The Association for Progressive Communications Women’s Rights Programme (APC WRP) rejects and condemns systemic, technology-related violence against women in all its expressions.

The case of Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old girl from Nova Scotia who killed herself in April 2013, is yet another tragic story alongside those of Amanda Todd and Jessica Laney, two young women who also took their own lives because not only were they sexually assaulted, but the crimes against them were documented and widely disseminated, resulting in aggravated and repeated harm.

The acts of recording, photographing and documenting acts of sexual violence and further distribution and sharing are all part of the violence. With each view, share and forward, people are continuing and replicating the violence. These actions are not separate from structures of gender inequality and discrimination that enable sexual harassment, violence and assault to perpetuate.

In our research of online violence against women in seven countries, we have found that such forms of violence not only exist but are growing. However, there is still little recognition that an act such as sharing images of sexual violence constitutes itself an act of violence against women and sexual assault. This means that there is little legal recourse available to the victims/survivors for redress or protection of their rights.

Further, the dissemination of images of child sexual abuse, widely known as “child pornography”, speaks to the inadequacy of existing laws and misreads the severity of the act of dissemination. When the victim/survivor is categorised by the child pornography law, it reproduces the stigma of being a subject of pornography rather than a victim/survivor of a sexual crime. It also suggests a gap in the law’s ability to hold someone accountable for committing the same actions against adults.

In these cases, the right of victims/survivors to access justice is endemically overlooked. There is absolutely no sense of justice or reparation for victims/survivors or their families. In addition, failure to recognise dissemination as a continuation of the act of sexual violence enables anyone to join in the cyber harassment with impunity because there are absolutely no legal repercussions.

We strongly condemn the continuous victimisation and perpetuation of harm committed through the documentation and dissemination of acts of violence and call for a closer examination of existing laws and provisions to deliver meaningful justice and redress for victims/survivors. We further call on all individuals to own their power to stop the cycle of harm. Don’t forward violence.

The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) is a worldwide network supporting the use of internet and ICTs for social justice.

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