Roundtable on Youth and Online Gender-based Violence
(July 18, 2016 - Toronto)

On July 18, 2016, the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Status of Women, hosted a roundtable on Youth and Online Gender-based Violence (GBV) in Toronto, Ontario. This roundtable is part of a broader engagement process to engage stakeholders across the country to inform the development of a federal strategy on gender-based violence. See http://www.swc-cfc.gc.ca/violence/strategy-strategie/index-en.html for more information about the engagement process.

This roundtable explored the influence of social media on GBV among youth. It included discussions on federal actions that could help prevent and address different forms of online GBV among youth, and on the specific experiences of at risk populations. It was attended by over 20 stakeholders, including anti-violence researchers and advocates, and representatives from frontline youth and feminist organizations, as well as industry organizations engaged in media and online safety.  The roundtable also included youth (those under 24) in the discussion.

Highlights

The roundtable discussion is summarized here. This summary should not be interpreted as a comprehensive account of the discussion, nor is it meant to suggest that there was consensus among the participants on the points outlined below.

Participants emphasized that survivors of all forms of gender-based violence must be believed and supported.

They outlined the following as effective approaches to addressing youth and online GBV:

  • A holistic approach:
    • Youth and online violence should be approached by looking at root and systemic causes, including patriarchy, sexism, racism and capitalism
    • Strategies should support a broad-based culture of consent and healthy relationships, and address toxic forms of masculinity and rape culture (that is, beliefs and attitudes that encourage violent or oppressive forms of "being a man" and victim blaming)
    • It is important to challenge the separation of online-violence and "real-life" violence, as it sets up a false distinction between online violence and other forms of violence (for example, dating violence), and sometimes leads online violence to be seen as less serious than other forms of violence (including in legislative responses).
  • An intersectional approach:
    • Online and youth violence are experienced differently for different groups of people. Strategies should:
      • be accessible to everyone, including LGBTQQI2S (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex and Two-Spirit) people, newcomers to Canada, and people struggling with poverty
      • acknowledge the unique experiences of people with disabilities
      • address the different ways rural and urban youth engage online, as well as youth living in the south and the north
      • address the online hyper-sexualization of girls and young women (for example, through pornography), including the sexualization of visible minority and Indigenous women and girls
  • A youth-centered approach:
    • Youth should be the centre of any work on youth and online violence
    • Youth should be involved at all levels of intervention. This could include youth engagement (for example, through a summit), youth involvement in research and planning, or youth-led web development of web tools and peer education materials.
  • A harm reduction approach:
    • Given the emphasis of the online world in today's society, it needs to be understood that young people will socialize, date and explore sexuality online. Instead of telling youth not to go online or share personal data, strategies should be developed to make youth safe and in control of their data.
    • It also needs to be recognized that technology can be a source of positive social change and that online is a place where youth can exercise self-determination and agency.

Participants outlined the following as key opportunities for action to address youth and online GBV:

  • Education:
    • Public education and social media campaigns, including those led by youth
    • Focus on communicating a clear definition of consent and engaging men and boys
  • Online design:
    • The way apps and websites are designed can encourage violence (for example, apps designed to "stalk girlfriends"). Work needs to take place with internet companies to build safe designs and ban apps and websites that encourage violence.
    • Website and app policies should address online violence and should be written in youth-friendly language
    • The "default" internet setting should be a safe setting to help youth protect and control their data
  • Leadership and coordination:
    • Currently, a lot of work is being done in isolation (in different federal departments, at the federal/provincial/territorial level, and through local organizations across the country). There is a need to link existing research, resources, and organizations on online and youth violence (for example, through an information hub or network).
    • Advocacy work is important to address the root causes of youth and online GBV
    • There is a lot of different language on online and cyber violence (for example, trolling, cyber violence, doxing). It is important to be consistent and clear with language.
    • There is a need for leadership in developing clear policies that address online and youth GBV.

Overall, participants noted that we are at a key moment and that now is the time to address youth and online GBV. They encouraged solutions that are evidence-based, measurable and replicable.

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