‘If-then’ penalty for unwanted sex on social media might protect citizens, but men will find ways around it

It’s pretty creepy if you ask us, but soon school boards could be docking the pay of any public official caught trying to contact a woman for sexual gratification online.

“In this fast-changing environment, it’s easy to brush these things off as youthful indiscretions that don’t matter – and in my book, they do,” says University of Ottawa Professor Diana Whalen.

Ontario’s local government minister, Marie-France Lalonde, has raised the idea of “if-and-then” penalties for officials who ask women if they prefer hot or cold water.

It’s not unheard of for city councillors to get a slap on the wrist, and even more rarely for local officials to be fired, she says. (Toronto Police fired Ward 9 councilor Justin Di Ciano after he was found guilty of sex harassment.)

But such sanctions don’t mean their users are cowed, says Whalen.

“Ordinary people see these things very differently,” she says.

“They say to themselves, ‘I’m not going to lie to somebody to get an opinion on the first date’ – which is a far cry from admitting to someone online whether you’re ovulating or not.

“They see this as alarmingly invasive.”

For Fergus Eaton, the backlash from women was predictable.

When Eaton, a policy analyst with Eastern Ontario Council of Municipalities, was first hit with the shock of finding himself on the receiving end of a blind item proposition, he says it didn’t take long for women to respond with outrage.

They said, ‘I’m so sorry you’re getting touched like this – I’m scared of what’s going to happen later on’

“When this happened to me, I was in the industry, so we had to do a lot of apologies,” says Eaton.

He has since received an apology from a woman who said she intended to encourage dialogue, but hadn’t realized that was not her purpose.

Eaton then learned her name, and did the “backpedal,” but said he still considered herself a victim and felt terrible about it.

“She said, ‘I’m so sorry you’re getting touched like this – I’m scared of what’s going to happen later on,’” he said.

“That happened right in front of my face and it left me shaken.”

“I’m thinking, ‘This lady here is using shock tactics, here’s an opportunity to capitalize on it, and here’s an opportunity for me to be almost complicit.’”

Whalen says the push-back from women has influenced Eaton in two ways.

“It made him think about what he’s done,” says Whalen.

And it also made him realize that if a woman wants to be friends online with an elected official, they’ll have to ask permission first, even if the official’s asking first.

“It’s difficult enough for women to get elected in this society already,” she says.

“Making it easy for them to do it with impunity, right in front of their faces, means the doors are wide open.”

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