Photo By: Fly:D from Unsplash

CONTENT WARNING: This article touches on subjects of sexual assault, abuse and harassment. 

The Niagara Sexual Assault Centre is gearing up to host their 40th annual Take Back the Night program this week, this time with a focus on digital forms of abuse.

Take Back the Night is an annual international event that advocates for an end to gender-based violence and is held in communities across Canada. Like last year, the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC) has joined forces with the Niagara Sexual Assault Centre to provide a virtual event due to COVID-19.

This year’s event will be held on Thursday, Sept. 16 beginning at 7 p.m. and will be accessible on the centre’s social media pages and YouTube channel. The theme of the program this year will be digital safety.

“We chose digital safety as the theme this year due to the increase in time spent online by children, youth and teens during the pandemic,” said Donna Christie, Public Education Coordinator at the centre. “Whether they are playing video games or using social media, they could encounter sexual predators looking for personal information and pictures to exploit them or sex traffickers grooming and luring young victims.”

While people of all genders experience cyberviolence and are forced to deal with forms of digital abuse, women and girls are at greater risk of experiencing violence online, especially severe types of harassment and sexualized abuse.

According to Statistics Canada, approximately 67% of the victims of police-reported intimidation on the Internet were women and girls. Similarly published statistics show that six in 10 Canadian girls have been harassed or abused online. 

Facebook is the most commonly used social media platform for abusers, but other sites such as Instagram, Snapchat and more recently, TikTok, are also commonly used to find potential victims. International data published by the UN Broadband Commission in 2015 shows that this is similarly the case worldwide as 73% of women who were surveyed indicated they faced some form of abuse online that year.

Speakers at the event will cover a variety of related topics ranging from cell phone and gaming safety for children to general digital safety information. Additionally, a number of informational seminars will be held for parents alongside a special Instagram live activity hosted by Reema Shah, a therapist at the centre.

On an individual level, it is difficult to prevent people from being abusive online, and, at the institutional level, there’s still much work to be done to improve tools for self-defence and mechanisms for accountability. However, with continued education and collective advocacy efforts, community members can push back against abuse and protect the digital space for everyone.

Niagara’s Sexual Assault Centre is a local non-profit organization that responds to the needs of survivors of sexual violence and strives to increase public understanding and awareness of sexual assault related issues. The centre offers a series of support, counseling and emergency services to individuals in the Niagara Region and is able to be reached 24/7.

For more information about the Niagara Sexual Assault Centre and their Take Back the Night event this year, click here. Individuals who are in need of immediate assistance from the centre are encouraged to call their 24-hour crisis and emergency line at 905-682-4584.