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Real Life Implications of Cyber Violence

By Kaitlyn Neath
Canadians ages 18-34 spend an average of almost 5 hours per day online. That’s a lot of time – nearly 20% of a person’s life. Despite this, we still seem to have a problem discerning whether what happens on the internet is “real” or not. This is probably largely due to the fact that it is incredibly easy to fake just about anything online. A person can fabricate just about anything from fake news, to an entire persona.  But assuming the internet isn’t a real place can have very real and dangerous consequences for those who experience cyber violence. After all, we do a lot of real things online, like shopping, banking, and even forming romantic relationships. So why is it so hard to see online abuse as more than just words?

We’re starting to understand how emotional abuse can be more like “sticks and stones” and that words are in fact harmful. But unfortunately, when the harassment happens online, it’s difficult to navigate when victims aren’t taken seriously. It’s also not easy to figure out what we should be reporting, who we should be reporting to, and what we can do to make cyber violence stop.

What is Cyber Violence?

YWCA Canada uses the term “cyberviolence” to mean any harmful act carried out through networked technology. The term conveys the serious harm that these behaviours can do. It includes much of the online behaviour often described as “cyberbullying”: spreading rumours about someone, impersonating someone, spreading intimate or embarrassing images, and targeting someone with threats or sexist language. It can also include stalking or monitoring individuals, and it might be carried out by peers, friends, strangers, or romantic partners.”-

Who’s at Risk?

While anyone can become a target of cyber violence, gendered violence seems to be the most prevalent. Women are 27% more likely to become victims and their harasser are most often (61%) men. Women ages 18-24 are also more at risk and research suggests that up to 90 % of non-consensual pornography victims are women and the number of cases is rising.

Effects of Cyber Violence

We need to stop looking at cyber violence as something separate from the “real world.” Women and girls who have experienced sexual harassment, stalking or violence from an intimate partner ‘offline’ are also often victims of ‘online’ violence from the same person. Victims of cyberstalking suffer more fear and take more actions to protect themselves over time than those who are stalked in the physical world.

How to Report

Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear guide as to how to report online harassment and bullying. Many women find that their complaints aren’t taken seriously. It can be a difficult process to navigate and victims often end up deleting their social media accounts altogether. Many social platforms like Facebook, refuse to take responsibility for violence and harassment that takes place within their platform. So the onus is usually placed on victims to protect themselves. Reporting to Facebook is often ineffective, as the social media giant seems to have it’s own sexism problem.

Find a list of preventative measures you can take to prevent cyber violence and a reporting guide here.

Gendered harassment online is very real and prevalent within our communities. It’s time to add cyber violence to the broader conversation about violence against women.

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