Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

Media Studies

Supervisor

Burkell, Jacquelyn

2nd Supervisor

Hodson, Jaigris

Affiliation

Royal Roads University

Abstract

Women have long fought for recognition and protection from the violence and abuse against them. This fight has only grown more complex with the introduction of digital technology and online abuse. In this thesis, I adopt a hermeneutic phenomenological approach to understand how 15 women experience barriers to support when they are targeted by online abuse and examine their responses to those barriers. Drawing from a range of theoretical frameworks and literature, this thesis contributes to the current understanding of online violence against women and girls. Overall, I found that participants experienced and responded to barriers to support in three distinct ways: first, they experienced barriers across a range of environments, but most commonly at the institutional level with social media and gaming companies presenting the most problems. Second, they experienced barriers with digital dualism, whereby online abuse was treated as less harmful than other forms of offline abuse. And third, participants experienced barriers to support as something that they must respond to and which leaves them with few other options than to take responsibility for their safety and well-being. In chapters one and two I provide an overview of relevant literature and my methodological decisions. In chapter three I use Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) ecological model to create a schema of the barriers women face when they seek support for online abuse. In chapter four I narrow in on one particular barrier discussed in chapter three—digital dualism (Jurgenson, 2011). Digital dualism is the discursive habit of conceptually splitting online and offline life into separate and opposing domains. I employ embodiment theory and digital ontology, among other frameworks, to discuss digital dualism’s consequences as a barrier to support. In chapter five I look at participants’ responses to abuse in the context of these barriers. I combine the weak support ecosystem with gendered social oppression strategies, such as victim-blaming and rape myth acceptance, to explore indicators of responsibilization among participants’ responses to barriers to support. While online abuse mirrors inequality and abuse that predates the Internet, this research provides a much-needed foundation to articulate how targets of online abuse experience support barriers to online equality.

Summary for Lay Audience

Women have long fought for recognition and protection from the violence and abuse against them. This fight has only grown more complex with the introduction of digital technology and online abuse. In this thesis, I interview 15 women in order to understand how they experience barriers to support when they are targeted by online abuse and examine their responses to those barriers. Drawing from a range of theoretical frameworks and literature, this thesis contributes to the current understanding of online violence against women and girls. Overall, I found that participants experienced and responded to barriers to support in three distinct ways: first, they experienced barriers across a range of environments, but most commonly at the institutional level with social media and gaming companies presenting the most problems. Second, they experienced barriers in relation to digital dualism, whereby online abuse was treated as less harmful than other forms of offline abuse. And third, participants experienced barriers to support as something that they must respond to and which leaves them with few other options than to take responsibility for their safety and well-being. In chapters one and two I provide an overview of relevant literature and my research decisions. In chapter three I use Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) ecological model to understand the connections between the barriers women face when they seek support for online abuse. In chapter four I narrow in on one particular barrier discussed in chapter three—digital dualism (Jurgenson, 2011). Digital dualism is the tendency to think about online and offline life as two separate and opposing domains. I employ theories to help think through the physical body’s relationship to online spaces and to discuss digital dualism’s consequences as a barrier to support. In chapter five I look at participants’ responses to abuse in the context of these barriers. I combine the weak support ecosystem with other problematic practices, such as victim-blaming and rape myth acceptance, to explore how participants took responsibility for the abuse they experienced. While online abuse mirrors inequality and abuse that predates the Internet, this research provides a much-needed foundation to articulate how targets of online abuse experience support barriers to online equality.

Available for download on Wednesday, February 01, 2023

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