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Asher Flynn and Nicola Henry

Image-based sexual abuse (IBSA) is a form of technology-facilitated sexual violence. The term describes a pattern of behaviors involving the nonconsensual creation, distribution, or threats to distribute, nude or sexual images. Also known as “revenge pornography” or “nonconsensual pornography,” IBSA affects a significant proportion of the population. According to Australian research conducted by Henry, Powell, and Flynn, and the Australian Office of the eSafety Commissioner, one in five Australians between the ages of 16 and 49 have had at least one experience of IBSA, including 1 in 10 who have had a nude or sexual image shared without their consent. In a 2016 US study conducted by Lenhart, Ybarra, and Price-Feeney, 4% of men and 6% of women ages 15 to 29 reported having had a nude or nearly nude image shared without their consent. These figures are likely to be an underestimate of the true prevalence of IBSA because such studies only capture victims who have become aware that images of them have been created or shared without their consent. Perpetrators of IBSA can include intimate partners, family members, friends, acquaintances, and persons unknown to the victim, with diverse motivations, including sexual gratification, retribution, coercive control, social notoriety, monetary gain, and voyeurism. The images themselves may be self-created by the victim as a “selfie” or produced consensually in the context of a relationship. Alternatively, images may be digitally altered, taken surreptitiously in public or private settings, or created coercively, or they may have been taken of a sexual assault or rape. While IBSA is not itself new, technology has created a conducive and large-scale platform for such abuse to occur.

Article

The development of social media, and Web 2.0 more broadly, has revolutionized all aspects of our social, cultural, and political lives. Notably, social media and online platforms have opened up space for resisting gender-based violence (GBV) in a way that, in some respects, was not possible “offline.” Some authors, drawing on Nancy Fraser, have conceptualized online spaces as a form of “counter-public”—a site in which collective and individual resistance to, and contestation of, dominant norms is enabled. Given the well-documented trajectories of victim-blaming and the perpetuation of various myths and misperceptions in relation to gender violence, social media spaces can function as a counter-public or countercultural forum in which victim-survivors can give voice to their experiences in their own words, and in doing so challenge persistent norms and stereotypes. Such practices have been documented across the Global North and South, with the potential of social media as a space of resistance and contestation most recently evidenced by the #MeToo global phenomenon, which was preceded by a string of digital activist efforts such as SlutWalk, Hollaback, #WhyIStayed, and #EndRapeCulture. Yet the use of digital platforms to resist gender violence brings with it a range of concerns and limitations. While some activists and victim-survivors are able to harness social media to share experiences and be heard, the ability to do so continues to be shaped by factors such as age, (dis)ability, sexuality, socioeconomic status, race, and geographical location. Online resistance has likewise faced critique for actively reproducing certain myths and stereotypes about gender violence, or for providing a limited or partial picture of what this violence “is.” This suggests that only certain victim-survivors and experiences are recognized and validated as such online. In addition, online disclosure and the “naming and shaming” of perpetrators raises serious concerns regarding due process and “vigilantism.” Moreover, social media spaces can themselves be sites of gender violence, with the routine harassment and abuse of (particularly) women online increasingly well documented. Together, such perspectives illustrate the complex, nuanced, and deeply political role of social media as a site of resistance to gender violence.