Is it actually violence? Framing technology-facilitated abuse as violence

Dunn, S. (2021). Is it Actually Violence? Framing Technology-Facilitated Abuse as Violence. In J. Bailey, A. Flynn, & N. Henry (Eds.), The Emerald International Handbook of Technology-Facilitated Violence and Abuse (pp. 25–45). Emerald Publishing Limited


Open access: No

Notes: This chapter discusses why it is essential to name digital violence as violence: it is when we name things that we can address them as a society. Dunn draws on the continuum of violence, coercive control and critical race theory to discuss technology-facilitated abuse and violence. Moreover, the author describes how definitions of violence should not be dictated by institutions, as they can replicate violence. Instead, they should be defined by understood in social contexts—But these definitions can and ought to be challenged.

Quotes: “many of these abusive technology-facilitated behaviors are a form of violence that should be situated on the continuum of violence and, as such, should be broadly defined as “violence.” To do otherwise risks minimizing the severity of these actions and fails to recognize their interconnectedness with other more familiar forms of violence.” (p. 28)

“Not every unwanted touch or unwelcome contact through technology will be considered violent nor should they be. We must avoid developing an understanding of violence that is so broad that it waters down the significance of violent behaviors or results in overly punitive measures for less consequential behaviors or acts of self-defense. (p. 29)

Abstract: When discussing the term “technology-facilitated violence” (TFV) it is often asked: “Is it actually violence?” While international human rights standards, such as the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (United Nations General Assembly, 1979), have long recognized emotional and psychological abuse as forms of violence, including many forms of technology-facilitated abuse (United Nations, 2018), law makers and the general public continue to grapple with the question of whether certain harmful technology-facilitated behaviors are actually forms of violence. This chapter explores this question in two parts. First, it reviews three theoretical concepts of violence and examines how these concepts apply to technology-facilitated behaviors. In doing so, this chapter aims to demonstrate how some harmful technology-facilitated behaviors fit under the greater conceptual umbrella of violence. Second, it examines two recent cases, one from the British Columbia Court of Appeal (BCCA) in Canada and a Romanian case from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), that received attention for their legal determinations on whether to define harmful technology-facilitated behaviors as forms of violence or not. This chapter concludes with observations on why we should conceptualize certain technology-facilitated behaviors as forms of violence.

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