A Note on Language
In this toolkit, we will sometimes use the word woman/women and feminine pronouns for simplicity and to recognize the significant impact technology-facilitated violence has on women and girls. We recognize that TFGBV also impacts trans, non-binary, and Two-Spirit people. We hope that all people impacted by TFGBV will find these documents useful.
This document provides an example of what technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV) might look like and what steps you can take when faced with this violence to preserve relevant digital evidence. For specific information about the legal remedies available to you when faced with TFGBV and specific methods for preserving digital evidence, see the other documents in the Legal Remedies Toolkit and the Preserving Digital Evidence Toolkit.
Imani and Jeff dated for two years. During their relationship, they enjoyed sexting and sharing sexual images with each other. Sometimes they made videos of the two of them having sex. They both promised not to share the images with anyone else, and told each other this was something special, just for the two of them. This was really important to Imani because her parents were religious and would not approve of her having sex before marriage. Imani did not share her parent’s beliefs about sex before marriage but she also did not want to rock the boat and did not want them to know she was sexually active. She knew if they found out it could really damage her relationship with her family, which was very important to her. Jeff knew that she was always worried her parents would find out they were having sex.
Over the years, Jeff started being more and more controlling over Imani so she eventually tried to break up with him. He said that if she left him, he would send the pictures and videos to her parents. Imani did not want to stay in the relationship with him and didn’t know what to do. Jeff said they had to have sex at least one more time or he would share the videos. Imani told him she did not want to but she would do it to stop him from sharing the videos. After they had sex for the last time, she told him their relationship was over. A few days later, she got a call from her friend Micha telling her that a video of her and Jeff having sex was up on a pornography website with her name in the title of the video and that Jeff had sent the link to a group chat on Facebook that Micha, Jeff, and several other friends were in, saying some really rude things about her. Imani is worried that he may post more of the images online and that her parents will find out about the video on the website.
Digital Evidence Collection
In this case, Jeff could be charged with several criminal offences including extortion, the non-consensual distribution of intimate images, and sexual assault. Alternatively, Imani may be able to sue Jeff for breaching her privacy and intentionally inflicting mental distress. For detailed information about possible legal remedies in cases of image-based abuse, like the scenario set out above, see Legal Remedies for Image-Based Sexual Abuse.
Imani’s first instinct may be to make a report to the pornography website where the video was posted to get it taken down as soon as possible and to confront Jeff or block him on social media. Before she does either, she should collect as much evidence of the abuse as possible. If she reports the video, the website operator could take it down, making it harder to prove in court that Jeff shared it. If she blocks Jeff or confronts him, he may take the content down. Once she has collected the evidence she needs, she can then consider any necessary steps to have the content removed from the Internet or to communicate with Jeff. Throughout, she should be mindful of any risks to her safety that might result from contacting Jeff or collecting this evidence. See: Safety Considerations for Preserving Digital Evidence.
Below is some general information about the types of evidence Imani should try to preserve. For more information, see Preserving and Storing Evidence of Technology-Facilitated Violence: Best Practices and the guides on preserving certain types of digital evidence linked below.
Evidence from Her and Jeff’s Previous Communications
- Imani should look back at all of her text, email, and social media conversations with Jeff and take screenshots or make a screen recording of conversations where they had agreed to keep the images and videos they shared in their relationship private.
- She should take a screenshot of any conversation they had about the video, such as when it was made, who made it, if they shared it with each other and the conversations they had around the video, even if it might feel embarrassing to show the court because of its sexual nature.
- She should take screenshots of any conversations they had where Jeff was upset about them breaking up and when Jeff told her they had to have sex again or he would share the photos or videos.
- She should take screenshots of any conversations they had where she told Jeff that it would be really upsetting for her if her parents found out that she was having sex before marriage.
- Imani should make sure that she collects not just screenshots of the conversations, but information that shows the dates and times of these conversations as well as Jeff’s profile information or contact information to show that the person who sent her those messages is actually Jeff. For example, his contact information on her phone will list the phone number that is associated with his cellphone account, which could prove it was actually him sending the messages.
- She should save a copy of the original video, if she has a copy saved on her phone or hard drive.
- If she chooses to delete Jeff from social media or block his number, she should make sure she has downloaded all of their relevant communication beforehand. Some social media companies prevent you from accessing messages between you and a person once you are no longer following each other.
Evidence from Her Friend Micha
- She should ask Micha to take a screenshot of the group chat message Jeff sent, including screenshots that show who is in the group, the post with the link, and Jeff’s profile or contact information related to his account. Imani will need to be able to prove not only that the link was posted to the group, but that it was Jeff who posted it. If Jeff uses a fake name or nickname on his profile, it will be important to collect other evidence that would show that Jeff uses that account, such as other posts on the account that have his photo or other information that could prove it is his account. This information should be collected right away, as Jeff may delete it later.
- She should ask Micha for a copy of the link to the video that Jeff sent the group.
Evidence from the Pornography Website
- Imani should take a screenshot or screen video recording of the video on the website. If there is information about the date, the user who posted the video, and how many times it has been viewed, she should screenshot that information, including whatever details she can get about the user’s profile.
- She should take a screenshot of what the video was titled by the poster, and also write it down.
- She should copy the URL of the video and save it in a separate document.
- She should take a screenshot of the length of the video.
- She should take a screenshot of any comments that are posted on the video.
- If there is any information that could link the posting back to Jeff, such as the username of the account that posted the video or the wording in the title of the video, she should document that. In many cases, images and videos are posted anonymously or under a fake name so it is more difficult to prove in court who posted them. Imani should collect whatever information she can. In some cases, the police or the courts may be able to get a court order that will order the website owner to provide more information about that particular account that can help identify who was associated with the user who posted the video.
Technology-Facilitated Gender-Based Violence (TFGBV) is part of a continuum of violence that can be both online and in-person. If you or someone you know is experiencing TFGBV, you are not alone. You can use sheltersafe.ca to find a shelter/transition house near you or call/text the Kids Help Phone to discuss options and create a safety plan. You don’t need to stay in a shelter to access free, confidential services and support.
We gratefully acknowledge Moira Aikenhead for providing expertise to update this toolkit and Suzie Dunn of The eQuality Project at the University of Ottawa for providing expertise and guidance on the creation of this information sheet.
Adapted with permission from BCSTH’s Technology Safety project, based on their resource Collecting Digital Evidence For Your Case: Fact Scenarios.