Photo: Devin Jones

Program works to fight cyber violence

In Communities /

By Nathalie Rodríguez

Public shaming online has become all too common with the disturbing comments on Instagram, weird OkCupid messages and uncomfortable Snapchats. People are targeting individuals, especially women, by personally contacting them with inappropriate content. This is why the project Webwise was created.

The project is in partnership with three organizations—St. Stephen’s Community House, METRAC, and East Metro Youth Services—each focusing on a specific sector of sexual violence, which is discovered through a data base they have collected during surveys they’ve done in Toronto.   

The goal is to help young women who are dealing with sexual violence online—because they’re not the only ones.

“It’s almost like you can’t avoid spaces you don’t feel safe in anymore, because someone who harmed you can access you at any point in time, wherever you are,” said Tara Farahani.

Farahani is a Ryerson grad that has experienced a vast amount of inappropriate messages through social media and dating sites for a year and a half. Reliving the past didn’t do any favours in recovering from a past incident she faced relating to sexual violence.

“For myself, it was a re-traumatizing experience over and over to see messages from someone who had inflicted harm on me that I wanted so desperately to disconnect from,” she said.

Cutting ties with your online activities won’t get rid of the torment already created, but rather just remove your privilege of a voice. Instead, women are encouraged to seek support, for guidance on handling the situation.

Farahani is involved in the research project, Webwise.ca, which began in 2014. As a peer, her job is to assist young women in situations surrounding online sexual violence by reflecting back to incidents she faced in order to guide others.

To provide the most efficient advice, the group is made up of nine peers all whom faced sexual violence online and three leading staff.

The group as well wants to give transgender people a voice by recruiting staff with diversity. Transphobia is a huge issue seen throughout the Internet, which leaves many transgender people to be a victim of cyber sexual violence. Till further notice the organization is planning on partnering with trans and LGBTQ people in the community, as Farahani said “We’ve felt it wouldn’t be right for us to speak on behalf of the trans community, so partnering and incorporating trans-focused organizations into our framework is a way we feel we can do better to learn and being inclusive of all gender identities.”

Farahani stated “We provide innovative and essential social services that improve the lives of 25,000 vulnerable men, women, youth and children in the city each year.”

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