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: <>.

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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