Column: Public help sought for anti-violence strategy

Canadians will participate in consultations tackling gender-based cyberviolence

by Bruce Campion-Smith

The federal government is turning to Canadians for their ideas on how to stamp out the “unacceptable” level of violence facing women and girls online.

Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu will use a Toronto visit on Monday to launch consultations on a federal strategy to reduce gender-based violence and the first topic up for discussion is cyberviolence.

“From my perspective, this is the Wild West of communication, where there are very few rules and very few avenues for people experiencing violence, women and girls in particular, who are disproportionately the victims of this type of violence online,” Hajdu told the Star.

The Internet and social media can be nasty forums for harassment, sexism and misogyny. In 2012, B.C. teen Amanda Todd took her life after becoming the target of cyberbullying.

Hajdu said there is no doubt the abuse aimed at women and girls online should be branded as violence.

“Language and abuse through the use of words is a form of violence. We take that very seriously and, quite frankly, think it’s intolerable,” Hajdu said.

“We need to call out and condemn violent behaviour, sexism whenever it occurs. Cyberspace is one of those areas that it’s occurring at an astronomical rate. It seems like a logical place for us to start,” she said Friday in an interview from her Thunder Bay riding.

She said there is a role for Ottawa to act in this arena, but how remains a question.

“That’s why we’re having these consultations. What can we do as a federal government to be an ally to women and girls who are experiencing these incredibly high rates of violent behaviour, whether it’s verbal or otherwise?” Hajdu said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has made gender equality a priority, and critical to that is reducing violence, Hajdu said.

The mandate Trudeau gave Hajdu included direction to develop a comprehensive federal gender violence strategy in concert with work underway among the provinces.

Hajdu’s mandate letter said she can expect support from the justice minister for changes to the criminal code and treasury board president for strategies to curb sexual harassment among federal institutions.

Hajdu’s department notes that young women – ages 15 to 24 – are most at risk of suffering violence, indigenous women are three times more likely to experience violence than nonindigenous women, and women with disabilities are twice as likely to report violence.

Copyright 2016 – Torstar Syndication Services

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