPIs) and Focus Group Discussions (FGDs). KPIs involved seven experts in the field, including civil society actors and senior lawyers. FGDs included a total of 9 participants, primarily based in Colombo.

The study reveals a diversity of understandings among Sri Lankan lawyers concerning Cyber Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (CSGBV).Those with limited experience in CSGBV cases tend to view it broadly as any form of violence occurring in online spaces, whereas more experienced lawyers recognise the intricate gendered aspects of the issue. Participants in the study acknowledged the correlation between offline and online Gender-Based Violence (GBV), and an overwhelming 83% of survey respondents agreed with this correlation. Furthermore, the research points to younger age groups being more susceptible to CSGBV. Lawyers also agreed that women and girls are at a higher risk of experiencing harassment, violence and hate speech on social media platforms when compared to their male counterparts, with 86% of
survey respondents in agreement. The study also emphasised that the LGBTQIA+ community faces significant harassment, violence and hate speech in digital spaces, a sentiment supported by 88% of survey respondents.

In terms of legal provisions, lawyers believe that existing laws can be applied to address CSGBV cases, although there is a divergence of opinions on the adequacy of these laws. The study highlights that 50% of survey respondents agree that the existing legal framework is sufficient to support victims of CSGBV but that it is not implemented efficiently. A substantial 86% of survey respondents concur that legal reforms are essential for effectively addressing CSGBV, while some lawyers interviewed cautioned against
the enactment of new laws that might infringe on freedom of expression. Notably, lawyers identified several limitations discouraging CSGBV victims/survivors from pursuing cases in court, including a lack of privacy, lengthy court procedures (87% of survey respondents agree), and various practical challenges. In terms of state response mechanisms, lawyers pointed out several challenges in the response to CSGBV cases by the Police and the Computer Crimes Investigation Division (CCID). These challenges include a lack of knowledge, capacity, resources and accessibility, as well as sensitivity in handling CSGBV cases. The study further reveals that patriarchal notions of gender roles and societal biases prevalent in the Police and CCID can lead to the revictimisation of victims of CSGBV.

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