Date of Award


Publication Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name





sexual violence, technology


Charlene Y. Senn




Advances in internet-enabled and social networking technologies have permeated modern life, changing the nature of social interactions, including how sexual violence is committed and experienced. A novel form of technology-facilitated sexual violence is the use of technology to take, share, or otherwise use sexual images of another person without their consent, termed image-based sexual violence (IBSV). This is not widely thought of as a form of sexual violence and the impact on women and girls is often minimized despite emerging evidence that these experiences are both common and distressing. This form of violence has only begun to be studied, but the accounts that exist suggest that these acts may be similar to traditional (offline) sexual violence in some ways and differ significantly in others. The internet and networked technologies allow sexual images to be spread quickly and indefinitely to vast audiences, which may result in negative social and psychological outcomes for victims beyond, or that differ from, those that exist for other forms of sexual violence. Technology also introduces a social element to these acts, as non-consensual use of sexual images is often social (e.g., an image is sent to or viewed by others) which has implications both for victims’ experiences and prevention. Individuals who receive or view the images are considered bystanders and represent an important population to study as they are uniquely positioned to either intervene in prosocial ways (e.g., by preventing future misuse of the image) or to transition into perpetration (e.g., by forwarding an image). The current project contributes to the nascent literature on IBSV through a series of three online studies that investigated victims and bystanders. Study 1 explored key psychological symptoms and social changes inadult women victims of IBSV. A minority of women had symptoms of depression, trauma, and anxiety within clinical levels and about 60% had changes to some of their relationships. Study 2 contextualizes the quantitative findings of Study 1, deepening our understanding of women’s experiences. Using a qualitative method, Study 2 examined how women conceptualized and labeled their experiences of IBSV. Women’s experiences were similar to victims of offline sexual violence, and were fell into two braod categories – themes decribing emotional reactions, which were more common when the incident occurred, and themes that involved processing or meaning-making, which reflected women’s current thoughts and feelings about the incident. None of the labels which women used to describe these acts (e.g., betrayal) alluded to their gendered nature. Study 3 explored the impact of group size, gender, peer norms, and attributions of victim blame and responsibility on bystanders’ self-reported likelihood of helping in a hypothetical scenario in which they receive a sexual image forwarded without consent. Group size was experimentally varied. Only victim blame, gender, and peer norms around image sharing predicted intent to help. Taken together, Studies 1 and 2 enhance our understanding of the impact of IBSV for victims so that this form of violence can be established as worthy of serious consideration, future study, and intervention. Study 3 illuminates several factors that may impact bystander responses to inform intervention and educational efforts. A secondary aim of the project was to explore ways in which IBSV is similar to, and different from, traditional sexual violence. The current studies identified similarities in women’s accounts and outcomes between offline and IBSV, as well as identified variables that influence bystander behaviour offline as well as when responding to image-. These findings suggest that existing interventions to prevent sexual violence (in the case of bystanders) and support victims may be adapted for IBSV. Most importantly, when synthesizing across the three studies, the findings suggest that the larger social and cultural context that supports violence against women offline also supports such violence in online spaces, underscoring the need for systemic change.