EDITOR’S NOTE: Throughout February, SaltWire Network will be telling stories of family violence to help raise awareness and effect change. The survivor’s name in today’s story has been changed to protect their identity.
SYDNEY — The rant of a person on a live stream video telling Frances to kill herself is still on the public Facebook wall of one of her alleged harassers.
“Go hang yourself. Do society a favour,” the person in the video screams angrily without showing their face.
Frances, who is in her 40s, doesn’t know why this person who went to her high school has gotten involved in a dispute with her ex-girlfriend over a cellphone Frances wants to be taken out of her name.
However, she fears it’s her ex finding a way to continue her alleged attack on her through social media, email, text and phone because the two women were told not to have contact with each other.
“I need this girl to leave me alone. And she’s just not doing that. It’s worse than when she was here — it’s ridiculous,” said Frances, whose identity is being protected in hopes it won’t provoke further harassment.
“She should be dating. She should be (seeking medical treatment). It’s out of hand. She’s breaking into my online accounts and everything now. It’s way out of hand.”
WEAPONIZING DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY
Frances said her 10-month relationship with her ex-girlfriend was tumultuous.
During their relationship, Frances alleges her ex went through her messages, made her block friends due to “their looks” and smashed in the bathroom door during a fight when Frances had locked herself inside.
Calling her ex’s anger “explosive,” Frances said after breaking into the bathroom her ex allegedly took her antidepressants, put the whole three-month prescription in her mouth then spit them in the kitchen sink. The Cape Breton Post has seen some of the communication from Frances’s ex, which includes insults and threats of harm.
Frances thought she’d finally be able to move on after her ex moved out in September.
Then the calls, texts, emails and social media messages started.
“I have over 1,000 emails. And the texts. There was a point at the end of October I got tired of opening my email and seeing her go off all over again. It was constant. Constant. ‘You did this to me, you hurt me this way.'”
Her ex also allegedly told Frances the Tumblr account and YouTube channel she started were dedicated to their break-up. On the YouTube channel there were 197 songs and almost 1,500 views, while the microblogging social media Tumblr account has many sexual images, some of which depict scenes of bondage.
In December, Frances woke to find a tire slashed on her car. That morning, there were more emails in her inbox.
While Frances has no idea who slashed her tire, she said she fears for her safety.
“It’s scary. I feel like I always have to watch my back, anywhere I go.”
POLICE AND THE LAW
Frances has reported many incidents to the Cape Breton Regional Police and the police service has also been contacted by her ex.
Frances is suspicious about the timing. The reports coincide with times Frances has received abusive communications from her ex.
Police told Frances there wasn’t a crime committed where they could file charges. At publication time, Frances was waiting for her scheduled court date for a peace bond hearing.
Regional police spokeswoman Desiree Magnus spoke to the Cape Breton Post generally about steps taken when investigating reports of cyberbullying, as she is unable to speak to the specifics of Frances’s case.
“There is no specific criminal charge for cyberbullying itself. Cyberbullying can be criminal if it falls under a criminal offence such as harassment, threats, extortion, distribution of intimate images and child pornography,” she said in a written response to emailed questions.
“A criminal charge for harassment involves repeated, unwanted contact with a person over a period of time; a criminal charge for threats involves a direct threat to cause bodily harm to another person. So the evidence must prove those characteristics of repeated, unwanted contact or a direct threat to harm, in order to warrant a criminal charge.”
HELP FOR VICTIMS
While police might not be able to file a criminal charge in cases like Frances’s, there are measures in place to protect Nova Scotians from cyberbullying.
The Intimate Images and Cyber-Protection Act in Nova Scotia protects cyberbullying victims under the law. The Nova Scotia Supreme Court can issue an order to have images, posts and videos taken down and victims can be awarded money for damages caused by cyberbullying.
There is also a provincial CyberScan unit that helps victims navigate court proceedings, legal systems and work as mediators between involved parties in an attempt to stop the actions and have images, posts and videos removed from social-media platforms.
Wayne MacKay, a Dalhousie University law professor is the former chair of the Nova Scotia Task Force on Bullying and Cyberbullying. He said these cases can be difficult to prosecute because lawyers have to prove who sent the alleged messages.
But new technolgy makes identification easier.
The task force was put in place after the tragic death of Rehtaeh Parsons, a Nova Scotia teen who committed suicide after being cyberbullied when media was released online of what some all people allege was her sexual assault.
MacKay said the Parsons case is an example of how harmful cyberbullying can be.
“Basically the internet has become a new powerful weapon for both good and bad. And the evil or bad part of it is very significant, the sort of unpleasant underbelly of the internet is cyberbullying and hate speech and racism,” said MacKay.
“It can be another form of domestic violence and the kind that might escalate … into real physical violence. It’s not like the ‘old sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.’ Well, no. In fact, the impact is very big in cyberbullying.”