The Cyber Self-Defence Research Project is a peer-led, citywide needs-assessment on sexual cyber-violence experienced by girls and young women. The two-year project, is a collaboration between St. Stephen’s Community House, METRAC and East Metro Youth Services, and is funded by the Status of Women, Canada. Acknowledging that young people are the experts in their own experiences, the partner agencies hired nine young women as the participatory action research team. The peer researchers worked with the agency staff to administer 288 surveys, conduct six focus groups with young women and girls across the GTA, and organize a full day knowledge exchange with young women and service providers to better understand the intricacies of sexual cyber-violence, common experiences and potential strategies to best effect change.
The subsequent report provides a summary and analysis of the research findings from Year One of the Cyber Self-Defence Project. The research uncovered that while the majority of young women felt a sense of safety online, they also felt that violence and harassment of women online is quite common. As well, perceived risk factors for victimization online were highly individualized, such as low self-esteem and personal appearance.
This report concluded that young women are not connecting their experiences of victimization and violence with issues connected to the internet or larger systemic factors. We found that issues of desensitization and victim blaming were still major issues. This is in spite of the fact that some young people reported an understanding of gendered double standards and the high frequency of common experiences between young women. The recommendations based on the findings include:
The creation of a Cyber Self-Defence portal designed by—and for—girls and young women
Working with young women and young men together to address gendered attitudes that contribute to systemic violence
Treating young women as the experts in their experiences and using this expert knowledge to educate service providers
Working with schools, social service providers, the criminal justice system and social media providers to improve safety and prevention methods for sexual cyber violence