Tech-enabled abuse: more needs to be done to improve responsiveness

Thursday, 22 July, 2021

Tech-enabled abuse: more needs to be done to improve responsiveness

A new study sheds light on the nature and extent of tech-facilitated abuse in Australia, revealing victims are subjected to stalking, psychological abuse and physical threats.

The study by Monash University, funded by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) and the Department of Social Services, reveals that the victims have also had their digital devices and accounts hacked and have been coerced into sending nude or sexual content online.

Some perpetrators have used internet-connected household devices such as Google Home or even children’s toys to monitor or keep track of their victim.

Monash University researcher Associate Professor Asher Flynn, alongside Associate Professor Anastasia Powell and Sophie Hindes, surveyed 338 sector stakeholders who work with victims or perpetrators of technology-facilitated abuse to better understand its extent, nature and impact.

They found that the main perpetrators were men up to 34 years of age, as well as boys, with former intimate partners, de facto or spouses most likely to initiate the abuse to intimidate or control the victim, cause distress or fear, or isolate them and restrict their activities.

Most victims are women aged up to 34 years, or are girls aged 17 and under, as well as transgender, non-binary and intersex people.

Respondents reported last year’s bushfire crisis and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic had exacerbated the abuse — with less ability to assist clients.

Associate Professor Flynn, lead researcher and Monash criminologist, said a key theme in the findings was how the constant monitoring and abuse through technology created a sense of omnipresence for victims, feeling as though they were always being watched by the perpetrator.

“The impacts are far-reaching. Perpetrators can impact victims’ finances through hacking bank accounts or, by harassing them at work, they can lose employment. Beyond this, there are significant impacts to victims’ mental wellbeing — from helplessness and shame through to anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.”

Workers also said police don’t always pursue criminal investigations or charges in relation to technology-facilitated abuse, and technology providers were not responding adequately to the risks.

They also expressed interest in more training and professional development to better understand the intricacies of technology-facilitated abuse.

“These findings demonstrate more needs to be done to improve the responsiveness of state- and territory-based victims of technology-facilitated crime, particularly those with diverse backgrounds,” Flynn said.

“It is clear technology-facilitated abuse is an extended form of gendered violence and there is an urgent need for training and resources directed to frontline support services.”

The findings represent stage one of a three-part project into the extent, nature and contexts of technology-facilitated abuse in Australia. The Technology Facilitated Abuse project was announced in June 2020 and was made possible by funding from ANROWS and support from the Australian Government Department of Social Services.

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