By Vasileia Karasavva
With the surge in online access, technology has seemingly completely infiltrated our lives and has fundamentally changed the ways we interact with each other. Part of this change is for the better: along with the internet, we got cat memes, streaming services, and knowledge at our fingertips. Digital communication may also have a beneficial effect on sexual and romantic relationships. For example, sexting is linked with sexual and relationship well-being, especially in long-distance couples . However, there are also some downsides to digital communication—one of which is the surge in technology-facilitated sexual violence. While this type of sexual violence is online‚ it has real-world consequences for those involved.
Technology-facilitated sexual violence refers to instances of sexual abuse, violence, and harassment that are perpetrated with the use of digital media technology. This can include experiences such as cyberstalking, cyber harassment, and revenge porn. Research shows that there are four common forms of technology facilitated violence.
1) Online Sexual Harassment
Online sexual harassment refers to unwanted sexual attention in online spaces . This includes any form of unsolicited or unwanted communication of sexual interest and occurs in places like online forums, chat rooms, or through private messaging or texting .
2) Gender- and sexuality-based harassment
Gender- and sexuality-based harassment refers to any form of unwelcome comments that aim to insult or cause distress to another person because of their gender or sexuality . This type of harassment occurs more often for women and members of the LGBQT+ community of colour . Although this type of harassment is by no means new, the anonymity that online spaces offer has breathed new life into it. Forms of gender- and sexuality-based harassment include threats of violence, hate speech, reputation harming lies, and cyberattacks that shut down blogs and websites .
Cyberstalking uses the internet, to intimidate, distress, or harass . Similar to offline forms of stalking, cyberstalking involves repeated, unwanted contact that can make the victim fear for their safety . Cyberstalking has similar negative psychological and social effects on the victim to conventional, offline stalking . This includes feelings of helplessness, depression, sleep problems, or panic attacks .
4) Image-Based Sexual Abuse
Image-based sexual abuse includes the production, distribution, or threat of distribution of someone else’s nude or sexual image without that person’s consent . Practically speaking, this includes behaviors like sharing intimate images, like “revenge porn”, the sending of unsolicited nude or sexual images, like “dickpics” . Finally, some may use artificial intelligence create deepfakes where the face of one person is superimposed on the body of another, more often than not, to create pornographic material .
What are the next steps?
We have only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to the motivations behind technology-facilitated sexual violence, its impact on the victims, and ways to prevent it. Future research could look at possible educational efforts aimed at people who engage in technology-facilitated sexual violence and those who observe it in public online spaces. These efforts have the potential to create a safer, more inclusive environment, improving the online experiences of many!
Even though it takes place online, the impact of technology-facilitated sexual violence is real for the victim. As Brown said, this type of sexual violence “…affects real lives…real humiliations and human pains are generated” . Research and policy alike need to take steps to ensure that the online world becomes a safer and more inclusive space for all.
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