10/21/2014 05:41 EDT | Updated 12/21/2014 05:59 EST

Harper's 'Revenge Porn' Bill Agenda Does Very Little To Protect Innocents

Bill C-13 is a particularly ugly expression of what Harper's Conservatives have come to embody. Even for this government, it is a uniquely cynical use of omnibus legislation to use the death of a terrorized child as a tool to push forward a political agenda that has very little to do with the protection of innocents. C-13 is another example of this government's insidious policy of incremental encroachment upon the freedoms of Canadians.

The sting of the insult is particularly sharp for the victims who were doubly violated, first by their abusers and then by their government. As the Parliamentary debate was dominated by the issue of privacy rights, these victims were robbed of the recognition of their suffering. These victims who believed that someone was finally listening to their plight must now contend with the knowledge that their desecrated lives served as no more than political fodder for their Government.

Because of the Bill's sweeping violations of all Canadians, there has been very little discussion on the portion of the Bill that actually concerns the malady it purports to remedy, the sex crime. The consensus seems to be that the punitive measures introduced in the Bill are its silver lining. Indeed, any woman should breathe a sigh of cathartic relief at the provisions which not only provide for serious punitive measures including the possibility of five years of imprisonment, but also corrective measures including amendments that would authorize the removal of such images from the internet, recovery of costs incurred to remove the images and a recognizance order to prevent the further distribution of the images. These provisions are serious enough to suggest that this Government understands the dire consequences for victims of these crimes.

But in order to be effective, the legal culpability must match the moral culpability and this can't happen unless we change the way we talk about this crime. This is why it is so worrying that the drafters of Bill C-13 went to extraordinary measures to distance themselves from a "revenge porn" law, from the fact that the protection of adult sexual women is an object of the Bill and not merely an incidental effect. How we formulate our laws and policies, how we talk about them, informs the way we understand our society and our position in it. The words we choose reveal inherent values, judgments and biases. Offensively inadequate words like cyber-bullying send cues that this sadistic crime shouldn't carry the stigma of a "proper" sex crime. Focusing the discussion on one vulnerable class of people- minors- indicates that other groups- adult women- are less worthy of protection. So let's clarify a few words.

It's not cyber-bullying, it's cyber-rape. Imagine you receive an email containing a naked picture of you in a sexual position. You remember, that one that you sent your lover. The email is linked to a site where more images of your naked and vulnerable body are displayed followed by hateful comments, complete strangers tearing you apart, a cybermob virtually raping you. The site includes your full name, your home address, your contact information. Some of the commenters threaten to come to your home and rape you. The cybermob is populating sites that sell sex with your pictures and providing your home phone number and address to men who are looking to buy or take. The commenters have crowd-sourced your family's contact information. Your boss's information. They've sent the images to your colleagues. They've easily accessed your church or synagogue's contact list and sent the "advertisements" they have created to every member of your congregation as concerned members. You can no longer be the things you dreamed to be. You won't be Prime Minister. You won't be anything more than that sexualized image before you. This is revenge porn. And it happens to women every day.

Bill C-13 is a "revenge porn" law. We are not the first jurisdiction to introduce laws to protect women against the sex crime of "revenge porn". Britain is explicitly making revenge porn a criminal offence carrying a sentence of up to two years imprisonment. Maryland recently charged the first offender under its new revenge porn law. Lawmakers in these jurisdictions recognize that revenge porn is used to terrorize, disenfranchise and victimize women of all ages, backgrounds, and notoriety. It is striking that our Government can only discuss the issue when it positions it as a bill to protect the welfare of children to the exclusion of women as a class. The message is that the protection of sexual adult women is less marketable than that of minors. The subtext is that adult female victims are somewhat culpable in their own victimization by virtue of being sexual creatures in the first place. In other words, if you "choose" to be sexual in any context, you have forfeited any agency over the expression of your sexuality.

If the Government seeks to protect young girls, it would be wise to remember that these girls will one day be women. If we want young women to believe that they are worthy of our protection as full and equal citizens after their eighteenth birthday, then we would do right to discuss this Bill as one that protects all victims. It matters that the Government has not identified Bill C-13 for its protection of women as well as other groups. It matters that we don't call revenge porn a sex crime. It matters that we don't impose the same stigma upon the perpetrators and the voyeurs who access revenge porn as we do of perpetrators of other sex crimes.


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