With the digital world in a state of constant change, it can be difficult to stay up to date on how the youth in your life are using online and virtual platforms. The youth who we work with have identified a disconnect with adults when it comes to talking about violence in the virtual world. Youth experience violence due to rape culture and other forms of prevalent systemic oppression (racism, trans-antagonism, ableism and so on) which are also at the root of violence experienced online. Young people’s in-person and online interactions are so deeply intertwined that many of the youth in our projects have identified that treating cyber violence as a distinct and separate form of violence (eg. calling it cyber violence) does not resonate with their realities
First and foremost, cyber violence should be taken seriously. Youth who are experiencing any form of violence should be believed and supported, and not shamed or blamed for their experiences. It is common for youth to receive victim blaming messages, such as that they should not have texted intimate photos to a partner and it is their fault that the photos were shared beyond what they consented to.
Part of our work has been to hear from youth about the education they have received regarding cyber safety and shared many examples of approaches that use fear, shame, and the encouragement of abstinence. These programs are not only ineffective, but can also be harmful to youth. To many youth, their phones and the internet are important tools for forming identity and building relationships. The type of education that youth are asking for are communication tools for navigating consent and boundaries in their digital interactions, as well as bystander intervention skills to intervene in online harassment.
In our work, we see the Internet as a rich resource and point of connection. There is much to be gained through online engagement, such as self-expression, social action, art, and access to resources.
For more information about how to engage youth in non-judgmental conversation about cyber violence, check out our Resource Page.
Photo by Zackary Drucker as part of Broadly’s Gender Spectrum Collection