Everything you should know about cyberviolence against girls
Everything you should know about cyberviolence against girls
Author: Ines Lopes, Ph.D., psychologist
Did you know that 61% of girls have reported being victims of cyberviolence at least once, according to a study conducted among teens?1
With the burden of gender stereotypes, the hypersexualization of girls in the media, societal pressure to meet unrealistic beauty standards, and even sexual exploitation and cyberbullying, teenage girls are increasingly targeted for online violence.
What exactly is online violence? Are girls the only ones affected by these attacks? How can these situations be prevented?
Here is some advice to help you understand this phenomenon and how to respond as a parent.
WHAT IS CYBERVIOLENCE AGAINST GIRLS?
A lot of violence against girls is strongly influenced by stereotypical, sexist and violent ideas toward women, which are still prevalent in our society.
From a very young age, teenage girls can be exposed to various types of attacks via digital media (internet, texting, emails, social media, chat sites, community video games, etc.) such as:
- Criticism about their behaviours that are considered too provocative, sexual or immoral, based on the idea that sex is shameful for a woman (i.e. slut shaming).
- Mocking of their physical appearance if it is perceived as “non-conforming” (i.e. body shaming).
- Cyberbullying, which aims to degrade and isolate girls by insulting them, spreading rumours about them or threatening them. This can be anonymous, but victims often know their attackers, and it may be an extension of the bullying they experience in real life.
- Deceit or direct solicitation by adults who ask teenage girls to perform sexual acts on their behalf or for money.
- Distribution of intimate photos or videos. For example, an ex-romantic partner seeking revenge after a breakup (i.e. revenge porn).
👉 Note that some of these attacks are considered crimes. For example, even if a girl gave her consent when she sent intimate photos, it is illegal to possess or share images of someone under the age of 18.
DOES ONLINE VIOLENCE ONLY AFFECT TEENAGE GIRLS?
👩🏿🤝🧑🏻 All genders can be victims of online violence, but girls (as well as members of the LGBTQIA2+ community 🏳🌈 and racialized people) are more exposed to it and in a different way.
Violence against adolescent girls is more often focused on their sexuality and physical appearance. This is also the case when they express opinions online (they are more often criticized). These factors are also cumulative, meaning for example that a racialized teen girl or a trans teen girl is even more likely to be the target of cyberviolence.
Moreover, 39% of girls between the ages of 14 and 17 have been victims of online harassment, compared to 26% of boys in the same age group.2
Additionally, in an often-sexist society where girls are pushed to engage in sexualized behaviours, they face greater pressure in their romantic relationships. In 2018, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection revealed that 20% of young girls aged 15 to 17 have received requests for sexually explicit photos or videos online, compared to 11% of boys in the same age group.3
HOW DOES CYBERBULLYING IMPACT TEENAGE GIRLS?
At a time when teenage girls are developing their identity, experiencing online violence can have serious psychological consequences.
In addition to having a damaged reputation, a girl who experiences cyberharassment may feel profound distress, insecurity, shame, helplessness and guilt. She may also grow distrustful of her friends and relationships and be reluctant to get involved again. All of these negative emotions can lead to anxiety, loss of self-confidence, depression and even suicidal thoughts.
Some teen girls may also be tempted to use drugs or alcohol, develop psychosomatic disorders (stomach aches, headaches, sleep disorders, etc.) or eating disorders, isolate themselves or drop out of school.
👉 It is therefore important to pay attention to changes in your teen’s behaviour and to quickly clarify the situation with her if you have any doubts.
HOW CAN WE PROTECT GIRLS FROM CYBERVIOLENCE?
Since many cyberharassment situations are related to girls’ dating histories, it is important to educate them about the concept of consent and healthy dating relationships. Your teenager will be better equipped to refuse certain behaviours, such as an overly insistent partner asking for nude photos or videos.
👉 Consult the Violence Meter to learn more about violence in relationships: ici🌡
This practice, called sexting (or erotic selfies) is on the rise among young people and is the cause of many cyberviolence situations. Once transmitted, this content is no longer under the control of the teen and it can be very tempting for a partner to share it with their friends to brag, to humiliate her, to blackmail her or to get revenge in the event of a breakup, for example. Some teens may also use these photos to get something from another partner: “See, SHE sent me a picture of her tits. If you don’t do it, you’re just a big baby.”
While it can be upsetting for a parent to think about their child having sex, it is important to talk about it in an open and non-judgmental way. Take advantage of a current event, a movie or a situation in your community to ask your teen, “What would you have done in her place?” Try as much as possible to have regular conversations with your teen to maintain communication.
You can also teach her to get out of uncomfortable situations by:
- Refusing directly: “Absolutely not. I don’t want my photos on the internet.”
- Making a joke.
- Making up an excuse: “Sorry, I have to go.”
- Ignoring the person.
- Objecting (insistence is a controlling behaviour).
- Blocking the person.4
Regardless of your teen’s gender, try to educate them about the content of their posts and the possible consequences, as well as the impact of their comments or likes on themselves and others.
It is also important that they learn how to configure their security settings properly and know who to contact for help.
It is important to understand that not all of this violence is done with the intention of hurting the victim. Some young people simply want to make people laugh or show off and don’t understand the consequences this can have on the victim.
HOW SHOULD YOU REACT IF YOUR TEEN IS A VICTIM OF ONLINE VIOLENCE?
Whether you are angry, sad, ashamed, anxious or disappointed, it can be very upsetting for parents to learn that their child is a victim of cyberviolence.
🧘♀️ Even though it’s not easy, try as much as possible to take the time to take stock of your emotions so you can react appropriately, without dramatizing or trivializing.
🗣 If you find this too difficult, don’t hesitate to talk it over with loved ones or to get help from a health care professional.
💙 In addition, try to listen to your teen as much as possible and let them know that you believe and support them through this ordeal. Criticizing them for their lack of judgment or for not telling you before won’t help your teen and may even end the conversation.
💾 Also, try not to look at the embarrassing photos or messages that were shared, as this could increase your child’s discomfort after they have already suffered great humiliation. On the other hand, you can advise your teen to keep all the evidence so that you can report the attacker(s) to the platform where the violence took place or to the police if you wish to press charges.
WHETHER YOUR CHILD IS THE VICTIM OR THE PERPETRATOR OF CYBERVIOLENCE, HERE ARE SOME RESOURCES THAT YOU CAN TURN TO FOR HELP:
Police and cybercrime:
• Contact your local police station or call 911 in an emergency: Centre for Youth Crime Prevention—RCMP (bullying, cyberbullying, online safety, violence issues, etc.)
• Sûreté du Québec (cybercrime, extortion, identity theft, child pornography, etc.). *4141 from a cell phone
• Guide for Parents: Cyberviolence in Teen Intimate Relationships (you can request the English version for free)
• Teaching guide: Cyberviolence Among Teens (currently available only in French)
1Étude : Fisher (2016) dans Relais-femmes (2020). Cyberviolence : agir et prévenir. Formation en ligne. Modules 1 à 3.
2Étude : “Harcèlement en ligne chez les jeunes : prévalence, impacts et enjeux juridiques”, mars 2019
3Étude : “Les jeunes Canadiens dans un monde branché”, réalisée en ligne auprès de 5 436 jeunes Canadiens âgés de 8 à 17 ans. Centre canadien de protection de l’enfance.
4Centre canadien de protection de l’enfance/Cyberaide, 2017