Technologically-Facilitated Violence Against Women and Girls: Can Canadian Criminal Law Respond?

Prof Jane Bailey1, Carissima Mathen
1University Of Ottawa Faculty Of Law

Technologically-facilitated violence against women (TFVAW) can take many forms, from school teachers secretly recording female students’ breasts with pen cams (R v. Jarvis) to vindictive ex-partners distributing intimate images of their former wives and girlfriends without consent to relentless stalking that sometimes involves threats of physical and sexual violence, and distribution of personal information exposing women to attacks by strangers (West Coast LEAF, 2015) to malicious use of home security and key stroke devices to surveil women in their own homes (Southworth, 2005).   The Canadian Criminal Code includes offences that appear to apply to many forms of TFVAW, including provisions related to hate propagation, criminal harassment, non-consensual disclosure of intimate images, uttering threats, intimidation, defamatory libel, identity fraud, extortion and unauthorized use of a computer (Bailey, 2016).  However, inadequate police responses, failures to prosecute and acquittals in cases such as Jarvis have led to questions about whether criminal law can adequately respond (Mathen & Bailey, 2016).

Framed within the context of prior feminist discourse around whether law is an effective tool for addressing VAW (in whatever form), this presentation analyses current stumbling blocks to effective use of criminal legal responses; and probes deeper into the underlying question of the kind of harms to which we are seeking responses and whether criminal law is an appropriate vehicle for addressing those harms.


Jane Bailey is a Full Professor of Law at the University of Ottawa where she co-leads The eQuality Project, a 7-year SSHRC funded partnership focused on the impact of online commercial profiling on youths’ identities and social relationships.  Jane leads the Project stream focused on cyberviolence and vulnerable youth.  Among her proudest professional achievements are co-leading The eGirls Project, creating and teaching a law course called Cyberfeminism and, appearing before the Supreme Court of Canada in the Jarvis voyeurism case. In fall 2018 she will be a Visiting Professor at Hong Kong University and at RMIT in Australia.

Image-Based Sexual Abuse: Victim Experiences

Dr Nicola Henry2
2RMIT, Melbourne, Australia,

Digital technologies are increasingly being used as tools of abuse, harassment, and violence. One manifestation of this growing trend is image-based sexual abuse (IBSA), also known as ‘revenge pornography.’ IBSA refers to the non-consensual creation, distribution and/or threats of distribution, of nude or sexual images. Although quantitative studies have begun to investigate the prevalence of IBSA, suggesting that somewhere between 1 and 12 per cent of people have experienced at least one form of IBSA, very few studies have empirically examined the experiences of victim/survivors. Drawing on 50 in-depth interviews with Australian and New Zealand victim/survivors, this paper examines their lived experiences, as well as the impacts of IBSA and the barriers to seeking support. The study found that participants commonly experienced significant emotional and psychological impacts (often as the result of multiple forms of abuse), including anxiety and depression, as well as fears regarding the continued circulation of images and implications of IBSA for their futures. Self-blame was also a common emotional response, as were feelings of helplessness and disappointment, particularly around the lack of consequences for perpetrators. The paper considers the diversity of different acts and impacts of IBSA, the complexity of polyvictimization, as well as the types of prevention and response interventions that are needed to support victims of IBSA.


Dr Nicola Henry is Associate Professor and Vice-Chancellor’s Principal Research Fellow in the Social and Global Studies Centre at RMIT University. Her research investigates the prevalence, nature and impacts of gendered violence, including the legal and non-legal responses to these harms. Her current research is focused on technology-facilitated sexual violence, and image-based sexual abuse.

Can anonymous online reporting of sexual assault improve justice outcomes?

Georgina Heydon2,Rachel Loney-Howes
2RMIT, Melbourne, Australia

It is well established in the literature that rape and sexual assault are the most underreported crimes world-wide, with an estimated 80-90% of sexual assaults going unreported annually (Daly and Bouhours 2010; ABS 2012; Johnson 2012; Rotenberg 2017). The challenges associated with encouraging survivors to formally report rape and sexual assault to the police include poor police interview practices, as well as problematic police attitudes influenced by rape culture that can undermine, belittle or fail to take seriously individuals who report experiences of sexual assault (Campbell 2006; Rich 2014). In response to these shortcomings within the criminal justice system, we have seen innovations in the online collection of anonymous and confidential reports such as Sexual Assault Reporting Anonymously (or SARA) developed by South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault (hereafter SECASA) in Victoria, Australia. While users are reporting to a rape crisis service, they know that their information will be passed on to police for intelligence purposes and crime mapping, with the option of making a formal report. This paper offers an analysis of the SARA website data to assist researchers and sector stakeholders to understand what kind of information is being shared with SARA, how SARA is being used and the key features of reports. The research utilises 483 de-identified reports to SARA from March 4th 2013, when the application was first launched, to August 26th 2016. This paper presents the key findings of that analysis, including a statistical snapshot of the reports and the broad trends in user behaviour.


Associate Professor Georgina Heydon (Gendered Violence and Abuse Research Alliance, RMIT University, Australia) is an internationally recognised expert in the field of forensic linguistics and investigative interviewing, and has published numerous academic papers and a book, ‘The Language of Police Interviewing’, on the topic of interviewing and information gathering.  Over the last four years, she has been collaborating with colleagues in gendered violence and digital criminology to examine reporting and information gathering in sexual assault and family violence cases.

The Challenges of Policing Image-Based Sexual Abuse

Dr Asher Flynn3
3Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

Abstract:  Image-based sexual abuse (IBSA) refers to the non-consensual recording, distribution, or threat of distribution, of nude or sexual images. In the last few years, numerous jurisdictions have amended their criminal laws to respond more effectively to this growing phenomenon, yet increased criminalisation has not automatically translated into increased prosecutions. This paper examines the challenges faced by law enforcement in responding to IBSA drawing on stakeholder interviews with 49 legal and policy experts, domestic and sexual violence advocates, industry representatives, police and academics across Australia. In reflecting on the voices of these stakeholders, this paper argues that although there is evidence to suggest IBSA is being treated more seriously by law enforcement, there are key barriers to responding to this problem, including: a patchwork of inconsistent laws; limited resources; evidentiary limitations; jurisdictional restrictions; and victim-blaming attitudes. Recent research similarly reveals such problems are not exclusive to Australia, and are being felt in other locations where IBSA laws exist including England and Wales and Scotland (see Bond & Tyrrell forthcoming; see also Green 2018). Suggestions are made for how to respond to these challenges to facilitate more effective policing of IBSA.


Dr Asher Flynn is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Director of the Social and Political Sciences Graduate Research Program at Monash University, Australia. Asher’s research utilises a socio-legal framework to understand, critique and transform legal policy and practice, with a particular focus on gendered violence. Asher is Co-Investigator on an Australian Research Council Discovery Project examining image-based sexual abuse across Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand (with Associate Professors Nicola Henry and Anastasia Powell, and Professors Clare McGlynn, Erika Rackley and Nicola Gavey). She has published widely on sexual violence, technology-facilitated abuse, access to justice and plea negotiations.

What’s hot and what’s not? Perspectives on pornography in the digital age

Ms Samantha Keene1
1Victoria University Of Wellington, Melling, Lower Hutt, New Zealand

Feminist researchers and activists have long been concerned about the potential harms of pornography, particularly in relation to its influence on attitudes and sexual scripts. These concerns have formed the basis of the ‘sex wars’ whereby pornography has been theorised in a rather black and white, or good and bad dichotomy. More recently, pornography has been considered a public health issue, with substantive concern raised by policymakers, academics and educators about the role hardcore internet pornography may play as a primary sexuality educator for young people, especially adolescents, in their formative years. Concerns about pornography as an adolescent sexuality educator are valid, but what role, if any, does pornography play for adults who consume it? This paper suggests that for a sample of heterosexual New Zealander’s, pornography in the digital age is perceived and understood in markedly gendered ways. This paper discusses the ways that emerging adults understand pornography which contains elements that are simultaneously ‘hot’ and ‘not’, and how they come to understand what is ‘hot’ and what is ‘not’, especially in relation to aggression in sexually explicit media. This paper argues that we need to move away from dichotomous arguments about the harms or benefits of pornography, and that consideration should be given to the complex, nuanced way that pornography is experienced across gendered lines.


Samantha is a PhD Candidate at Victoria University of Wellington. Her qualitative PhD research explores the influence of pornography on the lives of heterosexual New Zealander’s in relation to sex, relationships, body-image and the self. She has an interest in gendered perspectives on pornography, violence against women and student populations.


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