By Alyssa Bravo
Posted on November 5, 2021
TW: This article contains mentions of sexual violence.
Gender-based violence is an issue that has impacted people, disproportionately women, for generations. However, with the increase of technology and social media, gender-based violence has become pervasive online.
Cyberbullying, blackmail, cyber harassment and sexual harassment can be easily missed or overlooked when compared to offline, real-life encounters of the same nature. However, considering the negative impacts that online gender-based violence has on victims and their mental health, this issue needs to be frequently addressed.
According to an article published by Amnesty International, women who fell victim to violence and abuse on Twitter found themselves experiencing an increased amount of anxiety, a loss of self-confidence, insomnia and an overall feeling of disempowerment.
Non-consensual photo distribution
As social media remains prevalent in today’s society, women have been subjected to numerous types of online gender-based violence. This includes the distribution of non-consensual intimate images (NCII), better known as “revenge pornography” or “cyber rape.”
In 2014, the Canadian government authorized the criminalization of distributing intimate photos online. A report by Statistics Canada showed that cases jumped from 340 cases in 2015 to 1500 cases in 2018, and about 5000 cases in total in 2019. The same report also revealed that approximately 20 percent of police-reported incidents result in criminal charges.
Much like survivors of offline sexual violence, victims of NCII distribution are often vulnerable to criticism and victim-blaming.
According to a study published in the journal Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, victims of NCII distribution can experience a loss of “perceived or actual dignity and security” as well as “lowered respect from family and friends.” The study attributes these outcomes to victims being perceived as sexually promiscuous, which is deemed as “socially deviant.”
OnlyFans and online sex workers
Similar types of criticism are made towards female sex workers on online subscription platforms such as OnlyFans. Creators are slut-shamed and patronized for willingly expressing their sexuality in exchange for payment. This same behaviour is then used to target women who are victims of NCII distribution, though they did not consent to their images being distributed publicly.
Mikala Monsoon, who had fallen victim to NCII distribution, started a petition for social media companies to ensure consent before photos are posted.
“I used to keep very quiet about it, but now I’m a bit more empowered,” said Monsoon in an interview with The Guardian. “I refuse to be ashamed. People think it’s OK to say: ‘You shouldn’t have taken the pictures.’ Would you tell a rape victim she shouldn’t have worn a short skirt?”
GBV in other social media platforms
Unwanted gender-based violence is evident all over social media, such as on Twitter and Instagram, and more recently, on Twitch and TikTok. On Twitch, a male-dominated game-streaming service, female users have spoken out against the sexual violence they receive daily. In June 2020, streamer Jessica Richey, known by her username JessyQuil, compiled a spreadsheet detailing cases of sexual misconduct, harassment, and violence both female and male users have endured on Twitch.
The controversy led to Twitch permanently suspending the accounts of dozens of users for their involvement in the alleged cases. Eventually, in January 2021, the platform implemented an updated Hateful Conduct and Harassment Policy in an effort to protect female, racialized, and LGBTQ+ streamers.
What can we do to prevent online GBV?
The efforts of platforms such as Twitch and TikTok are only the first step in preventing gender-based violence from occurring online.
Journalist and gender digital safety specialist, Cecilia Mwende Maundu, suggested that raising public awareness of the online gender-based violence issue and its harmful nature can help to prevent its prevalence online.
“Online violence is a public health issue and the effects are very detrimental. It results in physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm, and erodes self-esteem,” Mwende Maundu said in an interview with UN Women. “People need to understand this is real; that it’s real violence with real impacts. And sometimes it moves from online to offline.”