Technology-facilitated abuse

Summit outcomes

The Summit roundtables identified a number of key insights and suggested actions, summarised below.

  • There is significant overlap between domestic violence and technology facilitated abuse.

  • Technology facilitated abuse is a power and control tactic used by abusers, but it takes many different forms. It can include using spyware on a victim’s phone to track them and publishing intimate photos of them without their consent.

  • Frontline workers who deal with women and children victims see technology facilitated abuse on a daily basis.

  • In the case of the non-consensual sharing of intimate images, rapid responses are needed to remove abusive content.

  • Governments should harmonise legislation across jurisdictions.

  • Education programs should deliver information to different audiences, including online.

  • Collaboration should be fostered between social media enterprises, technology companies, governments and the domestic and family violence sector.

  • Research into technology facilitated abuse, and the experience victims have in addressing this abuse, should be undertaken.

  • Parallel responses are needed – to educate, to hold perpetrators to account, and to remove the abusive content in a timely manner.

A number of contributions to the online roundtables have also been received. Those contributions are still being reviewed but some of the main themes and ideas highlighted include:

  • The impact of technology facilitated abuse on women’s lives is significant

  • Some service providers report that young women are overtaking older women as the largest group accessing services, in part because of the role technology is playing in the abuse being experienced.

  • Greater research is required. The limited research so far has focused on a small number of states and has focused largely on service providers.

  • There are inconsistencies in criminal laws.

  • There is an urgent need for training to enhance police attitudes and evidence gathering capabilities.


Discussion paper authored by the Commonwealth in preparation for COAG National Summit

Background

Technology facilitated abuse encompasses a wide range of behaviours by perpetrators using communications technology to control, abuse, harass, punish and humiliate women. This can include distributing intimate images without consent via digital platforms, restricting access to finances or methods of communication, accessing or modifying private information or correspondence, and alienating the victim from support networks through the use of technology.

The non-consensual sharing of intimate images (colloquially referred to as ‘revenge porn’) is a specific form of technology-facilitated abuse that has become particularly prevalent. In recent months, this phenomenon has attracted significant media coverage, including the discovery of a website that shares photos of allegedly underage and non-consenting female Australian school and university students.

Whereas twenty years ago the sharing of personal information and images was not widespread, the internet and social media have provided a platform to do this more readily. Social norms around sharing personal information are changing quickly. However, consent remains key in protecting people’s right to privacy.

Technology-facilitated abuse is becoming more widespread and normalised. Yet many people still not recognising why online abuse is a problem and blaming victims for their behaviour when it does occur. The differing values across generations exacerbate a lack of understanding and acceptance of changing social norms.

According to the national SmartSafe survey of domestic violence service practitioners working with women experiencing the effects of domestic or family violence, 98 per cent of clients experienced technology facilitated abuse, with text messages being the most common, followed by harassment on Facebook. Almost three in ten said their clients had been tracked using digital technology[1].

This roundtable will focus on understanding the various forms of abuse facilitated through the increased reach of online technology and how federal and state governments can work together in partnership with other sectors to overcome this issue. Discussion will also focus on strategies to mitigate potential risks of abuse through the use of future developments in technology.

Issues

Through COAG, governments are examining ways to limit technology-facilitated abuse in the context of reducing violence against women and their children. The work spans a number of areas for action including public awareness campaigns, proactive identification by law enforcement and front line services, the adequacy of criminal legislation and victim support and engagement.

As part of this process, the Commonwealth Attorney‑General’s Department is working with states and territories to review the effectiveness of existing Commonwealth, state and territory laws in criminalising the distribution of intimate material without consent.

The COAG Advisory Panel on Reducing Violence against Women and their Children heard that when women are properly informed and supported, it is possible to reduce the incidence and impact of technology facilitated violence, as well as increase the likelihood of perpetrators being held to account. This points to the need to educate and equip women with information and resources. Women should not be forced to give up important social connections and support because of abuse.

Information resources improve people’s knowledge of technology-facilitated abuse and courses of action available to combat it. The Children’s e-Safety Commissioner has been appointed to help young people have positive and safe experiences online. Earlier this year the eSafety Commissioner launched a new initiative—eSafetyWomen—to empower all Australian women to take control of their online experiences.

Telstra has committed 20,000 smart phones over three years to be provided to WESNET through the Telstra Safe Connections project, to be distributed to women experiencing domestic violence. The Commonwealth Government has provided funding to support the distribution of these phones and training to frontline services to empower women with education and information.

It is also important that professionals are educated of changes in technology and associated behaviours which facilitate violence. The American National Network to End Domestic Violence is a model of best practice Australia is building upon with WESNET. It researches and teaches how to recognise and address technology-facilitated abuse, and provides training and support to frontline workers.

The information technology sector has also become involved in introducing ways to reduce abuse in their products and platforms, including policies to prohibit the use of services to harass, stalk and abuse others and reporting mechanisms for revenge porn and other forms of abuse.


[1] Women’s Legal Service NSW, Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria, and WESNET 2015, ReCharge: Women’s Technology Safety, Legal Resources, Research & Training, http://www.smartsafe.org.au/sites/default/files/ReCharge-Womens-Technology-Safety-Report-2015.pdf


Discussion questions

  • What forms of abuse are we seeing through the increased reach of online technology?
  • How can all Australian governments work better in partnership with other sectors to combat this problem?
  • How do we better stay ahead of the opportunities for abuse posed by advances in digital technology?



Contribute to the online roundtable discussion about technology-facilitated abuse



We want to hear your thoughts about how technology has changed the way perpetrators abuse their victims and your ideas for combating technology-facilitated abuse.

You can submit your ideas using the form below. For more information please see the About the Summit page or About online roundtables.

Summit outcomes

The Summit roundtables identified a number of key insights and suggested actions, summarised below.

  • There is significant overlap between domestic violence and technology facilitated abuse.

  • Technology facilitated abuse is a power and control tactic used by abusers, but it takes many different forms. It can include using spyware on a victim’s phone to track them and publishing intimate photos of them without their consent.

  • Frontline workers who deal with women and children victims see technology facilitated abuse on a daily basis.

  • In the case of the non-consensual sharing of intimate images, rapid responses are needed to remove abusive content.

  • Governments should harmonise legislation across jurisdictions.

  • Education programs should deliver information to different audiences, including online.

  • Collaboration should be fostered between social media enterprises, technology companies, governments and the domestic and family violence sector.

  • Research into technology facilitated abuse, and the experience victims have in addressing this abuse, should be undertaken.

  • Parallel responses are needed – to educate, to hold perpetrators to account, and to remove the abusive content in a timely manner.

A number of contributions to the online roundtables have also been received. Those contributions are still being reviewed but some of the main themes and ideas highlighted include:

  • The impact of technology facilitated abuse on women’s lives is significant

  • Some service providers report that young women are overtaking older women as the largest group accessing services, in part because of the role technology is playing in the abuse being experienced.

  • Greater research is required. The limited research so far has focused on a small number of states and has focused largely on service providers.

  • There are inconsistencies in criminal laws.

  • There is an urgent need for training to enhance police attitudes and evidence gathering capabilities.


Discussion paper authored by the Commonwealth in preparation for COAG National Summit

Background

Technology facilitated abuse encompasses a wide range of behaviours by perpetrators using communications technology to control, abuse, harass, punish and humiliate women. This can include distributing intimate images without consent via digital platforms, restricting access to finances or methods of communication, accessing or modifying private information or correspondence, and alienating the victim from support networks through the use of technology.

The non-consensual sharing of intimate images (colloquially referred to as ‘revenge porn’) is a specific form of technology-facilitated abuse that has become particularly prevalent. In recent months, this phenomenon has attracted significant media coverage, including the discovery of a website that shares photos of allegedly underage and non-consenting female Australian school and university students.

Whereas twenty years ago the sharing of personal information and images was not widespread, the internet and social media have provided a platform to do this more readily. Social norms around sharing personal information are changing quickly. However, consent remains key in protecting people’s right to privacy.

Technology-facilitated abuse is becoming more widespread and normalised. Yet many people still not recognising why online abuse is a problem and blaming victims for their behaviour when it does occur. The differing values across generations exacerbate a lack of understanding and acceptance of changing social norms.

According to the national SmartSafe survey of domestic violence service practitioners working with women experiencing the effects of domestic or family violence, 98 per cent of clients experienced technology facilitated abuse, with text messages being the most common, followed by harassment on Facebook. Almost three in ten said their clients had been tracked using digital technology[1].

This roundtable will focus on understanding the various forms of abuse facilitated through the increased reach of online technology and how federal and state governments can work together in partnership with other sectors to overcome this issue. Discussion will also focus on strategies to mitigate potential risks of abuse through the use of future developments in technology.

Issues

Through COAG, governments are examining ways to limit technology-facilitated abuse in the context of reducing violence against women and their children. The work spans a number of areas for action including public awareness campaigns, proactive identification by law enforcement and front line services, the adequacy of criminal legislation and victim support and engagement.

As part of this process, the Commonwealth Attorney‑General’s Department is working with states and territories to review the effectiveness of existing Commonwealth, state and territory laws in criminalising the distribution of intimate material without consent.

The COAG Advisory Panel on Reducing Violence against Women and their Children heard that when women are properly informed and supported, it is possible to reduce the incidence and impact of technology facilitated violence, as well as increase the likelihood of perpetrators being held to account. This points to the need to educate and equip women with information and resources. Women should not be forced to give up important social connections and support because of abuse.

Information resources improve people’s knowledge of technology-facilitated abuse and courses of action available to combat it. The Children’s e-Safety Commissioner has been appointed to help young people have positive and safe experiences online. Earlier this year the eSafety Commissioner launched a new initiative—eSafetyWomen—to empower all Australian women to take control of their online experiences.

Telstra has committed 20,000 smart phones over three years to be provided to WESNET through the Telstra Safe Connections project, to be distributed to women experiencing domestic violence. The Commonwealth Government has provided funding to support the distribution of these phones and training to frontline services to empower women with education and information.

It is also important that professionals are educated of changes in technology and associated behaviours which facilitate violence. The American National Network to End Domestic Violence is a model of best practice Australia is building upon with WESNET. It researches and teaches how to recognise and address technology-facilitated abuse, and provides training and support to frontline workers.

The information technology sector has also become involved in introducing ways to reduce abuse in their products and platforms, including policies to prohibit the use of services to harass, stalk and abuse others and reporting mechanisms for revenge porn and other forms of abuse.


[1] Women’s Legal Service NSW, Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria, and WESNET 2015, ReCharge: Women’s Technology Safety, Legal Resources, Research & Training, http://www.smartsafe.org.au/sites/default/files/ReCharge-Womens-Technology-Safety-Report-2015.pdf


Discussion questions

  • What forms of abuse are we seeing through the increased reach of online technology?
  • How can all Australian governments work better in partnership with other sectors to combat this problem?
  • How do we better stay ahead of the opportunities for abuse posed by advances in digital technology?



Contribute to the online roundtable discussion about technology-facilitated abuse



We want to hear your thoughts about how technology has changed the way perpetrators abuse their victims and your ideas for combating technology-facilitated abuse.

You can submit your ideas using the form below. For more information please see the About the Summit page or About online roundtables.
  • Share your views

    Please limit your submission to 300 words. You are also welcome to upload videos or sound recordings.

    Your views may be presented to Summit participants in summary, in part or in full. They may also be used in any publication produced by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, or the Queensland Department of the Premier and Cabinet following the Summit.

    Please limit your submission to 300 words. You are also welcome to upload videos or sound recordings.

    Your views may be presented to Summit participants in summary, in part or in full. They may also be used in any publication produced by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, or the Queensland Department of the Premier and Cabinet following the Summit.

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