Digital technology’s complex role in facilitating and responding to gender-based violence among (Im)migrants: A scoping review

About the project

Digital technologies, such as smartphones, social media and Internet/virtual spaces, have been widely used to address gender-based violence (GBV). During the COVID-19 pandemic we also witnessed the development and integration of digital strategies in anti-GBV work led by professionals and peer leaders in response to the concerning rise in GBV. While digital technologies can assist people experiencing GBV, they may simultaneously facilitate forms of GBV through digital media. This complexity is especially pronounced within (im)migrant populations, who face intersecting forms of marginalization, such as socioeconomic inequities, linguistic barriers and discrimination associated with racialization and xenophobia. Leveraging current empirical scholarly findings, this scoping review deepens our understanding of how digital technology influences the dynamics of addressing or facilitating GBV within racialized (im)migrant populations.

We identified four distinct themes in the scholarly literature to capture the complex ways through which digital technology intersects with GBV, including GBV against (im)migrants perpetrated via digital tools, digital-public discourses on GBV and (im)migrants, digitally facilitated anti-GBV interventions, and digital community support and activism. In addition, we paid particular attention to the intersecting effects of systemic and structural inequities that shape the digital experiences of (im)migrants

Key findings

  • The current empirical scholarship most frequently examines technology-facilitated domestic violence (DV) or intimate partner violence (IPV) against (im)migrant and refugee women who are in heterosexual intimate/spousal relationships. Common forms of digital DV/IPV reported include intimate partners’ control of survivors’ access to digital devices, partners’ digital surveillance and digitally facilitated harassment. Public digital spaces can facilitate online harassment as well as gendered and racialized stereotypes directed at (im)migrant sexual and gender minority groups.
  • The digital environment creates a space for public and community dialogue on topics related to GBV and migration or [im]migrants’ experiences. On the one hand, the digital space, such as online public forums and social media, gives much higher visibility to diverse perspectives and ideological positions, especially those from (im)migrants and groups whose voices are often silenced in conventional ‘mainstream’ media outlets. On the other hand, the digital space is an extension of the ‘offline’ world and can be impacted by the dominant cultural ideologies and discourses regarding GBV and (im)migrant groups.
  • Current empirical scholarship has paid great attention to the use of digital technologies to facilitate anti-GBV interventions and services among (im)migrant groups, such as anti-GBV education, awareness raising and mindfulness-based programs. To connect with people remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, digital tools were proactively integrated into services that are typically delivered in-person, such as phone-based case management and counselling.
  • The digital-discursive space, as an extension of many offline communicative spaces, is not immune to the impact of misinformation and systemic oppression, such as racism, homo/transphobia, xenophobia and classism.
  • The intersecting systems of marginalization, including precarious immigration status, financial instability, linguistic exclusion, lack of digital literacy education and social isolation can jointly contribute to (im)migrants’ vulnerability to gendered violence perpetrated or facilitated by digital tools. Limited access to affordable digital services and technology devices, coupled with inadequate digital literacy education, often hinders (im)migrants’ ability to seek community support online and digital services for GBV.
  • Despite the intersecting structural-digital challenges, our review also highlights the transformative use of digital technology by (im)migrant communities to navigate, resist and raise awareness about GBV. Empirical examples included (im)migrants locating resources online and building digital communities of mutual support to address GBV concerns, organizing anti-GBV digital campaigns and awareness-raising activities, resisting dominant narratives of GBV survivors by digital storytelling, and building transnational solidarity in response to GBV.

Policy implications

  • To enhance community support and resistance against GBV, policymakers and service providers should prioritize digital literacy education and expand equitable digital access for marginalized groups. This will enable increased innovation and access to both professional and community-led anti-GBV digital advocacy and support. When addressing digital inequity, we must recognize that digital inequity is deeply intertwined with, and impacted by, other intersecting systems of marginalization faced by (im)migrants.
  • Furthermore, policymakers and advocacy and social service organizations focused on combating GBV should also address how the circulation of racial and gender stereotypes through the Internet and social media can normalize misrepresentations of communities with lived experiences of abusive behaviours, harassment and discrimination against racialized (im)migrants.
  • Finally, additional inclusive research is needed to understand the digital experiences of GBV among diverse (im)migrant groups and how their diverse intersecting identities and experiences of privileges and oppression may influence their digital encounters with GBV.

Further information

Read the full report

Contact the researchers

Ran Hu, The University of British Columbia, Faculty of Medicine, Centre for Gender and Sexual Health Equity:

Rupaleem Bhuyan, University of Toronto, Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work

Jori Jones, University of Toronto, Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work

Judith Logan, University of Toronto, John P. Robarts Library

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