Today, West Coast LEAF released a new report entitled #CyberMisogyny: Using and Strengthening Canadian Legal Responses to Gendered Hate and Harassment Online.
Cyber misogyny is the term we use to describe sexualized bullying, harassment, and hate speech directed at women and girls online. While harassment and discrimination against women and girls are nothing new, the Internet has created new opportunities to perpetuate harassment and abuse widely and anonymously, and the law has been slow to respond. Lumping all these behaviours under the term ‘cyberbullying’ ignores the fact that women and girls, as well as LGBTQ communities and racial minorities, are disproportionately targeted by hate on the Internet, and it erases the sexism, racism, homophobia and transphobia often underlying the abuse.
We analyzed five common manifestations of cyber misogyny identified as most pressing by anti-violence organizations, youth-serving agencies, and students during our research:
- “revenge porn” (non-consensual sharing of intimate images, often by an ex-partner)
- non-consensual sharing of intimate images among youth
- child sexual exploitation
- gender-based hate speech online.
The report devotes a chapter to exploring each issue, using fictionalized and real-world examples, as well as research and statistics. We provide an overview of the current legal responses available to victims of these forms of cyber misogyny under criminal, civil, and human rights law, and make 35 recommendations for how Canadian and BC law and policy could be strengthened to better protect the equality rights of women, girls, and other vulnerable communities online.
Among our recommendations are:
- Pass the provisions of Bill C-13 (a bill currently being debated in Parliament) that criminalize the non-consensual distribution of intimate images and hate speech against women, and ensure transgender people are also protected.
- Enact provincial legislation to respond to cyberbullying, with a power for judges to make orders to protect victims from ongoing harassment.
- Create a legislated duty on principals, vice-principals, and teachers to take disciplinary action in cases of harassing, abusive, and misogynist behaviour they become aware of, even if it occurs off school property or outside school hours, when it has a negative impact on the maintenance of a positive school climate and students’ ability to feel safe and to learn at their school.
- Amend the child pornography laws so that children under 18 who create and share intimate images of themselves are exempt from their application.
- Ban the distribution and sale of keyloggers, “stalking apps” and other surveillance software used to invade the privacy of computer users.
New resources for youth
Young people told us that while they receive many warnings about the dangers of the Internet, they want to know what it would take for the Internet to be a safe space for everyone. We developed a legal information resource and a new workshop for youth to answer these questions. Our new youth materials recognize that the Internet and other technologies are important tools in youths’ lives to build relationships, stay connected and learn about the world around them. Our goals are to provide information to young people about their rights, clear up myths about what is legal and illegal behaviour online, and engage youth in thinking critically about how to keep the internet a safe and productive space for all.
Our work on this project exposed us to many tragic stories: the women and girls who committed suicide after months of online harassment and abuse; the women who lost jobs after sexualized images they had shared with a partner were circulated online without their consent; the women who were pushed out of online spaces by rape threats and constant harassment. We were also inspired and uplifted by the stories of women and girls fighting back, refusing to be silenced, and demanding accountability for actions that are only just starting to be recognized as the crimes they are.
We are grateful to the Law Foundation of British Columbia for their generous support for this project.