Some women face threats of online violence, abuse and harassment on a daily basis, but this rarely leads to criminal charges.
Winnipeg gym owner Justin Peter Bodnarchuk, 39, was charged Tuesday with three counts of threats of death or bodily harm after allegedly posting threatening messages online against feminists and police officers.
The suspect also reportedly posted an online threat to kill someone who directly responded to his messages with contempt, city police said. Bodnarchuk remains in detention.
Such abuses are not new, said University of Guelph sociology professor Myrna Dawson, who also heads the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability.
“I don’t think our (justice) systems are set up to deal with (online attacks) because its seriousness has to be recognized first and we are not there,” she said. in an interview.
“It is a form of misogyny that has always been normalized in various ways. It can be done by lessening its severity or its impact on targets as it is not face to face or it is just the work of marginal groups. who all bark and small bite. ”
Winnipeg Police could not say Tuesday if general online threats are increasing, but explained why someone could be arrested for suspected online threats when other abusive social media behavior is undeserving of attention. be charged.
“Words are really important. References such as killing or specifically injuring a person in a specific way or words which would generate alarm or fear in a reasonable person are taken into account when investigating threatening comments, “said the Winnipeg Police Service Const. Dani McKinnon said in an interview.
“Another criterion is to whom the threat is made … is it a real person or an identifiable group as a collective? That would make the threat possible as well.”
McKinnon suggested that social media users report abusive accounts and contact the police if there is a threat.
Incidentally, Dawson said some women are frustrated with the lack of police assistance when faced with online attacks.
“I see a lot of women discussing this on social media, expressing their frustration at being the target of threats, like men who are going to come to their homes and rape or kill them. And when the police are contacted, they are told basically there’s nothing they can do, switch accounts or not use social media, ”she said.
“So again, women and girls need to adjust their behavior – which they are already doing significantly both offline and online – rather than targeting perpetrators or making it harder for this abuse to occur online. . ”
In Tuesday’s case, Dawson said he was encouraging police to lay charges.
“I hope that would have happened even if they had not also been targeted,” she said.
Some would argue, rightly, that it is not possible to know whether those who commit abuse online will escalate into violence in the real world, she said.
“But that doesn’t mean that the criminal justice system and online providers aren’t tasked with determining how we will begin to deal with issues of online abuse, which are not going to go away and impact on women. and girls, in particular, ”Dawson says.
“The biggest barriers to preventing violence against women and girls are attitudes that tolerate and facilitate it – and these attitudes are currently flourishing relatively uncontrollably online and … impressionable young people, in especially boys, are witnesses. ”
Court records show that two women had obtained protection orders against Bodnarchuk: one in 2018, the other in 2019.
“He said he had visions of smashing my face with a kettleball in my sleep. He kicked my front door and wished my children badly,” wrote an elder. romantic partner in her 2019 protection order application.
In May, Bodnarchuk was sentenced to 10 days in prison and 18 months probation after admitting to violating a protection order in force against him.
– with files from Dean Pritchard
Erik Pindera is a multimedia producer for the Winnipeg Free Press.
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