Amanda Todd and the Importance of Clear Language

I‘VE NO OBJECTION in principle to NDP Member of Parliament Dany Morin’s motion this week to pursue a national bullying-prevention strategy. This proposal was conceived some months ago, but it is now widely mis-held to be an outcome of the suicide of fifteen year-old Amanda Todd. You are doubtless familiar with her appalling and sad and outrageous story, which has been widely reported and which has now got a great number of people talking about something called “cyberbullying.”

I arrived late to the details of this young life cut short, but very quickly I was bothered by the pattern into which the news coverage invariably took form. In a week which was especially rich in news of men attacking women, I was unable to find a single journalist who was prepared to follow the evidence to its logical conclusion — that Amanda Todd was the victim of male sexual violence, and that her subsequent treatment by peers disclosed the impossible double standards with which girls and women are held where sexual mores are concerned. (To be fair, these conclusions lie well beyond journalistic objectivity — but I can’t be the only one to have arrived at them.) We are used to reading about the fate of females elsewhere who besmirch a presumed chastity, but here on display was the familiar and rank hypocrisy by which girls and women are routinely sexualized and then attacked for their supposedly wanton ways. Bullying, I submit, is a euphemistic way of describing these attitudes, and perhaps even a changing of the subject.

It may be the case that Canada needs a cyberbullying law, and I don’t mean to suggest that Amanda Todd was at no point in her life bullied. The initial crime however was sexual predation, and it was soon followed by the attempted crime of blackmail, in pursuit of further sexual exploitation. While the use of electronic social media in the commission of these crimes may warrant Criminal Code updates (and as I understand it, such is the approach of Liberal MP Hedy Fry’s cyberbullying Bill C-273), neither pedophilia nor blackmail are beyond the reach of existing law. Then there is the charge of physical assault, which again may be seen as an instance of bullying but which may be apprehended under existing legislation. This leaves for consideration the insults and injuries committed on Facebook, vile but also an extension of the sexual predation/blackmail crimes of a perpetrator who is still out there, somewhere, if only the (again, existing) law can get to him.

I suspect Mr. Morin is right to contrast the bullying he experienced, before the arrival of Internet social media, to the bullying now experienced by young people. His useful words will no doubt renew the vigilance of those of us with children, against not new types of crime but the ones we have always known to exist. In speaking of that which really is new, we should not drown ourselves in a sea of cyberjargon. There are perfectly good words for the ancient dangers and attitudes, and as I consider the sad case of Amanda Todd, it is these that I discern.

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