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Letter of Information

If your teen is interested in participating in our study, kindly read the following letter carefully to find more information.

Kaitlynn Mendes, PhD

kmendes4@uwo.ca

University of Western Ontario

 

Alexa Dodge, PhD

Saint Mary’s University

 

Christopher Dietzel, PhD

Dalhousie University

 

Professor Suzie Dunn

Dalhousie University

1. The Study

 

Your teen is invited to participate in a research study that looks at how young people experience some types of harm online, including sexual or gender-based violence and harassment. This could include things like getting sent non-consensual sexual images, being slut-shamed or being called discriminatory names. You are receiving this letter because your teen expressed interest in participating in our study, are between the ages of 13-18, and live in Alberta, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Yukon.

2. Why is this study being done?

 

While social media, online gaming, and group chats are spaces that can both be fun and helpful for young people, they are also the spaces where harmful acts like racist, sexist, or homophobic comments are shared, where intimate images are taken and shared without consent, and where people are surveyed or stalked without their knowledge or permission.

 

This study explores the various risks and harms that young people face when going online, and how they can be empowered to cope with these harms by improving sexual health curricula, school policies, support systems, and legal responses. It will do this through interviews, focus groups, or talking circles.

Our discussions will therefore focus on three areas: first, we want to know which types of behaviours or practices young people witnessed or experienced that are harmful; second, we want to know what they (or others) did in response; and third, we want to know what they (would) want to happen in this situation and what types of support would help if this were to happen again.

 

We, the researchers, want to tackle these issues and will promote our academic work by creating evidence-based resources so that policymakers, teachers, academics, and the public can be more informed and able to tackle these issues. We believe that these supports, rules, and policies can only be helpful if we understand the perspectives of young people on what they experience online and what they need to feel more supported.

3. How long will your teen be in this study?

 

The research team will conduct interviews, focus groups, or talking circles, with an estimated duration of 45 to 90 minutes. Once participants have been interviewed, they will no longer be actively involved in the study. However, we encourage them to contact the researchers if they have any questions or need further assistance. After data collection and analysis, participants will have the opportunity to contact us and request the study results. This step is entirely optional.

4. What are the study procedures?

 

If your teen agrees to participate, they will be asked to schedule an interview or focus group at a time that works best for them. These sessions will be conducted in person, typically in a public space such as a private room in a library or community center. They will be audio-recorded, but if any participant prefers not to be recorded, she/he/they may still participate in the study and the researcher will continue by taking written notes.

 

During the research, participants will be asked a series of questions about times they have witnessed or experienced online risks and harms. These questions will involve asking them details about their (witnessed) experience, the impact it has had on them, their level of knowledge of relevant policies, their response, what or who helped them, and who or what you think should have helped. They will also be asked to complete activities, such as writing ideas down on post-it notes and flashcards, and creating scenarios and lists. This data will also be used in our analysis.

5. What are the risks and harms of participating in this study?

 

The possible risks and harms to participants include emotional reactions from reliving potentially painful experiences. These emotional reactions might consist of anger and sadness, among others. If they would like to speak with a mental health professional, they can refer to this list of resources.

 

Mental Health:

 

LGBTQ+ organizations:

 

Indigenous organizations:

  • First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line https://sk.211.ca - 1-855-242-3310.

  •  

Online abuse resources:

  • Crash override is a crisis helpline, advocacy group and resource center for people who are experiencing online abuse - http://www.crashoverridenetwork.com/

  • Right To Be's storytelling platform is a safe space where you can share your harassment story, get support, and help others experiencing harassment - https://iheartmob.org/

6. What are the benefits of participating in this study?

 

Participants may not directly benefit from participating in this study, but information gathered might provide benefits to society as a whole which includes a better understanding of how best to deal with online risks and harms.

7. Can participants choose to leave the study?

 

Participants may decide to stop participation at any point through the interview, focus group, or talking circle. If your teen decides to withdraw from the study within six months after the interview, focus group, or talking circle is finished, she/he/they has the right to request that information collected about you be deleted.

 

In some cases, participants might be withdrawn from the study by the researchers. This will only happen if a participant becomes distressed, or is not following the ground rules established at the start of the research that are meant to keep everyone safe.

8. How will participants’ information be kept confidential?

 

All data collected will remain confidential and accessible only to the investigators of this study. We are collecting information including participants’ names, ages, locations, emails (for contact purposes) and pseudonyms. If the results are published, their name or other identifying information will not be used. If we use direct quotes from interviews, we will remove any identifying descriptors (such as names of cities, and schools). If you would like to receive a copy of any potential study results, please contact Kaitlynn Mendes by email at kmendes4@uwo.ca.

 

It is important to note that while we aim to keep all the responses confidential, there are circumstances when we may have to go to the proper authorities. This includes if a teen discloses abuse to a child under the age of 18 or if they express intent to harm themselves or others.

 

The researcher will keep any personal information about your teen in a secure and confidential location for a minimum of 7 years. Before the research begins, participants will be asked to give a fake name – a pseudonym. This pseudonym will be associated with their name in a secure file on an encrypted file accessible only to the researchers of this study. When the researchers present information, they will be referred to by their pseudonyms or data presented in aggregate form.

 

The audio-recording file and the transcription will be saved using their pseudonym. The audio-recordings will be deleted once transcribed. If participants choose not to be audio-recorded, the notes taken during the research will be destroyed once transcribed. It is important to note that a record of your teen participation must remain with the study, and as such, the researchers may not be able to destroy their signed letter of information and consent. However, any data may be withdrawn upon participants’ request within six months of taking part in the research.

 

If your teen chooses to withdraw from the study within six months after the interview is complete, she/he/they can simply email the researchers indicating their pseudonym and all data associated with their interview, focus group, or talking circle will be removed and deleted. All audio recordings and transcriptions will be kept on an encrypted file on a server based at the University of Western Ontario. When the project is done, we will deposit anonymized transcripts and research data on Borealis, a secure Canadian Dataverse Repository. Only members of the research team will have access to this repository. Representatives of The University of Western Ontario Non-Medical Research Ethics Board may require access to the study-related records to monitor the conduct of the research.

 

The researchers will make every effort to ensure the confidentiality of the data. However, it is important to note that participating in a focus group or talking circle format may present challenges in guaranteeing absolute confidentiality. We kindly request that participants respect the privacy of their fellow participants by refraining from sharing the discussions held within the focus group with others.

9. What will we do with the data?

 

The data we gather from this research, such as transcripts or things participants create, will be analyzed by our research team. We will use this information to develop an online questionnaire that we will roll out to youth across Canada in the next 12 months. This anonymized data will then be shared with a range of audiences, such as other researchers, policymakers, educators, and the broader public through academic papers, conferences, and other public-facing materials. We plan, for example, to create a website where we share anonymized and aggregated data from our research. This might include photos of things participants create in our research, or soundbites where actors read their words.

10. Are participants compensated to be in this study?

 

Participants will be compensated for their participation in this research with $20 in cash, which will be given out after the interview, focus group, or talking circle is complete. If a participant withdraws from the study part-way through, they will still receive the $20.

11. What are the rights of participants?

 

Your teen’s participation in this study is voluntary. They may decide not to be in this study. Even if they consent to participate, they have the right to not answer individual questions or to withdraw from the study at any time. Participants do not waive any legal right by signing a consent form.

12. What are our safeguarding procedures?

 

We are an experienced research team and have strict safeguarding procedures and measures in place to protect your teen's well-being and privacy. While we aim to keep your teen’s data anonymous, if they disclose something that makes us strongly suspect that your teen needs protection, we have a duty to report it to the local agency that provides child protective services. Please be assured that such reports will be made strictly in accordance with established protocols and guidelines.

 

In addition, we have implemented several safeguards to protect your teen throughout the research process: 1) All members of our research team have undergone a thorough vulnerable sector check by their local police service; 2) We are fully up-to-date of the rules and regulations specific to our Province/Territory regarding mandatory disclosures. Our team is well-informed about when and how to report any concerns that may arise during the study; 3) To further enhance our expertise in handling sensitive issues, all members of our research team have received comprehensive training facilitated by a leading authority in sexual violence prevention in Canada.

13. Whom do participants contact for questions?

 

If you need more information about this research or study, you may contact Dr. Kaitlynn Mendes by email at kmendes4@uwo.ca. If you have any questions about your rights as a research participant’s parent or guardian or the conduct of this study, you may contact The University of Western Ontario’s Office of Human Research Ethics (519) 661-3036, email: ethics@uwo.ca.

Funding provided by:

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