Over the last few decades, technology such as the internet, social media, mobile phones, computers and surveillance devices have increasingly been used against women by perpetrators as a tactic of control and abuse within the wider context of violence against women.

 

Manifestations of technology-facilitated abuse range from recording of intimate images where a victim/survivor does not have a safe option not to consent, to stalking, installing hidden applications to track woman’s location [1]or to obtain access to her email or messages, (cyber)bullying and harassment, and the use of communications technologies to enable a sexual assault and/or to coerce a victim into an unwanted sexual act. [2]

 

Technology-facilitated abuse has also become a tool of perpetrators of domestic and family violence to threaten, harass and/or control both current and former partners.[3]  In terms of sexual violence in both intimate partner and non-intimate partner relationships, technology is another weapon with which assault is perpetrated. Manifestations of technology-facilitated sexual violence include non-consensual sharing of intimate images, online sexual harassment, technology-facilitated sexual assault and coercion, sexual exploitation, broadcasting sexual assaults online etc.   

 

Non-consensual sharing of intimate images has damaging consequences that go beyond its potential impact on reputations and career prospects. Research has found that technology-facilitated abuse, including the non-consensual sharing of intimate images, or the threat of sharing such images, can traumatise and isolate victims and constitutes a major barrier to the full enjoyment of social life and autonomy.[4] Online interactions now constitute a major dimension of social life for many people, and the unauthorised sharing of intimate images can traumatise and isolate victims, which is often the intention of those who share the images. Furthermore, the non-consensual sharing of intimate images, or the threat to share such images, is increasingly used as a tactic of control in abusive relationships and in the perpetration of sexual assault. More generally it also manifests and reaffirms the means of maintaining male privilege and power.  

 

While both men and women may become victims of technology-facilitated abuse, it is important to recognise the gendered nature of the technology-facilitated abuse. Firstly, as research has shown the majority of victims are women and the majority of perpetrators are men.[5]   Secondly, the impacts of this behaviour is gendered as it is rooted in outdated stereotypes about gender roles, sexuality and sexual norms for women. And lastly, the underlining cause of violence inflicted through technology lies in the “social and structural context of gender hierarchization”[6], in other words, power relations between men and women, the dominant position of men over women, and the desire for control and coercion. The normalisation of male violence and restrictive expectations about women and girls are some of the key drivers of violence and bullying generally. 

 

We are also seeing an increased number of social media pages and groups promoting violence against women, sexism, and harmful gender stereotypes. Typically, these are created in traditionally masculine institutions such as the military or sporting clubs. It takes a lot of community pressure to remove these pages.[7]

 

Comprehensive research on the prevalence of all forms of technology-facilitated abuse is absent in Australia. Most commonly, technology-facilitated abuse is viewed as a type of violence against women. The most recent research focusing on the scale of image-based abuse (as one form of technology facilitated abuse) only has been done by researchers from RMIT and La Trobe University. This research found that one in five people in Australia has experienced image-based abuse.[8]  While both women and men are equally affected, men are more likely to be a perpetrator and known to the victim. The study has also found that 56 per cent of people with a disability and 50 per cent of Indigenous Australians had been victims of image-based abuse. People who identified as LGBTIQ were more likely to be victims (36 per cent) than heterosexual people (21 per cent). 

 

In 2017 the Australian Human Rights Commission produced a report on sexual assault and sexual harassment at universities in Australia. It has found that “more than 1 in 5 students experienced technology-based sexual harassment in 2016”.  More detailed findings highlighted that:  

 

  • 22% of students had experienced technology-based sexual harassment on at least one occasion in 2016;
  • 5% of students experienced technology-based sexual harassment in 2016 in a university setting;  
  • Women (3.2%) were more than twice as likely as men (1.4%) to have been sexually harassed in a university setting in the form of repeated or inappropriate advances on email, social networking websites or internet chat rooms; and
  • Trans and gender diverse students were more likely than women or men to report sexual harassment at university in 2016.[9]

 

In the area of domestic and family violence, technology-facilitated abuse is widespread. The national survey of technology-facilitated abuse drawing on the experience of family violence practitioners across Australia[10]  stated that almost all survey respondents (98 per cent) indicated that they had clients who had experienced technology-facilitated stalking and abuse. Another survey of survivors who had received unwanted contact from a partner or ex-partner via the phone or internet found that 80 per had been abused via text messages, while Facebook was the next most commonly used technology.[11]

 

In order to prevent and respond to technology-facilitated abuse there is a need to: 

 

  • Broaden the overall definition of violence against women to include technology-facilitated abuse 
  • Increase focus on the primary prevention programs consisting of (but not limited to) educational programs about dominant constructions of gender, masculinity and violence against women, as well as promoting and mainstreaming gender equality on multiple levels including through policy.
  • Reform criminal and civil laws to ensurea consistent and uniform legislation adequately responding to the nature of crime and impact it has, especially in aggravated cases.  
  • Ensure adequate consultation process regarding legislation changes
  • Provide training for magistrates, lawyers and police on violence against women and technology 
  • Provide training and resources for frontline workers and service providers 
  • Ensure adequate and sustainable funding to service providers
  • Provide sufficient support and information for a diversity of victims/survivors 
  • Take all necessary steps for improved community awareness and attitude changeincluding encouraging ‘bystander’ and ‘witness’ actions and challenging the culture of victim-blaming.[12]  

 

Resources: 

   

References cited:

 [1] See http://www.smartsafe.org.au/disturbing-new-trend-domestic-violence-offenders-use-car-tracking  

[2] Anastasia Powell & Nicola Henry (2016): Policing technology-facilitated sexual violence against adult victims: police and service sector perspectives, Policing and Society, DOI:10.1080/10439463.2016.1154964 

[3] Henry, N., Powell A. (2015) Beyond the ‘sext’: Technology facilitated sexual violence and harassment against adult women. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology. Vol. 48(1) 104–118 

[4] See: Anastasia Powell & Nicola Henry (2016): Policing technology-facilitated sexual violence against adult victims: police and service sector perspectives, Policing and Society, DOI:10.1080/10439463.2016.1154964; Henry, N., Powell A. (2015) Beyond the ‘sext’: Technology facilitated sexual violence and harassment against adult women. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology. Vol. 48(1) 104–118; Henry N., Powell A. (2016) Sexual Violence in the Digital Age: The Scope and Limits of Criminal Law Social & Legal Studies, Vol. 25(4) 397–418; Henry N., Powell A. (2015) Embodied Harms: Gender, Shame, and Technology-Facilitated Sexual Violence. Violence Against Women, Vol. 21(6) 758–779; McGlynn, C., Rackley, E. (2017) Image-Based Sexual Abuse. Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 37, No. 3, pp. 534–561; Henry, N., Powell A., Flynn A. (2017) Not Just ‘Revenge Pornography’: Australians’ Experiences of Image-Based Abuse. A SUMMARY REPORT. RMIT University. Available at https://www.rmit.edu.au/news/all-news/2017/may/not-just-_revenge-porn–image-based-abuse-hits-1-in-5-australian.   

[5] Henry N., Powell A. (2016) Sexual Violence in the Digital Age: The Scope and Limits of Criminal Law Social & Legal Studies, Vol. 25(4) 397–418 

[6] Ibid.  

[7] For recent examples see: http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2017/10/23/facebook-shuts-down-vile-rape-and-violence-group-linked-to-adf-troops_a_23253443/ ; http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2017/10/24/facebook-closes-rape-meme-page-adf-troops-link In a recent development, Facebook and the Australian Office of the eSafety Commissioner have announced an initiative to use Facebook’s image recognition tool to let users report non-consensual intimate images, have the image removed and then ensure it is not uploaded again or shared from other sources. See http://www.afr.com/technology/facebook-and-esafety-commissioner-join-forces-to-stop-revenge-porn-in-australia-20171031-gzcc0y

[8] Henry, N., Powell A., Flynn A. (2017) Not Just ‘Revenge Pornography’: Australians’ Experiences of Image-Based Abuse. A SUMMARY REPORT. RMIT University. Available at https://www.rmit.edu.au/news/all-news/2017/may/not-just-_revenge-porn–image-based-abuse-hits-1-in-5-australian

[9] Australian Human Rights Commission (2017) Change the Course. National Report on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at Australian Universities. Available at https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/document/publication/AHRC_2017_ChangeTheCourse_UniversityReport.pdf

[10] Woodlock, Delanie (2015) ReCharge: Women’s Technology Safety, Legal Resources, Research and Training, Women’s Legal Service NSW, Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria and WESNET, Collingwood. 

[11] Woodlock, Delanie (2013) Technology-facilitated Stalking: Findings and Recommendations from the SmartSafe Project, Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria, Collingwood http://www.smartsafe.org.au/sites/default/files/SmartSafe-Findings-Booklet.pdf  

[12] Henry, N., Powell A., Flynn A. (2017) Not Just ‘Revenge Pornography’: Australians’ Experiences of Image-Based Abuse. A SUMMARY REPORT. RMIT University. Available at https://www.rmit.edu.au/news/all-news/2017/may/not-just-_revenge-porn–image-based-abuse-hits-1-in-5-australian