Panelists mentioned current resources struggle to tackle emerging issues. Photo: CC, Pexels.
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U of O experts discuss technology based gendered violence

On Oct.10, the Shirley E. Greenberg Chair for Women and the Legal Profession partnered with the University of Ottawa’s Centre for Law, Technology and Society to host a panel which delved into the unique barriers new technology presents to gendered violence.

The joint-speaker series, titled Feminist Responses to Tech Facilitated, Gendered Violence, explored digital security, privacy, and online harassment from a feminist viewpoint.

The panel consisted of three emerging feminist scholars from the University of Ottawa, Dillon Black, a PhD student in the department of criminology, Suzie Dunn, a PhD student and part-time professor in the Faculty of Law, and Anastasia Berwald, a PhD student in the Faculty of Law.

Black opened by saying that current resources and funding are not doing enough to address technology facilitated violence.

“We knew that survivors were coming to (victim services) with experiences unlike any other that we had ever seen before,” they said. “A lot of our technologies, unfortunately, are still from the 1990s, so trying to deal with some of the emerging issues actually is really really hard.”

Black identified emerging issues as instances of online harassment, hate speech, and the sharing of private information and intimate images. In addition, many applications store and offer data tracking or data collection.

“You can easily go on the Google store, you can download an application called Girlfriend Stalkerso the fact that all of these kind of companies are allowing these applications to be sold on their platforms is really problematic,” they explained.

Referring to the United Nations’ (UN) resolution to end gender-based violence, Dunn said decision makers need to be held accountable for change to occur.

A feminist analysis may inform lawmakers’ decisions, they said and referred to the criminalization of distributing non-consensual images in the criminal code. Dunn also pointed to legislation in Saskatchewan that places the onus on perpetrators to prove they received consent to share intimate images.

“Often the most accessible way to learn about these things is through art and media,” said Dunn referring to a documentary on technology facilitated violence, Netizens. “When you actually see these women’s faces and hear their stories and see their tearsit hits you in a way that makes it real.”

Berwald drew on her own experience, saying how her Instagram account was disabled after posting feminist content. They said a feminist analysis is needed to determine what hate speech is, and how to create safer spaces online, “because if not, we’re just going to have gender-blind rules and regulations that are going to be applied,” they said.

A challenge some survivors of technology-based violence face is that their cases are not seen as evidence-based, said Black.

“For those women who felt safe enough to report issues of technology facilitated violence to the police, they were laughed at,” they shared. “I’ve heard stories where people were told they were crazy; that they have mental health issues.”      

All three speakers concurred that instances of gendered violence have not increased but, that the barriers to addressing and preventing it have.

In closing, the panelists offered solutions to address technology-based violence. Berwald mentioned how people can hold social media organizations accountable for the information they share and restrict, Black suggested that users create their own personal technology and learn how algorithms work, and finally, Dunn said research, advocacy, and conversations are central to addressing technology facilitated violence in the future.

According to data from the UN one in three women experience violence in their lifetime.

For additional resources on technology facilitated violence visit the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women, BADASS, HeartMob, or the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative.


A previous version of this article misstated Dillon Black’s pronouns as “she/her.” The article has since been updated with their preferred pronouns. The Fulcrum apologizes for any harm that may have been caused by this oversight.