Earlier this year, a research report titled “Impact of Easy Accessibility of Internet Pornography and Its Relevance to Violence Against Women and Girls in Bangladesh” was released by the Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF). The research found that 82% of respondents believed that increased viewing of pornographic content led to an increased incidence of violence against women and girls. Research has indicated that the derogatory portrayal of women in pornography reinforces detrimental perceptions of “good” girls and “bad” girls, and the derogatory treatment of women shown in pornography is often replicated in real life. The research also revealed that although porn websites have been blocked in Bangladesh, there has been an increase in the production of local alternatives to porn content, which are widely distributed on popular platforms.
Bangladesh has put in place the Pornography Control Act 2012 which in its preamble identifies pornography as a cause of depreciation of social values and incidence of various types of offences. The 2012 law criminalizes the production of pornographic content; to enter into any agreement with any man, woman or child for the production of pornographic content; to force or induce any man, woman or child to participate in any pornographic content; to capture any image or video of men, women or children without their knowledge, for the purpose of producing pornography. The law also criminalizes the use of pornography to defame a person or extort money through coercion, and criminalizes the supply of pornographic material through digital media. However, the law does not contain any provision that can be used to remove or prevent the further dissemination of any pornographic content upon complaint by the victim. In Bangladesh, publishing intimate videos or images as a form of revenge is widely practiced; and under current law, such a practice can be sanctioned. However, further reproduction of this content cannot be restricted. Certain provisions of the Digital Security Act (DSA) of 2018 may also be relevant.
The DSA has provisions to punish the publication of false information to slander a person. It also penalizes the unauthorized collection or dissemination of identity information, which may be relevant when people are registered without their knowledge, or if information from their digital devices or social media accounts is disseminated without their knowledge. authorization, for the production or dissemination of pornographic content. The law defines “identity information” as “external, biological or physical information or any other information that, alone or in combination, can identify a person or system.” The DSA contains provisions that give the Director General of the Digital Security Agency the power to request the BTRC, under Article 8(1), to remove or block access to any information that interferes with the digital security. This may be interpreted broadly to cover the offenses described in the DSA, and may include the unauthorized distribution of intimate images or videos. Under Article 8(2), law enforcement may also request the BTRC, through the Director General of the Digital Security Agency, to remove/block access to any information that “hinders the solidarity, financial activities, security, defence, religious values or public discipline of the country or any part of it, or incites racial hostility and hatred” – the distribution of pornographic content clearly does not fall under any of these grounds.
Although the Pornography Control Act 2012 and the Digital Safety Act 2018 can be used to reprimand the production and distribution of pornographic content, neither of these laws fully reflects an understanding of how pornography can be linked to violence against women. For example, being forced to film pornographic material is penalized, but there is no provision in the law for the protection of the victim. Also, pornography can be linked to domestic violence, where a partner can be forced to perform certain derogatory sexual acts and be recorded. These are acts of sexual violence but are not properly addressed in the Pornography Control Act 2012. The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2010 broadly defines ‘sexual abuse’ as ‘any conduct of a sexual nature which abuses, humiliates, degrades or otherwise impairs the dignity of the victim’ which can cover such acts. However, the law only applies to partners in marriage. Even for victims within a marriage, the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2010 does not make sexual abuse an offense punishable by imprisonment or a fine and instead provides for certain orders of protection.The law is vastly underused and victims are unlikely to come forward with allegations of such abuse.
The taboo around discussing sexual abuse makes it much less likely that existing laws will be used to provide recourse for victims who have been abused/harmed by pornographic content. At the same time, a blanket ban on pornography without sufficiently integrating sex education into the education system would not be effective in curbing the demand for and distribution of pornographic material.