Worryingly rising in recent years, cyberviolence can be defined as aggressive behaviours that violate someone’s bodily, sexual, psychological, economic, or social integrity via digital media (internet, texting, email, social media, chat rooms, video game communities, etc).1
Despite being virtual, these actions have real world repercussions.1 Some acts of cyberviolence are violent behaviors and some constitute a criminal offence.
No one is safe from cyberviolence, but here, we are concerned with cyberviolence against girls and women because it is more common.
(Cyber)misogyny: Hate or prejudice towards women, and the belief that they are inferior to men.2
(Cyber)sexism: A form of discrimination based on sex that relies on a set of stereotyped beliefs, values, attitudes and models wherein roles, abilities, interests and behaviours are divided according to sex, thus limiting individual development (for women especially) on all levels: personal, professional and social.2
In this video, Léa Clermont-Dion explains the different types of cyberviolence that women face, such as “body-shaming” and “slut-shaming” which are the most common attacks against women online.
Depending on how the violent behaviors are manifested in a given context, they may constitute a criminal offence.
Body shaming: The act of mocking or bullying a person based on their physical appearance, which is considered atypical.5
Slut shaming: The practice of criticizing, stigmatizing, blaming or discrediting any woman whose attitude, behaviour, or physical appearance is considered provocative, too sexual, or immoral. The attacks can be physical or moral, and entertain the idea that sex is degrading for women.6
Trolling: Trolling is the practice of being deliberately deceptive, hurtful or disturbing across various online social spaces, simply for fun. Trolls enjoy provoking conflict and getting a rise out of people by playing with their emotions.7
(Cyber)bullying: In Quebec, bullying is defined by the Education Act as meaning any repeated behaviour, comment, act or gesture, which causes distress and injures, hurts, oppresses, intimidates or ostracizes. Bullying occurs in a context where there is a power imbalance between the persons concerned. It is called cyberbullying when it occurs in cyberspace.8
Doxxing: The term doxxing comes from the file name extension .docx, which refers to documents created by the Microsoft Word program. More broadly, it refers to leakage of information or personal elements concerning an individual or a company without their consent. The objective is usually to expose the target with the intent to cause them harm.9
Happy Slapping: A reprehensible practice in which a teenager or group of teenagers attack or humiliate a victim, whom they generally do not know, while someone records the act on their smartphone.10
In Canada, criminal offences are defined by the Criminal Code.
(Cyber)bullying: In Canada, behaviour that incites fear for one’s security (physical or psychological) or for the security of someone they know, is a criminal offence. Harassment is a crime, no matter what communication method is used, whether online or offline. Harassment does not need to be repetitive to be considered a criminal offence.
Counselling suicide: In Canada, counselling someone to commit suicide or encouraging someone to take their own life is a criminal offence. A person can be found guilty even if the victim did not attempt suicide.
Sexual Exploitation: In Canada, every person commits an offence who is in a position of trust or authority towards a young person and who touches a part of the body of the young person for a sexual purpose. The same applies if the person who is in a position of trust or authority invites, counsels or incites a young person to touch the body of any person, including the body of the person who so invites, counsels or incites and the body of the young person. Even if the young person gives their consent, their consent is no longer valid as soon as there is a relationship of authority or dependency.
False Information: In Canada, communicating false information by letter or any means of telecommunication for the purpose of harming or alarming a person is a criminal offence.
Incitement of Hatred: In Canada, communicating statements in any public place (including social networks) that incite animosity or encourage people to take action against groups that are identifiable based on, for example, their skin colour, religion, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation or gender identity, is a criminal offence.
Luring: In Canada, communicating with a person who is under the age of 18 years by any means of telecommunication for the purpose of committing an offence is a crime. For example, it is illegal to communicate with a person who is under the age of 18 years with a computer for the purpose of committing a sexual offence such as sexual exploitation. It is also illegal to mislead a person who is under the age of 14 years by any means of telecommunication for the purpose of facilitating their kidnapping.
Threats: In Canada, everyone commits an offence who utters, conveys or causes any person to receive a threat to cause death or bodily harm to any person, to burn, destroy or damage property or to kill, poison or injure an animal that is the property of any person.
Child Pornography: In Canada, any recording or depiction (written, visual or audio) of a person who is under the age of 18 years in a sexual context is illegal. Making, distributing or possessing child pornography, or making it available, is a criminal offence.
Publication of an Intimate Image Without Consent: In Canada, publishing, distributing, transmitting, selling, making available or advertising an intimate image of a person without their consent is a criminal offence. An example of this is revenge porn.
(S)extortion: In Canada, using threats, accusations, menaces or violence to obtain an advantage, such as money, is a criminal offence. Sextortion refers to obtaining sexual favours, including pornography.
1 Adapted from Tech Without Violence, 2016; Relais-femmes, 2020
2 Ministère de l’éducation et ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur, 2020
3 Statistics Canada: Police-reported crime statistics in Canada, 2020
4 UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development, “Cyber Violence Against Women and Girls: A World- Wide Wake-Up Call”, 2015
5 Radio-Canada, 2018
6 Conseil du statut de la femme, 2021
7 Psychomédia, 2014
8 Education Act, CQLR c I-13.3
9 Vigneault, 2019
10 Office québécois de la langue française, 2007
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This project is well-aligned with the TELUS Fund’s mandate to promote the health and well-being of Canadians.”
– Elizabeth Friesen, Executive Director, TELUS Fund
Official website of the film Backlash: Misogyny in the Digital Age.
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