Technology-facilitated gender-based violence among young people: Synthesizing the research to promote digital safety in Canada

About the project

In responding to the issue of technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV) among young people, some jurisdictions (e.g., Australia, UK) have done a better job than others of tracking emerging trends and creating the supports that young people require. While Canadian researchers have begun documenting the nature of TFGBV in Canada and have found some important differences in experiences of TFGBV among marginalized groups, Canadian knowledge of this topic remains fractured. Furthermore, gaps exist in understanding the rates of TFGBV among young people, the experiences and needs of particular marginalized groups, and how experiences and resources differ across Canada’s diverse regions.

TFGBV is becoming increasingly common among Canada’s young people, evidencing the need to better understand the nature, frequency, impact and response to this issue. Therefore, this project conducted a synthesis of scholarly research to map what is known and what remains unknown about this important topic. This project was completed through a scoping review of the international and Canadian scholarship on TFGBV among young people (specifically teens aged 13-18) over the past decade. Additionally, to understand the policies directly impacting young people, the current educational curricula/resources on TFBGV in Canadian provinces and territories were reviewed.

Key findings

  • There is a dearth of research on TFGBV among young people in Canada. Most relevant scholarship was from Europe, Australia and the United States.
  • Studies largely used qualitative methods and included self-reporting, semi-structured interviews and literature reviews, leaving gaps in understanding rates of TFGBV.
  • Imprecise and variable terms were often used to discuss acts of TFGBV (e.g., Internet hate; cyberbullying; digital dating abuse; technology-assisted adolescent dating violence and abuse), making it difficult to compare research findings across disciplines.
  • The manner and extent to which TFGBV is addressed in educational curricula across Canada varies widely by province/territory. Many provinces/territories fail to communicate the fact that violence can be experienced online and across digital and physical spaces. Some parts of the country currently have little (e.g., Newfoundland, Saskatchewan) to no (e.g., Nunavut) curricular content on topics related to TFGBV.
  • Scholarship and educational curricula focused on technology-facilitated sexual violence occasionally includes coverage of TFGBV, but much more could be done to bridge these two issues. On the other hand, scholarship focusing on technology-facilitated adolescent dating violence and abuse often considered the impact of gender stereotypes on abuse perpetration.
  • In terms of an intersectional analysis, the risk of TFGBV was found to increase for those with one or multiple minority identities (e.g., sexual orientation, disability) and young people experiencing intersectional discrimination may be at an increased risk of suicidal ideation. Socioeconomic status was found to influence coping behaviours following victimization. Although articles considering dating violence often focused on heteronormative relationships, those with minority sexual orientations were found to experience higher levels of gender-based violence when included.
  • The bulk of articles applied binary language when discussing gender; transgender individuals were often excluded from studies entirely or removed from studies due to low rates of participation.
  • Young people’s experiences of technology-facilitated victimization were found to often co-occur with offline victimization. Scholars stressed that addressing this issue will require attention to young people’s integrated online/offline lives and should see technology as a tool capable of both facilitating violence and addressing such violence.
  • Existing laws have not been a particularly effective tool at addressing TFGBV among young people and some existing messaging about young people’s legal rights can be confusing or inaccurate.

Policy implications

  • More research should be conducted to understand TFGBV in the Canadian context. As the scholarship recognized cultural specificity, relying on international research will not be adequate to inform Canadian policy. Future Canadian research should seek to fill gaps by:
    • undertaking mixed methods research to quantify instances and impacts of TFGBV;
    • further researching the impacts of TFGBV on marginalized groups that have been largely excluded from existing studies (e.g., transgender young people);
    • engaging young people as research participants to better identify their needs;
    • assessing the effectiveness of prevention and intervention policies, programs and laws;
    • determining intersectional experiences of prejudice and discrimination; and
    • determining differential experiences based on geographic location (i.e., rural experiences, northern experiences).
  • Canadian educational curricula and resources in many regions should be updated to address how gender-based power and marginality impact experiences of harm in young people’s integrated online/offline/digital/physical lives. Risk factors of perpetuating TFGBV, including holding traditional beliefs about gender roles and rape myths, should be addressed through education (with specific attention to the beliefs of young men who are most likely to perpetrate gender-based harms). Educational approaches should acknowledge the ways that technology can both facilitate and help to address harms.

Further information

Read the full report

Contact the researchers

Alexa Dodge, Assistant Professor, Criminology, Saint Mary’s University: alexa.dodge@smu.ca

Christopher Dietzel, Research Associate, Integrated Studies in Education, McGill University

Suzie Dunn, Assistant Professor, Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University

Kaitlynn Mendes, Associate Professor, Sociology, Western University

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