Nfld. & Labrador

Body-shamed, threatened, bullied: N.L. finance minister shares cyber-abuse stories

The finance minister for Newfoundland and Labrador says she has been degraded, bullied and threatened through online attacks and is going public to show that verbal abuse is not acceptable.

Cathy Bennett calls online attacks 'unacceptable and frightening'

An emotional Cathy Bennett says the social media attacks against her were personal and violent. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

The finance minister for Newfoundland and Labrador says she has been degraded, bullied and threatened through online attacks and is going public to show that verbal abuse is not acceptable.

I want to put an end to cyberattacks that demoralize, humiliate and escalate.- N.L. Finance Minister Cathy Bennett

Cathy Bennett, who is also the minister responsible for the status of women in the province, invited several female reporters to Confederation Building on Monday to share some of the "frightening" messages she has received during her first year in cabinet.

"I was body-shamed. My life was threatened, and I was bullied."

Bennett said she had been prepared for a tough year because of the province's financial challenges, but did not anticipate "the tone and the slant" of the online response.

Time to stop being a virtual bystander

Bennett told reporters that her children see her "degraded" on social media, and that online abuse is one of the reasons why women are reluctant to go into politics.

"It's not OK," she said.

Some of the messages Bennett shared labelled her "a witch" and called for a bounty on her head.

"This is how it starts, because we excuse it, we don't call it out, we push it under the rug. I want all women to stand together, to be braver, and not be bystanders as others are abused.… I want to put an end to cyberattacks that demoralize, humiliate and escalate."

Cathy Bennett showed slides of various messages that have been posted about her over the past year. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Bennett, who had a career in business before entering politics, said she was "shocked" by the online messages, saying she had never experienced anything like that before.

People do not say anything to her face, she said, but there are "daily" shots on Twitter and Facebook — some of those to her private accounts.

I'm resilient, and this experience has made me even more resolute.- Cathy Bennett

Bennett would not say if the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary is investigating the social media comments, "for my own security."

As for the timing of her decision to go public, Bennett said Saturday marked the final day of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence and she wanted to highlight the issue.

"I'm resilient, and this experience has made me even more resolute, to keep this province on track and to be an advocate for safe and respectful workplaces," she said.

Support and more potshots

Reaction to Bennett's statement Monday was immediate, with some accusing her of creating a diversion from budget measures and the controversy over pensions for members of the House of Assembly.

However, much of the response on Twitter was supportive.

With files from Carolyn Stokes