Gender Sex and Tech: Continuing the Conversation
Episode 3: Interview with Shaina McHardy
Transcription by Jennifer Jill Fellows
Jennifer Jill Fellows: Today’s episode comes with a content warning. We will be discussing sexual assault, sexual violence, and so-called revenge pornography and sexual exploitation.
Jill: In 2015, a group of fourth year male Dalhousie dental students, were discovered to be posting sexually explicit, an offensive comments about their female classmates in a closed Facebook group called “Class of DDS 2015, Gentlemen”. Dalhousie University immediately scrambled to try to respond and questions of what would happen to the male students involved, as well as what the university’s role and responsibility should be, hung in the air. This was one of a few incidents that happened in the mid 2010’s that raised the issue of what a university’s responsibilities are to safeguard community members from sexual violence online.
Jill: Hello and welcome to Gender Sex and Tech: Continuing the Conversation. I’m your host, Jennifer Jill Fellows. And today I’ve invited Shaina McHardy to join me on the show. Shaina McHardy is a PhD candidate at the University of Waterloo in the Department of Sociology and legal status. With a background in criminology, her research focuses on interpersonal violence and victimization. From sexual assault and secondary victimization to the use of technology to violate others, her research aims to draw attention to Canada as a unique job. Her current research explores how Canadian universities can or should respond to incidents of students using technology to sexually victimized one another in the hopes of informing future policy development. And that is what she’s here to talk to me about today.
Jill: Hi Shaina, welcome to the show.
Shaina McHardy: Hi, thank you for having me.
Jill: Thanks for being here in this virtual space.
Jill: And I want to begin by acknowledging something that I think may come up in this episode, which is that this digital or virtual space that we are meeting in relies on and affects, and is affected by physical space. So I think it’s really important to resist the dichotomy between digital and physical space. And a big part of that resistance is remembering that much of the physical space that currently connected Shaina and myself is stolen land. So, today I acknowledge that this podcast is produced on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish people of the Qiqéyt nation where I live, learn, play and today do my work. And where are you joining me from Shaina?
Shaina: I acknowledge that I live in work on the traditional territory of the neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples in the town of Waterloo.
Jill: Shaina, can you tell me a bit about your academic journey? For example, did you always want to be a Sociologist or how did you end up studying Sociology and Legal Studies?
Shaina: Actually, my, my education with definitely not particularly linear,
Shaina: So, I first started actually I was living overseas, and I was doing Distance Education and I was studying to be a journalist.
Shaina: And then I returned to Canada. And the university that I went to, I found out that they’ve got this really cool criminology program. So, I started doing criminology and finished my undergraduate degree and was looking around and there’s really, there really aren’t that many criminology programs available at the graduate level. And those that are would require moving, like, super far away. So, I started looking at other things, one of which was sociology, because criminology is kind of a baby of sociology.
Jill: I love that description.
Lisa: It is, It’s like it’s an offshoot, but it’s kind of like, you can’t have criminology without sociology.
Jill: Right, that makes sense.
Shaina: I was interested in gang violence.
Shaina: And so I found some Master’s level supervisors that did gang work ended up starting my Master’s degree. And then something, I think it was in the new,s really kinda caught my attention about sexual violence. And so, I completely switched what I was studying. And I was looking specifically at what’s called secondary victimization. So, this is where people, primarily women, are additionally victimized after their initial assault. What I was looking at specifically was secondary victimization as it occurs as women go through the process of interacting with the criminal justice system. So, I mean, estimates have changed now, but at the time it was something like only 10% of sexual assault are ever actually recorded, and of those, only 1% ever actually see a conviction. And so, my master’s work was predominantly on looking at experiences of women going through each stage of the criminal justice system processes. And it was very eye-opening. And so, I wanted to continue that work in my PhD, which I’m still currently working on. So yeah, that’s kinda what led me to Sociology.
Jill: What led you or how did you end up researching specifically technology facilitated sexual violence or what you call in your chapter in the book TFSV. So how did that come about? And specifically in the context of post-secondary institutions?
Shaina: There’s actually a very simple answer for that. I got an email from my supervisor and she was like, “Hey, have you ever looked at online sexual violence?” And like initially, I was like, what? What is that like? That doesn’t really cognitively make any sense to me. Like, what is online sexual violence? I basically just sat down with her and we had a conversation and she explained it to me, put me onto a couple of different researchers. And from there I was like, “Okay, why is nobody studying this?”
Shaina: This is a problem. And even like as we’ll get into this later, but so many people they have no idea that this is even a problem and it’s not until those like aha moment. Oh, yeah. Okay. I know exactly what you’re talking about. This happened to me in high school.
Jill: Right? Or I know a friend or . . .
Shaina: Exactly. Exactly. So yeah. It was really just a conversation with my supervisor and it was strictly like she just wanted to like, give me information and be like, “Hey, I thought you would find this interesting”
Jill: Good supervisor,
Shaina: And it just like spiraled from there.
Jill: And one thing I think is really interesting about that is that you say so your supervisor sent you this e-mail saying, “Have you ever looked into online sexual violence?” and that your first response was like, What is that? I am possibly going out on a limb here, but I’m assuming that’s because we often have a very narrow social understanding of what violence is and/or what sexual violence is. So, can you unpack this aha moment that you had maybe a little bit more and why you initially were confused by this email?
Shaina: Yeah. So, I mean, I had an aha moment very similar to a lot of the participants in my research. So, when you first hear the phrase ‘online sexual violence,’ you’re like somebody can’t be victimized online.
Jill: Because it’s not their body, right?
Shaina: Yeah, exactly. But once I started kind of like digging into it a little bit and I talk about this a little bit in my book chapter, there’s this notion of embodiment. So just because something isn’t physically happening to your physical body, doesn’t mean that you’re not experiencing it.
Jill: In a very physical way.
Shaina: In a very physical way, yes. There are very like visceral reactions and one of my committee members was like “Okay. But how do we define violence if it’s not visible?”
Shaina: And I said, “Well, do you not consider psychological abuse violence?” And he said, “oh, well, yeah, that’s violence.” I was like, “Okay, what about economic violence? What about systemic violence, these are all things that we’re willing to accept its violence. But just because something is happening through a computer screen or through your telephone, like that doesn’t make it any less violent.”
Jill: Right. Psychological abuse can still happen this way.
Shaina: Exactly. And like a lot of the background research that I did uncovered that women who are not just women, but women seem to be predominantly more willing to talk about it. Obviously, men are also victims. They’re just oftentimes not as willing to be forthcoming about it. But a lot of these victims, when they describe their experiences and they describe how they were feeling after the fact and all of those things, it’s very, very similar to those that have experienced physical sexual violence. And so this is one of the things that’s like the goal of part of my research is to really shed light on that, and really demonstrate that just because it’s happening online, it doesn’t mean that this isn’t having real-world consequences.
Jill: Right. So this takes us back to this idea of like a dichotomy that seems to exist in social imagination between the digital space, in the physical space. And that a lot of your research is really challenging that. That when you receive a text message or when there’s a post on social media about you or targeted at you, this has physical, visceral, real-world ramifications. So can you give us some examples of how technology facilitated sexual violence tends to manifest.
Shaina: Yeah, So there’s kinda like, I don’t want to like delineate it and makes, make it seem as though some kinds are worse than others because that’s really not the situation. But there are two. So the first is when a physical assault occurs and images or video of that assault are then disseminated among peer groups online. Even something as simple as showing somebody a picture on your phone.
Shaina: So there’s that form where it starts with a physical assault. But then the other side is way more common, the Canadian government refers to them as intimate images. So, this would be something like what I guess most people know is revenge porn. So, without the person’s permission a suggestive or nude or sexualized image of them is disseminated online or in different avenues. That’s probably the most common that we think of. But then of course we have things like what’s called sexploitation. So, example would be when somebody either has or claims to have these images and threatens to disseminate them in exchange for additional pictures or getting them to do something. Exploiting money has happened a couple times. But one that, one that I actually have gotten into you many academic debates about is the notion of the unsolicited dick pic.
Shaina: Yeah, For those of you listening that may not necessarily know what a dick pic is, I’m glad that you don’t. This is basically when an individual, without being asked, sends an image of themselves nude or just certain body regions completely unsolicited to somebody else. Now, most people think that this is kind of funny, but to a lot of people, it can be quite triggering. And it’s not until I bring up literal legislation where it’s basically the same thing as walking up to a stranger and flashing them. Now that’s totally against the law.
Shaina: And in Canada now, this is why I kind of focus on the Canadian jurisdiction because as of 2014, it came into effect in 2015, these behaviors are illegal in Canada and a lot of people don’t know that.
Jill: Yeah, I didn’t know that.
Shaina: So think twice before sending an unsolicited dick pic.
Jill: Okay. I think that was such a good comparison. If somebody flashed you in the street, there would be no question that this is unacceptable.
Shaina: No, you feel violated.
Shaina: So if I’m sitting here at my desk and all of a sudden I get a picture of somebody’s penis. I’m being followed, especially if I don’t know that person, I’m going to feel violated.
Jill: So, we’ve already covered that there is some social push back to viewing TFSV as violence. And this might vary depending on what type of TFSV we’re talking about. So, given this kind of social landscape that we’re in, why do you think it’s important to emphasize that this is violence? And why do you think that the fact that this is violence is often overlooked or minimized?
Shaina: I think it’s important to acknowledge it as violence because, I mean, if you look back at so like sexual violence legislation, when the research that went in back during the women’s movement, there was a huge kind of push back to even accepting, that is violence. Like it wasn’t until 1984 that it became illegal for a husband to rape his wife.
Shaina: Right. Because they didn’t consider that violent even though it wasn’t very violent act. And I think the important thing to acknowledge is the consequences. So, in, in my mind and my argument is that what makes something violent is the harms associated. So, when somebody experiences something like revenge porn, even though they weren’t physically assaulted, there are harms associated with that. And it’s not until I actually, like, explain to people what I’m talking about that they’re like, “Oh, okay. That makes sense.” Actually, one of the really interesting things that I’ve found in my research was one I always had to give examples of what I was talking about because I would ask like have you of something like this happening and they’re like, “oh no.” I’m like “okay, so what about something like revenge porn?” and they’d be like,” Oh yeah, well it happened to a friend of mine.” And I was like, “Okay, What about to celebrity is and having their Clouds hacked?” and they’re like, “Oh yeah, but they’re celebrities. Like celebrities can’t be victims.”
Shaina: But if you actually look at, at least in particular, for example, Jennifer Lawrence, she was very vocal about her experience after having her cloud hacked and having her very personal images put all up on the Internet and having strangers look at her in ways that she did not consent to you.
Shaina: And you can see that it caused her real pain. So even when you get somebody to understand, okay, if this happens to a friend of yes, it’s violence, but if it happens to a celebrity it’s not.
Jill: Right? So there is this kind of double standard happening as well in terms of perceived privileged maybe or perceived power that, so if they think well, they’re a celebrity, so it’s fine. And it’s very interesting to think about how when somebody is in the public domain like that, we seem to not afford them the same kind of care or concern.
Shaina: It kind of reminds me a little bit of when Jodie Foster was getting stalked. And people’s responses. It was like, oh, well, that’s just part of her job. That’s part of being a celebrity.
Jill: Right. That’s just what she signed up for.
Shaina: It’s like No. This woman as being victimized, like she is in no way responsible for being stalked. Nobody blames John Lennon by like there’s just this, I don’t know the intersectionality of it. And I mean, it also depending on what’s going on, it really like there’s intersectionality in terms of gender, in terms of race, in terms of even what type of celebrity you are like.
Shaina: It’s all about looking at the bigger picture and seeing all the different forces that are going on. Because these are isolated incident and this is why I think to a certain extent that, that technology aspect of this phenomena is so important is because it’s not just a single incident that happens. Once that happens, it’s ongoing.
Jill: There’s a pattern.
Shaina: There’s a pattern and especially if something is like, for example, put online, it’s theoretically there forever.
Shaina: So I mean granted it would be significantly worse for somebody who is a celebrity. But even just the average person. They have no idea who’s looking at it. They have no idea. Like even if it looks like it’s been brought down, they don’t know. Is it still out there? Like I remember, I looked it up about, I don’t know, six months ago, I still have a MySpace page. That I thought that I took down. Right. Like you never know.
Shaina: So there is that kind of ongoing nature of technology facilitated sexual violence.
Jill: Yeah. And this technology facilitated memory or lingering of sexual violence so that it’s just always there and can be used to revictimized people again and again.
Jill: One thing that I thought was really important that I want to drive is that you say in your research that focuses on what are the consequences for the individual who’s been victimized by this? And I think that that’s a really important focus to take. And too often I think that the focus is unlike well, did the perpetrator mean to cause harm, for example? Right? I mean, sending a dick pic, maybe they thought it was like foreplay or a compliment or something. I don’t know. And so you say, well, look, they didn’t mean to hurt you. But your response seems to be like it doesn’t really matter so much the motivation behind what happened? What matters is the consequence for the person who has been victimized. And I like that because then you don’t have to like, try and figure out what’s in the head of the perpetrator. You just have to look at the physical consequences that can be seen and documented by everybody.
Shaina: Yeah, for sure. I mean this kinda like hearkens back to things like cat calling, right? Where a lot of people will say, Oh, well, just take it as a compliment. Well no. Some people might think it is a compliment, but for other people, like for example, I got cat called walking home from work at three o’clock in the morning. It was terrifying.
Shaina: Right. It’s all about context and it’s the same thing with uh technology facilitated sexual violence. It really doesn’t matter what your intention. What matters is how I perceived it, because how I perceive it is my reality. And it’s the same thing with even physical sexual violence. I know one of my participants in my study, he’s a 35-year-old man and we were talking just about general sexual violence and because he was asking me about gender differences and I was like, “I should be the one asking you about gender differences.” And he said, “Well, I had to stop taking the bus.” And I said “why?” And he said because there was this woman and that was always on his route. And when he would walk by, she would pinch his bum.
Shaina: And of course he can’t really say like, “I feel victimized,” but he did. And he said like he felt comfortable talking to me about it. But that’s not exactly something that he’s going to call the police over.
Jill: And this brings us back to kind of the larger context again that you were talking about. And the patriarchal society in which we live, which tells us the sexual script that men are always up for it.
Jill: And so it becomes incredibly difficult for men to express distress or discomfort in these kind of situations.
Shaina: Yeah, this is one of the reasons why I believe anyway, that post-secondary institutions really need to take responsibility because it can and does happen to their students and it can happen to any of their students.
Jill: So before we talk about post-secondary institutions and their role and responsibilities here, can you lay out for us what some of the effects or consequences of TFSV can be. So, in your chapter, for example, you say quoting from your chapter, “While some incidents of TFSV begin with a physical assault that is either recorded or photographed. The effects of the subsequent TFSV not only compound, the trauma of the initial assault also have their own consequences.” So can we talk about these consequences a little bit more to get a full picture of the kind of violence that’s possible here.
Shaina: Yeah. Okay. So, in that specific example where it starts with the physical assault, so, I don’t want to bring in popular media, but there are a couple of documentaries available about this exact thing happening. And there’s the initial trauma. And the symptoms often include post-traumatic stress disorder, which again, is a whole myriad of different symptoms including sleeplessness, anxiety, not wanting to be touched even by a loved one. There’s a whole slew of different symptoms that come along with that. But the main thing when it comes to the technology facilitated element of it is that it just completely exacerbates it. And you’re now no longer being victimized by the people that were initially involved. But now you’re being victimized by so many other people. And for example, there was one documentary that I was watching and I was absolutely flabbergasted after this poor girl went to a party, got overly intoxicated, was then gang raped and it was videotaped. And that video got spread online. And a whole bunch of her classmates, including female classmates, would start texting her or emailing her, calling her, going on Twitter saying, “Oh, you’re such a slut, like you deserved it.” Like it, it was absolutely heart-wrenching. And to know that this is happening. And even like that example was on a very small-scale, it was happening in a very small community, which to some extent to make it worse because it’s like everybody you know.
Jill: There’s no anonymity. Yeah.
Shaina: There’s no anonymity. And so there’s that element when, when you include the, the initial physical assault. But as you just put it perfectly the anonymity, there was a girl and British Columbia, and it was years ago. This is when I was looking at the notion of exploitation. She was getting contacted by a stranger saying that he had nude photos of her.
Jill: Is this Amanda Todd?
Shaina: Yes. Yes, I believe so. And he was recently actually brought to justice, use it. He was actually physically in Europe.
Shaina: And he managed to get those images of her and was like exploiting her online, like the Canadian government actually paid to extradite him and brought him to Canada to face trial. I think I’ve wrote the chapter before I read the news article that he was actually brought to justice. I was surprised because not only did the government do something about it, but they didn’t care that he wasn’t even one a Canadian citizen and two not physically in Canada.
Jill: Right. So they actually extradited him to Canada to face justice.
Jill: That is progress.
Shaina: For sure. This is, this is the thing, is that like part of the problem is the way the law is written and it’s the same thing with a whole bunch of different laws. And it’s, it’s kinda like accidentally on purpose, like the law needs to be broad enough that you can capture who you want to capture. But it has to be narrow enough that you’re not capturing those that you don’t want.
Shaina: So, what happens is that this now becomes a case to case basis. So, who is it that’s interpreting the law? And so, I guess not just the sexual violence laws. It’s not just so the I believe it’s a very long-winded that Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act is basically the legislation that came into effect that not only created a new statute, but explicitly states that it also expands existing statutes to include analogous behaviors that are occurring online.
Shaina: But now we get into that issue of who is it that’s interpreting the law, who is it that’s interpreting what somebody is saying? So, if somebody comes forward and says, “You know, my ex boyfriend, he’s been posting all these pictures of me.” “All well, miss, this is a private issue.”
Shaina: Meanwhile, a different cop would potentially say,” Oh, well, this is a serious issue that we have to move forward on.”
Jill: And does a lot of that hang on whether or not the cop thinks it’s analogous?
Shaina: A lot of it does, yeah. Yeah, a lot of it does.
Jill: So does the cop think I mean, we know now that this is illegal in Canada, but as an example, does the cup think that a dick pic is analogous to a flasher? For example?
Shaina: Seriously, it totally depends on who you talk to.
Shaina: It is not necessarily their job to what a 100 percent know the law. As a Criminology student. I could literally throw the book at a bunch of cops, that had no idea what I was talking about because they’re not lawyers like it’s not their job to sit there and read the Canadian Criminal Code and study it and know when it’s been updated and stuff like that. They’re just told what to look for.
Shaina: For the most part anyway, I’m not saying this is every single police officer in every single jurisdiction. Definitely some are much more. So. for example, if there are more specialized police officers, so there is actually a Special Victims Unit, for example, at the Waterloo regional, please. So, they will be much more well-versed on sexual violence laws and policies and things like that. And so. it really depends on who you approach, right? I mean, it’s the same thing at institutions and I know we’re going to talk about this later, but it’s really a matter of who it is that you bring it up to you whether or not they’re going to acknowledge that it is a problem.
Jill: Do you think there’s a generational gap here as well? Like, I would guess that older generations, I know that this can happen to anyone and in your chapter, you do talk about older celebrities who have been targeted by TFSV and suffered extreme consequences as a result. And yet, I, do you think that there are a lot of older people who have perhaps never received a dick pic for example, and may not be aware of how prevalent this is. Particularly older people who don’t necessarily live their life in, in a public way, the way celebrity, older celebrities maybe, perhaps more at risk than others, for example.
Shaina: There’s definitely a generational gap, not just in terms of whether or not they are victimized, but in whether or not they understand the phenomenon itself. A lot of people from older generations don’t spend their lives immersed in technology. So, they don’t understand just how all-encompassing this is.
Jill: My mom has no social media platform like she has no social media accounts whatsoever. My mother.
Shaina: Yeah. And like, because a lot of older people haven’t had basically their entire life consumed by technology they don’t understand why something like cyberbullying is such an issue. Because it’s not just a matter of ignoring the kids on the playground. It’s not just a matter of ignoring the email. It’s, you’re getting constantly bombarded. And by saying, “Oh, just ignore it,” you’re basically asking them to completely unplug.
Jill: Right. Which means two, separating yourself from a huge amount of where life is lived these days.
Shaina: Exactly. And so I think there is that element as well, especially because it is the older generation that is responsible for legislation and policy.
Jill: So that kind of brings me to a couple of other questions I want to ask about legislation and policy, and particularly about the university context. You report in your research that in 2017, a number of provinces mandated that post-secondary institutions implement sexual violence policies. So, I wonder if you could talk about what prompted this mandate to your knowledge, and also whether you can talk about how effective these policies might be or might not be when it comes to specifically technology facilitated sexual violence.
Shaina: Yeah, that’s a great question. First and foremost, I don’t have an explicit answer for what prompted it. I can only really go based on what was in news media and social media back in, well, I guess it would have been before 2017 that the mandate came down. I believe they were given 12 months to put, get something on the books. So, it would have been mandated in 2016. So, this harkens back to the Protecting Canadians From Online Crime Act because I, I believe something similar happened with that, whereby there was kind of a lot of pressure from the public, from media drawing attention to sexual violence in particular. And then for the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, it was Okay, like this is happening not just in person, this is also happening online and the government needs to take a stand on it. So, in Canada, there were two very major cases that happened. The first was Rehtaeh Parsons in Nova Scotia. For those of you that don’t know, she was a young girl in high school who was sexually violated and then had those images distributed and she subsequently took her own life.
Shaina: And then very shortly afterwards, there was the Dalhousie incident which for those of you that don’t study Criminology, this probably means very little to you, but it was basically in a nutshell, a group of upper year dentistry students created a closed Facebook group in which the entire content of that Facebook group was sexually explicit content, like rape jokes. There was a lot of homophobia going on. There was a list of, among their female students who would they quote unquote Hate Fuck.
Shaina: And it was brought to the attention of poor student that was on that list. She then took it to the administration. The administration subsequently didn’t do anything.
Shaina: So, she went to the media. So, the university then got bombarded by the media saying like, “why are you doing anything? You need to be doing something.” So. like, “Okay, well, we’re going to launch an investigation.” So, they launched an investigation and lo and behold, at the end of it, all, every single person involved in that Facebook group one remained anonymous even after certain governing bodies requested their personal information because they said basically, we don’t want these men being around unconscious women working as dentist.
Shaina: But two every single one of them successfully graduated. So absolutely no consequences for those involved. Meanwhile, of course, there was even a female faculty member that came forward on the news and said, “I feel uncomfortable, I’m not even a student. And I feel uncomfortable knowing that there are these students walking around thinking this way.”
Jill: Your points about these, these former students because they’ve graduated, now, working with unconscious patients is very skin crawly.
Shaina: It is rate. And like at first, this was actually about a year and a half worth of research that I was doing looking into this incident. And so, I believe it was British Columbia and Alberta because each province has their own licensing board. And they contacted Dalhousie and said “we need to know the students’ names. And this is exactly why we need to know the students’ names because they are going to be around unconscious women as dentists. And this is the way that they’re talking amongst their peers. This means that these thoughts are in their head. And we don’t want to take that risk.” And the university refused to turn over any of their information.
Shaina: So, yeah, it is very skin crawly. And this is an example of what people don’t really understand that this is the essence of technology facilitated sexual violence, like these unsuspecting students don’t even know that this is going on. And it wasn’t until it was brought to their attention. And then all of a sudden the entire campus community felt violated because nobody knew who was on it. Nobody knew like, oh, was I on one of those lists? Was there a picture of me on there? Because it was a picture of a female student. All of these have since been taken down.
Jill: Which is good.
Shaina: Which is definitely good. But there was one where it was actually an image of a female student that I guess the dentist community was very small. So, everybody knew who she was. The caption was “Excuse me. Does this rank smell like chloroform?”
Jill: Oh, wow. That is very upsetting.
Shaina: It’s very upsetting to know that one these are all grown men.
Jill: Yeah. They were all in their fourth year. Like they know better.
Shaina: But two like there’s just one of the arguments that the university made for not intervening was because it was a closed Facebook group. So? You’re still having students victimizing other students?
Shaina: Like that is something that you should be taking a stand on, not after the media has been harassing you. So yes. Universities were required to have these policies put in place as of 2017. As far as I know, there’s only one university in all of Canada that actually specifies the use of technology in their sexual violence policy.
Jill: Everyone wants to know which university it is so they can go there.
Shaina: The University of Manitoba.
Shaina: So, part of my research is talking to, and they’ll have different titles at different universities. But a lot of universities as part of implementing these policies has been to hire somebody who’s, that’s their job is sexual violence response. So, at my university, they’re referred to as sexual violence response coordinators. And so, they’re basically their only job is to be that liaison between the student and the institution. They’re also obviously integrally involved in the policy creation and revision process and the education process like putting out proper educational materials about sexual violence. But as most people are aware, these policies it took, it took how long to get sexual assault, actually in the Canadian Criminal Code. And it took from 1984 until 2017 to have universities actually having policies explicitly saying, you can’t do this.
Jill: And those policies now need to play catch up again.
Jill: Because of all the digital stuff that’s not included.
Shaina: Exactly. So, anybody that has had anything to do with academia since 2017 knows that just because the policies are in place doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily effective.
Shaina: So, there’s been a lot of backlash about how ineffective these policies are just in general. But in terms of technology facilitated sexual violence, this goes back to what we’re talking about. It all depends on who you talk to you. And this is one of the things that I was having a very impassioned conversation with a sexual violence response coordinator. Where it all comes down, so at least where I was doing my research, it comes down to individual faculty Deans.
Shaina: So, you can report it to your campus security or campus police, depending on what your University actually has, you can report it to the sexual violence response coordinator. You can report it to mental health services. You can report to a whole bunch of different people. Ultimately, if because it, it is up to the victim whether or not to move forward, right. So as the victim, if you decide yes, I want something to happen, it ultimately it will go to the Dean of the faculty. Now, question is, does it go to the Dean, the faculty, that the victim belongs to you or that the accused belongs to, that question remains unanswered.
Jill: Oh, my goodness.
Shaina: And so, it’s still convoluted, like the whole process is so convoluted. And so, it gets to the Dean and now the Dean has to decide whether or not to act upon it. Never mind deciding what the consequences are going to be, if there’s going to be consequences, it comes down to that person to decide whether or not to even move forward because this is all before an investigation has even take a plate.
Shaina: And it’s just devastating the way the kinda the state of affairs. I had a student come to me third hand, she kept getting directed around to a whole bunch of different people and she ended up in my office. She said “I had a student that approached me and she doesn’t know what to do.” So I said, “okay, bring, bring the student over, I’ve no problem. I’ll sit down.” So she was walking to class and she came across a girl that was visibly distraught and she asked if the girl was okay, and she said,” No, I don’t know who to talk to you. I don’t know who to report this to, but I’ve been sexually assaulted” these aren’t her words, these are mine “multiple times now by the same person.
Shaina: And so, the student who this is a first-year student. So she doesn’t know the ins and outs of the university. She says, “Oh, well, have you tried like the Student Life Center?” And the victim says, “oh, yes, I was just there. And they said that they didn’t know.”
Jill: Oh, my goodness.
Shaina: So, they even spoke to a university employee and we’re not given the information.
Jill: So, this policy exists, but students don’t know how to access it. And their first point of contact, this this student health services doesn’t know how to access it either.
Shaina: Exactly. Exactly. And like I had to do as an employee of the university, I had to do a lot of online training. It’s like an hour and a half long module on discrimination. And how like you can’t use derogatory words towards your co-workers and students. But at the very bottom of all the available modules, there’s the optional one for sexual violence information.
Jill: It’s optional?
Shaina: It’s optional. So, I have to choose to educate myself about what the proper procedures are. So, if I were to have a student come up to me and disclosed to me, I would literally have to sit there and look it up for them.
Shaina: And I’m not the only one like this is thankfully, this has never happened to me. Although of all the people, I would probably be the one to go to because I know it inside and out. But one of my participants, this actually happened to her. So, she had to educate herself on what to do in this situation, especially in my mind anyway, it should be mandatory for anybody in Sociology because you didn’t touch on some very touchy topic. So not just for, in terms of sexual violence, but like in terms of suicidal ideation, in terms of feelings of harassment, things like that. Like those are the kinds of things that employees kind of need to know.
Jill: So, we’ve touched on how these policies exist. Only one of them in Canada specifies technology and online violence. Students don’t typically know how to access the protection these policies might afford. Employees aren’t necessarily trained in how to help students access the protection these policies might afford. And I think things even get more complicated with the story you brought up of Dalhousie and the closed Facebook group. And of course, the idea of students connecting in the social media spaces is not unique to Dalhousie. Many universities now have Facebook pages, classes can have Discord servers or student groups. There are other aspects of cyberspace and social media, Twitter accounts, all this kinda stuff that’s now used kind of as an extension of university life, if you like. It’s no longer necessarily clear, particularly in digital space, where the campus ends. So how does this complicate matters of enacting these campus policies regarding sexual violence?
Shaina: It definitely complicates it, I don’t think I could express how much it complicates matters. And it’s not just like with sexual violence policies like it, even like the general student conduct
Jill: Like codes of conduct.
Shaina: Yeah. So, one of the questions that I was asking about this because I should, I should also make it clear that at least at the university that I was studying, the issue of technology was brought up in conversations during the policy creation process.
Shaina: So it’s not that they are unaware of it. They just have chosen not to include it. So, the way that it’s written is that it can be addressed by the policy. But again, it depends on who it is that’s interpreting the policy.
Shaina: And it’s the same thing with as I said, with the even just a standard Student Conduct because it’s not just when you’re on, so, for example, if your class has a discord server, right? Odds of somebody being, for example, cyberbullied over that Discord server as somewhat smaller than over like a general Facebook. Oh, I actually, I can share this little tidbit. When I was a teaching assistant, one of the classes that I was an assistant for, they had an online chat room that they could use. So, when students didn’t feel comfortable raising their hands to ask a question, they can ask it in the chat room and then I could respond. Or if I didn’t know the answer, I would be the one to put up my hand and ask a question. And everybody was anonymous and they were numerous times where a student would ask a question and before I even have a chance to respond to it, somebody else would be like, Well that’s dumb question.
Shaina: So, they’re, they’re bullying each other in the classroom. Like I understand that this is online, but they’re physically sitting around me and because it’s all happening online, they think it’s okay behavior.
Jill: So, they’re in the same physical space. This wasn’t an online class?
Shaina: No. This was a physical classroom for students that basically they didn’t feel comfortable asking the question themselves. This was an anonymous way for them to get a question answered.
Jill: Right. And it, it kinda sounds good at first, this idea of like “Look if you’re shy, raising your hand or asking a question, here’s an anonymous way you can participate in class.” But now we have this consequence that the anonymous chat room is being used for cyberbullying?
Shaina: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And I mean, that’s even like a school sanctioned application.
Jill: Right. This isn’t like a Facebook group or. . .
Shaina: Yeah, exactly. Because I know like there are university Facebook pages and university Twitter feeds, but that’s not where these behaviors are taking place. Because, well, it particularly with Facebook because most people use their real name.
Shaina: But like I know when I was an undergrad, every class that I was in had its own Facebook group so that we could exchange notes and buy used textbooks and stuff like that. That’s what it was predominantly used for. So, it’s technically school sanctioned, but it is school-related. So, like that that is where we have this kind of like compounding issue going on where the university has to ask themselves, “okay, So to what extent Are we allowed to act on this?” Because in their policy, it explicitly states that it basically needs to be school-related or school sanctioned. Right. So, for example, if a sexual assault occurs off-campus, but it was at a university activity, then it is under university purview. But the question is, if two students are off campus, one of them assaults the other is that now the university’s business?
Jill: Right? So, if I think about a bunch of students after class get together and go for coffee or go for a drink off campus. And a student sexually harasses or sexually assaults another student, does not fall under the policy? Or likewise, now if we think about digital space, if a bunch of students create a closed Facebook group or create a discord server to chat and hang out, and they met on campus and that’s how they know each other, but now they’re meeting in this digital space, is that under the campus policy?
Shaina: Yes. And so, this is where we get into like huge gray areas and what are the things that is really important, and this is part of why I focus on post-secondary institutions, is because there is this whole notion of the campus community.
Shaina: Particularly for undergraduate students, pre COVID, obviously, a lot of students not only go to school on campus, but they work on campus. They live on campus, they socialize on campus. So, their campus becomes very isolate. Again, it becomes very much a close-knit community.
Shaina: And we’ve seen this time and time again when sexual assault occur, not just on campus, but among the campus community members that it felt across the entire campus. So you yourself do not need to be, to be victimized to experience some of the repercussions of that victimization. There’s an increased fear. There’s that increased sense of vulnerability. There’s all of these other very widespread consequences, especially now that we’re looking at this digital space as well. If I’ve found out that one of my schoolmates was being harassed online by a fellow student, that would be very upsetting to me.
Shaina: Not just for my friend, but to know that this is happening and what I consider to be my very safe school?
Jill: Yes. In your community, in your backyard, if you like?
Shaina: Exactly. Anyway, as I mentioned when I was talking about the Dalhousie situation, it’s not just amongst students.
Shaina: Every campus community member. So, when I say campus community member, I mean, basically anybody that is associated with the university. So, this is staff, faculty, students. I mean, this can even include like vendors that are on campus regularly or even just associated with the university. Because it does get felt very widespread. It’s not just an isolated incident.
Jill: And this idea of campus community is also one that a lot of colleges and universities really emphasize as a reason to go to post-secondary, right?
Shaina: Oh yeah.
Jill: And encouraged, encouraging students to join groups, to join sports, to get involved, to make it more than just the courses that you’re taking, right?
Shaina: For sure.
Jill: And with this idea that this is something that the universities and colleges want to cultivate. Now that it’s moving into digital space and moving off campus both in digital and physical ways, we do now have these big gray questions of responsibility.
Shaina: Well, one of the things that came up in one of my interviews with somebody that I honestly, I wasn’t expecting to come up with. So, she’s an undergraduate student and she also works on campus. And so she said, “if I get assaulted. Am I getting assaulted as a student or as an employee member?”
Shaina: And I was like “That is such a good question that I was like, honestly, I have no idea.”
Jill: Because I imagine there are different policies.
Shaina: Okay. So it differs from university to university. But, at least the institution that I was looking at, the original policy apply to everybody. The updated policy which most universities are required to update their policies every year, or at least revise them in some way. Well, the first round of revisions removed all staff and faculty.
Shaina: The policy only applies to students.
Shaina: And so I would, and I only discovered this because I couldn’t find a PDF file on my computer. And so I was like, I’ll just go re-download it. So I go under the University’s website and I was like, This isn’t the same document.
Jill: Oh, my God.
Shaina: And I was like, Oh, it’s been revised. And then I’m reading it and I’m like, oh my god, like some of the changes that they made were just a little bit ridiculous. But I was like all of a sudden now all it’s saying is like students, students, students, meanwhile, they actually in the original document defined the campus community and it was everybody, the policy apply to everybody. So, in my research, I was basically interviewing anybody that was a campus community member.
Shaina: So, some of them are students, some of them were faculty, some of them are staff. So, there was this one staff member that I was interviewing and I asked about it and she goes, “Oh, I actually have an answer for you” and I was like “oh that’s fantastic.” Apparently the faculty and staff associations didn’t want things to be too complicated. So, anything that would fall under the purview of the sexual violence policy, if it’s dealing with faculty or staff, it should fall under the faculty and staff specific policies.
Shaina: Now, where the pure logic is there, I’m not entirely sure, but that’s basically what happened. But I was talking to. . . and this wasn’t even part of my research. I was just having a conversation with a fellow grad student. And I said, “So, what do we do if like, we’re assaulted?” Because I’m both staff and student. Yeah. And she was like, “No, that’s true. Like okay. So, if a student attacks me, does that fall under the sexual violence policy because this student was involved or does it fall under like a different policy because I’m a staff member and doesn’t have to be one of my students in order for me to be considered a staff member at that point?” And then I looked at her and I was like, “What if I were to attack you right now, what does that fall under?” And it’s just this huge lake just combobbled mess. And I was talking to sexual violence response coordinator about it. And she said, honestly, we don’t have an answer. She said it would depend on who you talk to you.
Jill: So, we’re back to that again.
Shaina: We’re back to that again. All kind of comes back to the, it depends on your need.
Shaina: But that’s one of the primary goals of my research, is like, Okay, we need to get this stuff explicit. Yeah, we need to sit down and write, this is who I talk to you. These are the potential consequences.
Jill: This is the process.
Shaina: This is the process. And part of my research was getting not so much with the faculty and staff because they’re much more policy-inclined. But I had students read the sexual violence policy. And one, they hated the language, two, a lot of them didn’t understand it right. Some of the grad students understood it a little bit better. But most of the undergrad students, well, I don’t even know what this means. Add three, they’re like, “okay, well, how do I find it?” I’d pass on my laptop and be like “Okay try to find it”. And it would take on average about four clicks to find it. And if you’ve just been victimized or you’re going to go through that? To find your university’s sexual violence policy?
Jill: And then not understand it when you read it.
Shaina: Exactly, especially because they use legal language and this is very common. So, like part of my research is like I download every English language University in Canada, all the sexual violence policies for those that have them, because not every province mandated at it. I read them and a lot of them use very legalistic language, which is normal when it comes to policy. But if you’re the victim of something, you don’t want to be referred to as a complainant?
Shaina: You don’t want your report to be referred to as a complaint yeah. Because of that really negative connotation.
Jill: Yeah. It makes it sound like you’re just whining or not tough or something.
Shaina: Exactly. And like if you look at literature about why victims don’t report, and this is anything from assault, abuse, sexual violence, like there’s a whole slew of different crimes that people don’t report and you ask them why and they’re like, “well, I didn’t realize that it was a crime, right?” Especially with sexual violence.
Jill: And I would imagine even more so with some of the technology facilitated sexual violence that you’ve discussed that the public in general doesn’t view as a crime.
Shaina: Yeah. Yeah. Well, it’s interesting because I started my research in 2019. And of, of every single student that I interviewed, one of them knew that revenge porn is illegal.
Shaina: And he only knew that because he and I had had a previous conversation about it.
Shaina: So, like it’s especially among the undergrads, like it’s not just Okay, you don’t know that there’s this school policy. You don’t know that it’s illegal behavior.
Jill: Right. So then if you feel victimized where you feel violated by what’s happened and you actually manage to do the four clicks and read the policy. I mean, first of all, you might think, I don’t want to complain. I guess I’m not a complainant. And secondly, you might think and I have no idea what this policy is saying. And then thirdly, you might think, and I don’t think what happens to me actually a crime anyway.
Shaina: Exactly, Exactly. There’s this whole level and I’m using this word literally not with this connotation, but there’s a great degree of ignorance.
Shaina: Even with physical sexual assault.
Shaina: There’s a huge degree of ambiguity as to Okay, well, can I actually report this? Like I feel violated, but I let him into my room.
Shaina: Right. So now just compound that with the technology.
Jill: Right. I feel violated, but I did let them take these pictures of me.
Shaina: Yeah, Exactly. Or I took it and I sent it to him not knowing that he’s now going to send it around to a whole bunch of other people. Right. And so, there is that level of ignorance that really, especially when it comes to the campus context, the university really needs to take a role in educating its students because I asked, because I haven’t been and undergraduate students in a number of years. Let’s just put it at that. And one I didn’t even go to my orientation, I went, I picked up my frosh kit and I left. And two I don’t know if it’s been updated since the Act right? So, I asked all of the undergrad students that I interviewed, like what kind of information where they gave him? Half of them said they didn’t go. Other half said, “oh, well, at the very end of the last day, there says little skit that gets put on that talks about the dangers of drugs, alcohol, and then the last about 30 seconds, but sexual violence.”
Shaina: So there’s no education process going on here. Students don’t even know what the policy is, where to find it. Who to go to, to get this information, right? You can’t necessarily use that very legalistic language. Like the least you could do is provide a summary or like using an Internet slang like too long, didn’t read. Like I just give you the basic of what is in it. A few of the students that I interviewed, they didn’t even know that we had a sexual violence response coordinator.
Shaina: Like they weren’t even aware that like unless you actually go on the university’s new site, like you go into the university website. And then they’ve got like this news panel. Unless you actually go into that, you would never know when they hired somebody like that. That, that person exists. The lack of education and an educational institution is kind of astounding.
Jill: So is it fair to say that Canadian post-secondary institutions need to provide a lot more robust education for students and for the campus community in order to really fulfill their responsibilities with regards to TFSV?
Shaina: Yes, I, I really believe so. I know I’m not the only one I believe so, but I mean, even the fact that I had to explain to them what it is and it wasn’t until I was able to get them concrete examples of what it is that they even understood. “Okay, this is a problem.” But then at the same time that “Okay, well, what do we do about it?” And it’s the same thing with even physical sexual violence. Like there is just state this stark a lack of education where, you know, unless it was a stranger that pulled me into the bushes in broad daylight, what I was coming home from my grocery shopping, there’s this whole level of a lack of understanding and a lack of acknowledging the nuances. And I think to a large extent, the university should play a role in educating its students. Like one of the reasons that we have these sexual violence policies is so that students that are victimized and don’t necessarily want to press criminal charges, they have an avenue to seek consequences. So okay, I don’t want to send him to jail by I don’t want to see him every day in class. So here is an outlet for me to be able to feel safer. And I think that’s one of the things that the university prides itself on saying,” okay, well, we have this policy, we’re being proactive, we’re doing something.” But at the same time, I mean, it’s kinda like a restraining order. What are you going to do? Throw a piece of paper if somebody
Shaina: So, it’s a lot more than just having the policy like you have to also educate your students. You have to you. . . I remember I was sitting in on a lecture and that professor was saying, “we’re doing a good job at teaching our girls how not to get raped. But we’ve fallen down on the issue of teaching, are boys not to rate them.”
Shaina: And there is this whole industry of ways for women to protect themselves like my, my partner, actually, he thought it was hilarious, but he came across it on Facebook. It’s a real product that’s basically unbreakable underwear. The only person that can take off the underwear is the wearer itself.
Jill: I’ve seen that. And also nail polish that reacts with Rohypnol so that you can dip your finger in the drink.
Shaina: Yep. Straws. There are straws that do that as well. There’s cups that change color if something’s been added to it. And like, there’s just, there’s all these products out there. There’s this whole industry for women to protect themselves. But what this leads to is a little bit of victim blaming.
Shaina: So why weren’t you wearing that nail polish? Why weren’t you wearing those unbreakable underwear? We can’t stoop to the level of being like, well, you took the picture yourself and you got drunk at a party. It’s your fault. Like we really care to do to that level as well. That is one thing that universities could be doing better.
Jill: It sounds like what we want is an unlearning of rape culture, misogyny, sexism, narrative scripts that say that men are always up for a narrative scripts that say no means yes, and downplaying of digital spaces as being less important than physical space. And the solutions that you’re saying universities have implemented are much more Band-Aid solutions than really trying to unravel the social forces that have led us to this place.
Jill: Thank you for talking with us today, Shaina, is there anything else about technology facilitated sexual violence that you think our listeners needs to be aware of or that you want to leave our listeners with?
Shaina: I think the biggest thing is just keeping an open mind. So, especially as technologies are changing and every aspect of life is evolving, there are some things that maybe even I haven’t thought of or other researchers haven’t thought of that are occurring. And we need to be open-minded to considering them to be social problems
Jill: Or to be violence.
Shaina: Or to be violence. Yes.
Jill: This episode of Gender Sex and Tech, continued a conversation began in Chapter 3 of the book, Gender Sex and Tech: An Intersectional Feminist Guide. The chapter is titled “Technology Facilitated Sexual Violence, Student Sexuality and Post-secondary Institutions”. And it was written by Shaina McHardy. I really want to thank Shaina for joining me today for this difficult but deeply important discussion. And I want to thank you the listener for joining me for another episode of Gender Sex and Tech: Continuing the Conversation. If you want to continue this conversation further, please feel free to reach out on Twitter @tech_gender. Or you might consider creating your own material in your own voice. Music for this episode I provided by epidemic. This podcast is created by me, Jennifer Jill Fellows with support from Douglas College in New Westminster BC, and support from the Mark Sanders foundation for public philosophy. Until next time everyone. Bye.