Cyber-Violence Against Women & The Perpetrator’s Right to be Forgotten?

Maia Stevenson

Last February, I published a post on the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA)’s student-run blog, “Rights Watch”. The post covered and translated an original story from Radio-Canada about a young man who had pled guilty to the criminal offence of sharing an intimate image of others without their consent. The man received an absolute discharge, meaning that practically, the only legal consequence he suffered was a criminal record for one year.

Many of us, if not all, have been confronted with the variety of violence experienced by women and girls on the Internet. In my second week interning at the CCLA I had the opportunity to attend RightsCon, an international conference on human rights in the digital age. As I learned in more detail at a panel called “Global Perspectives on Technology Facilitated Violence Against Women and Girls”, cyber- or online-violence against women and girls is increasing across all continents, seemingly regardless of culture or development-status and it includes everything from persistent text messages, to threats from strangers on social media platforms, to the non-consensual distribution of intimate images and videos.

Intimate photo- or video-communication over the Internet is a recent but explosive trend, especially among young adults and teenagers, a population that is arguably the least equipped to deal with the psychological and social trauma associated with so-called “revenge porn” or blackmail that weaponizes privately shared intimate images. Stories like those of Canadians Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons abound: women and girls humiliated into depression by the non-consensual sharing or their intimate images, the “revenge porn” or “cyberbullying” of angry exes, casual flings, or online predators.[1]

While law-enforcement struggle to keep up with the “wild west” that is anonymous crime on the Internet, images involving girls and young women under 18-years of age are at least legally considered child pornography and hence illegal to create, possess, or distribute. However, until relatively recently it did not constitute a crime to non-consensually share an intimate image of a woman over 18 years of age.

A 2013 survey of adults (18-54) found that 1 in 10 ex-partners have threatened to expose intimate photos of their ex online, with 60% of the threats being carried out. Provincial and federal governments have responded to this gap in Canadian criminal and civil law and to increasing awareness of cyber-violence against women and girls with attempts to shine a light on this dark part of the Internet.

In 2015, Canada enacted its contested Bill C-13, the Protecting Canadians From Online Crime Act, which, among other things, criminalized the non-consensual sharing of intimate images. While to many it makes sense to criminalize harmful and invasive online behavior, others question whether criminalization will achieve the desired long-term cultural effects. How do we transform the “widely-held (if often implicit) attitude that people, particularly young women, who engage in sexual conduct have somehow degraded or diminished themselves and are therefore suitable subjects for mockery or humiliation”?[2]

In any case, criminalizing a behavior certainly sends a message. Under the criminal offence created in 2015, s.162.1 of the Criminal Code, every person who knowingly or recklessly publishes, distributes, transmits, sells, or makes available an intimate image of a person without their consent, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for up to five years.

The young man who was the focus of my February blog post had been found guilty of this offence, but he was not convicted. What followed publishing my blog post was also an interesting learning experience: I was contacted online by someone purporting to be a “family friend” of the accused and I was asked by this “friend” to remove the blog post. A quick Twitter search indicated that this person was a “designer of data privacy technologies”, a “data destruction expert”, and an “oyster-shucking champ”. I learned that this “friend” had also contacted a student reporter/opinion writer at the McGill Daily and asked her to take an article about the young man’s offences offline. Furthermore, since the Radio-Canada article, search engine results of this young man’s name mysteriously generate numerous “filler” websites that associate his name with vague and abstract mentions of community work, human rights, family, and peanut butter products.

The “right to be forgotten” or “data privacy”, were not rights I instinctually wanted to associate with the people who surreptitiously filmed their sexual encounters and shared the footage with their friends. I felt strongly that it was the subjects, not perpetrators, of this invasion of privacy who were the ones in need of “data destruction” services. In an ironic ending to my story, it was the man that had invaded the privacy of the young women he had filmed who was feeling the consequences of a lack of control over his online reputation.

Furthermore, while I believed in the accused or the offender’s right to move on from the stigma of crime, it seemed unfair that those who could afford to hire private “data destruction experts” would be able to move on with their lives more easily than those who could not. The Internet is a continually growing player in our professional and social reputations; being able to hide a past mistake from the online world is a huge benefit. But of course, this certainly isn’t the only privilege experienced by the accused with means.

I suppose this was all a more personal way for me to learn about what I knew theoretically to be true: that the story of “digital rights” and “online privacy” is not and will not be dominated solely by cyber-social-justice-warriors and the kinds of privacy advocates that want Facebook to stop listening to your conversations. And this probably isn’t a bad thing. Just like it isn’t a bad thing that police must properly obtain warrants to invade the privacy of child-predators and drug-traffickers by searching their Internet activity or text conversations.  Privacy will and should continue to feature on both sides of every debate, on the side of the child-predator, the consumer, the political dissenter, and those who themselves invade the privacy of others.



[1] Of course, as a study from Dalhousie University discusses, “cyberbullying”, including “revenge porn”, is rarely the only factor involved in suicides like Amanda Todd’s. However, this doesn’t deter from the reality that in-person bullying, mood disorders, and depression can be instigated and/or worsened by online bullying.

[2] Michael Plaxton, “Women deserve more than a revenge porn law”, The Globe and Mail (22 November 2013), online: <>.

Welcome to Denver, Daniel

I arrived in Denver chock full of enthusiasm yet weighed down by trepidation about the journey that I had just embarked on. This was no pedestrian trepidation, and though I had only felt it faintly in the first minutes of my new journey, I knew it was a living thing, an alive thing, festering on the smug air that I grasped to swallow. The trepidation was not the sort of constructed false positive stuff like that which I experience each time I arise to the callous siren of my 120 decibel Screaming Meanie alarm machine. I felt it when I felt it. I knew it was there when it was there. When I arrived in Denver, I was a 25-year old student alone, away from home, and lost in a small airport that somehow managed to seem so big I thought it had wrapped its arms around me. But those arms were not a measure of comfort, because I did not want arms wrapped around me. I was stuck. Or, at least, I felt stuck.

“You should have been prepared” is all I can remember hearing myself say to myself as I tried to come to grips with the reality that now in this time and place I had to somehow figure out what to do and where to go and how to get to where I needed to get to figure out where to go and get to. “You should have realized.” But I had not realized that when I got to Denver I was about to experience the effects of a transplantation from one world to another as if I was being sucked up like an inconspicuous water molecule floating in one test-tube only to be dropped into another in the same state. I never had that sort of realization. I refused to let myself think about it, and I think subconsciously, it was because I knew how hard it would be to become comfortable with the inevitable fact that I was leaving and would be estranged from home. So, I played little tricks on myself.

But those tricks came back to haunt me. Because while I could deal with a bit of trepidation, a hint of vivre avec, I never imagined preparing for psychological warfare. And even if I was not facing true warfare, it felt that way. I felt that way. The trepidation did not bother me until I had left the fabricated, stale air of the Air Canada passenger jet and my pores embraced the dry heat of the Denver International Airport. And I remember the trepidation growing as I moved along the flight-to-baggage procession. It grew when I stepped out of the plane wishing the francophone flight attendants “au revoir” and “bye-bye” only to realize that those French words were likely going to be my last time speaking the twang of un accent Québécois to which I had only recently become habituated for several months. It continued to grow when I marched through the industrial blue-carpet padded airport avoiding the pedestrian walkway because even without its gradual speed advantage I was walking so fast I had no need for a mobility solution of the sort airport planners design and implement for a living. And this trepidation of mine was no internal, subjective state. It had consumed me, filled my entrails, animating the muscle tendon like electrodes crossing over the chemical pathway to reaction.

It continued to grow when I considered, though only for a split second, that I would never find my bags because I had been walking and walking and I had absolutely no clue where I was headed. It continued to grow when suddenly I found myself in front of an inter-terminal station for an elevated passenger transit trolley only to realize that I was becoming, perhaps even had become, the archetypal frazzled passenger who seems so overtaken by the labyrinthine of the passenger airport that they might as well have stayed home. “Could I be that guy for the rest of my life?” It continued to grow when I boarded the inter-terminal transport and began ever so naturally to worry that a freak accident was about to take place, despite the comforting authoritative voice downloaded to the automated broadcast system of the transit carrier. It continued to grow when I reached my destination, read the flat-screen panels to verify which of the carousels could possibly or possibly not have my bags, and realized that I had to walk more. It continued to grow when I was the first person standing beside the carousel which had not yet started rolling along and I was naturally led to believe that I might actually be dreaming and maybe I did not make it on plane.

Believe me when I say that I was starting to feel queasy. At this point, I thought that I might have contracted a dormant strain of SARS, though I can’t say that I know anything about what it would feel like to have SARS. The mere thought that I was stuck in Denver with SARS caused a bit of an internal stir, and as a freshly molded law student, my only response was to recall the case of Williams v. Ontario, an extra-contractual obligations unit on the limits of state liability in which the government of Ontario was found not to be liable for its failure to prevent a SARS outbreak. My trepidation had grown, filling my entrails like a contagion. So much so that I thought I had become a contagion unto myself.

As I waited in trepidation for my bags to be released onto the carrousel, the end of the procession was in mind. I could contemplate what it would feel like to feel grounded, connected to and with my bags. They came. And I got them. In fact, I hurled my bags as if they had morphed into real humans en route to Denver and they were now drowning in deep ocean waters and there was no way to save them but to pull ferociously at them. Even if the common law refused to recognize it, I felt the rescuer’s obligation to save these bags from drowning. At the time, it seemed heroic, but it was only heroic because I was tripped up on trepidation. It was only heroic until I realized that I now stood beside the carousel bags in hand with no clue what was to come next. And my reaction to the incertitude was not much of a reaction because I had already reached an emotional zenith of sorts. Trepidation, like all emotions, is subject to the law of diminishing returns. It was no longer possible to break out from the state of mind that I had been worked into.

Then came the final act, the moment of pure tragedy, the maraschino cherry to fit uncomfortably on my hot mess of a Saturday sundae. The moment which should have been but never ended up being cathartic occurred when my telecom provider Videotron, aware of a nascent business opportunity, offered an ever so gentle reminder that either I purchase a traveler’s package, a comfortable supplement to an already outrageous monthly charge, or submit to unconscionable fees. “Welcome to Denver, Daniel.” Though I can’t remember exactly what the text-message said, I know exactly how I interpreted it: Quebecor faces a challenging competitive environment in an otherwise captive, slow-growth telecom market. Nevertheless, its shareholders lust for opportunities to augment Annual Revenue Per Unit (ARPU). Selling foreign phone services purchased at wholesale prices from American carriers is revenue generative because the cost of wholesale services is less than the fees they generate. So, thank you for travelling to Denver and turning on your phone.” I bought the package and made a call. The whole fiasco of a morning was captured in the four words my father spit out when I called to let him know that I had arrived at my destination and I was doing damn fine and super dandy: “you’re not in Denver.” And, no, this sentence, the first out of his mouth, did not end with a gentle influx as if to pose a question, even one ever so slight, rather than make a statement of indisputable, scientific truth. He never even asked me the question, because he was so sure his son was stewing in the Air Canada complaints lounge at YUL, seeking a way to avoid telling his host company that he had missed his flight, which I most certainly would have been doing, he sure knows me well, had I missed the trip.

It has been over two weeks since I arrived in Colorado, and I am happy to report that I have overcome the fear and anxiety that first confronted me when I realized I had moved away from home and was stuck in a small Colorado town for months on end. In the present moment, I remember my trepidation like it was a faint blur in the rear-view mirror of a cheap rented sedan. It is possible that I have merely caught the unhurried vibe of Boulder life. I have certainly lost all awareness of the rush and mania of law school. The memories of first-year law school have been overshadowed by a deep appreciation for what I have now come to realize I learned as a first-year law student. Each day at work, I am overwhelmed by the insight that my legal education has provided me. My current work project investigating allegations of abuse by private military and private security contractors has been at once a conduit for understanding how the law applies and is applied to human rights. Most importantly, it has surpassed my expectations. Engaging and fascinating do not come close to describing the experience.

Now and again, when I crawl out from the comfortable and ergonomic cubicle of an office territory that bears my name and lurch over to the Foundation’s chocolate bowl in search of a caloric boost, a cultivation process that I have come to treat as if it were a mandatory and hourly ritual, I catch myself smirking at the very idea that there are people who get paid a salary to read, write, think, and research about interesting things, which is essentially how I define my work. Since day one, I have been trying to make sense of the fact that this type of labour time could ever give rise to alienation or be compensated for. I can’t make sense of it and I have yet to understand it. I could never have imagined that the work I do would be considered “work.”

So as I reflect on the dynamic range of emotions that have guided me to my current experience, I can’t help but chuckle at how stressed I had been when I arrived in Denver and how freaked out I was to confront the unknown. At the very least, my experience proves that not all exciting things begin with frolicking and cheer. Trepidatious though it may have been to get here, the trepidation was not in vain. Welcome to Denver, Daniel.

La patience est un art et une vertu.

Tunis en fleur.

Alix Genier

Il y a quelque chose d’étrangement rassurant de savoir que l’on s’attable avec presque l’entièreté d’un pays. Il est 19h14 et c’est mon premier souper seule depuis que je suis arrivée en Tunisie il y a maintenant deux semaines. Mon repas est prêt : une salade simple sans trop d’épices, un petit goût de la maison. Mais pourtant je m’abstiendrai de l’entamer avant le coucher du soleil. J’aurai le signal de départ lorsque la petite rue de mon appartement deviendra silencieuse : les enfants qui y jouent de tôt le matin à tard le soir seront rentrés avec leur famille, le son de la prière annonçant la rupture du jeûne aura retenti dans tout le quartier et j’entendrai les ustensiles des maisons voisines tintés. Le silence de la rupture du jeûne. Même si ce Dieu n’est pas le miens, il est celui de mes amis et de ceux qui seront ma famille pour les trois prochains mois.

Le Ramadan est une période de découverte pour moi : découverte d’un pays aux gens généreux et accueillants, découverte de paysages grandioses, découverte d’un soleil chaud qui nous pousse à la sieste d’après-midi, découverte des soirées vivantes. À cause du repos forcé sur la vie des gens, j’ai exploré mon quartier, ma ville et j’ai visité la campagne tunisienne. Par un besoin d’occuper mon corps et mon esprit trop habitués au rythme de vie nord-américain, je me suis retrouvée sur une ferme où j’y ai fait la rencontre d’une famille extraordinaire. Lentement, c’est un mode de vie que je découvre.

Au courant d’une balade nocturne avec ma colocataire tunisienne, elle m’a demandé ce qu’il y avait de différent ici. J’ai répondu le papier de toilette de couleur, la hauteur de marche qui est inégale, le flexible (il me fera plaisir de détailler l’utilisation du flexible dans une conversation personnelle), les coqs qui chantent à toute heure du jour et de la nuit, la beauté des bougainvilliers et la chaleur des gens. Si on ne m’a pas souhaité la bienvenue 150 fois depuis mon arrivée, c’est qu’on ne me l’a pas souhaitée une seule fois. Des gens accueillants qui possèdent une force intérieure, une combativité et un espoir profond que demain sera meilleur. La plupart des gens avec qui j’ai discuté sont déçus de la tournure des choses depuis la Révolution de Jasmin de 2011 : le taux de chômage demeure toujours élevé (12,4% chez les hommes et 22,7% chez les femmes en 2018), le coût de la vie est encore trop haut pour le salaire moyen et la nouvelle classe politique reste au service de l’élite qui s’est mise en place suite à la Révolution. Bref, c’est « bonnet blanc, blanc bonnet » comme dirait ma grand-mère. Malgré tout, les gens ont espoir que les choses changeront, que la Tunisie peut retourner à ces heures de gloire, qu’elle a toujours ce potentiel énorme. Beaucoup de gens m’ont confié avoir pensé à émigrer au Canada, mais leur patriotisme, leurs racines profondément ancrées et la vie douce et chaude de la Tunisie les a gardés ici. J’admire beaucoup cette flamme qui brulent au creux de l’âme des Tunisiens et des Tunisiennes, cette flamme que nous avons perdue par chez nous. Désillusionnés et abattus, nous sommes amers. Une autre différence entre ici et le Canada est la patience : les gens ici ont compris que cette belle Tunisie est le résultat de plusieurs ères, de plusieurs peuples et de plusieurs projets. La Tunisie n’est pas pressée, elle a tout son temps. À l’image des gens qui l’habitent.

Le Ramadan est pour les Tunisiens et Tunisiennes un exercice de patience, de foi, d’humilité et de confiance. C’est un mode de vie. Même si tous et toutes ne sont pas croyants ou pratiquants, ces valeurs sont, de mon œil d’observatrice encore lointain, le reflet de la philosophie d’un grand peuple.

Les conversations font de nouveau écho dans la rue. Les gens ont terminé de manger chorba(soupe aux tomates et à l’orge), salade méchouia(salade de piments et de tomates grillés et écrasés), briks(pâte phyllo frite farcie d’œuf, de fromage, de persil, de thon ou de viande) et tajines (ressemblant plus à une omelette espagnole qu’à son pendant marocain). Certaines familles auront peut-être sorti quelques petits gâteaux, avant-goût de l’Aïd qui aura lieu dans quelques jours. Quant à moi, mon souper terminé, j’irai rejoindre des amis à la Médina (incroyablement animée en soirée durant ce mois de Ramadan) pour siroter un fameux kahwa arbi, si délicieux et si imprononçable!

Coucher de soleil sur la plage de El Haouaria.

First weeks at OEF: the ambiguity and appeal of terrorism

By: Léa Carresse

The film “Carlos”, making terrorism look good since 2010 (or 1970, depending on how you see it)

Researching 1968 onward in West Germany for my undergraduate degree brought to my attention the ambiguity of the terms “terrorism”, “terrorist” and “terrorist activity”. I never really thought about it before, my knowledge restricted to 9/11. In the 2018 Western world, it almost goes without saying what, unfortunately, the stereotypical terrorist profile looks like: Muslim, brown, probably of North African or Middle Eastern descent, predominantly young and male, often single, former petty criminal, targeting civilians. Cause: “religious extremism”. Forty years ago, in West Germany, your terrorist profile was the following: Christian, white, “urdeutsch” (the Nazi term for “ethnically pure” German), predominantly young and female, often married with middle-class or wealthy backgrounds, well-educated, attempting to exclusively target West German State officials, businessmen and the US military. Cause: “radical left-wing ideology”. The plasticity of the terrorist profile, of terrorist activity and of the terms used, is brought further to light in my work at OEF.

As an intern in the Stable Seas project, my work so far has concentrated on maritime security in sub-Saharan Africa and, because the project is expanding, to North Africa, in the countries of Mauritania, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Libya, among others. The areas of maritime security that I focussed on include researching those of illicit trade (including arms, drugs and wildlife trafficking, but also that of cigarettes, oil, cosmetics, foodstuffs and more…), piracy and armed robbery and Yemeni terrorism as embodied by the Houthi rebels, AQAP and ISIS.

Through my time at OEF thus far, I discovered that concepts of criminality, instability, terrorism and general conflict are even messier than I previously imagined. There is no international or common legal definition of terrorism, though some domestic criminal codes, such as the 1995 Australian Criminal Code, and international treaties or organisations will attempt to include examples of terrorist activities as an effort to define terrorism. These include hostage-taking and hijacking. But how then would that be different from piracy and armed robbery at sea, for example, where those very same methods are employed? An answer would be that a terrorist’s goal is primarily political, while criminal activity at sea, particularly in underdeveloped regions with limited or no economic opportunity, is centered on financial gain. That answer doesn’t take us very far, however. How do you define political? How far can “religious extremism”  be termed as “political”? And what about the existence of a crime-terror nexus, where terrorist groups will financially invest in and benefit from certain organised crime groups? An example is the trafficking of Libyan antiquities by ISIS to the Italian mafia, or the Italian mafia adopting “terror” tactics to protest against the anti-mafia drive in Italy of the 1990s.[1] These are all questions that I am faced with at OEF.

As a final observation, a “fun” link that I discovered here between the contemporary terrorist group ISIS and that of the West German terrorists, RAF, is the “marketing strategy” that served both groups well. Ironically, though both anti-capitalist, the groups still engage(d) with branding to attract recruits and attention to their cause.

The film The Baader-Meinhof Complex (2008) on the RAF illustrates this perfectly: Sexually liberated women with heavily made-up eyes and mini-skirts brandishing guns, “exotic” training camps in Yemen, their youthful faces splashed on the front news pages of tabloids, adopting particular styles of talking and writing to facilitate in-group dynamics. Their aesthetic proved so successful that it was appropriated by the fashion industry, which rebranded it as “Prada-Meinhof”, a play on the group’s other name, “Baader-Meinhof”.

Johanna Wokalek as Gudrun Ensslin in The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008), formerly one of Germany’s most feared terrorists.

Similarly, ISIS develop their own brand:  Their “poster girls”, “tastefully accessorized” (as an ISIS blog notes) with AK47s and their fellow gangster Jihadis in Nikes against graying American counterterrorist bureaucrats in suits; Twitter hashtags such as #accomplishmentsofISIS; the mass dissemination of “atrocity porn” with rehearsed beheadings shot in a Hollywoodesque style; filmed “testimonials” of fighters in paradisiac settings on how they found their true selves in ISIS; and even video games.[2] Those are all part of the evolving dimension of terrorism infiltrating the cyberspace, the progress of which we have yet to fully track and understand.

ISIS “poster girls” today. Sources: ISIS Twitter and US Homeland Security website.

[1] Tamara Makarenko and Michael Mesquita, “Categorising the crime-terror nexus in the European Union” (2014) in Global Crime.

[2] Simon Cottee, “The Challenge of Jihadi Cool” (2015) in The Atlantic.

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