Combatting technology-facilitated abuse within family, domestic and sexual violence

Violence and abuse against women is a scourge on our society. This violent abuse can be wielded across many different vectors – physically, emotionally, financially and increasingly, online. We at eSafety know first-hand that online and technology-facilitated abuse, in all of its forms, can be extremely traumatic and damaging.

Every woman has the right to be safe and to fully participate online. Violence and abuse against women, including technology-facilitated abuse, is increasingly serving as a barrier to gender equality and may impact the fields of work that require a significant online presence, including politics, journalism or public advocacy.

This is the core message of eSafety’s recent submission to a parliamentary inquiry on family, domestic and sexual violence. I want to share with you some of the key points from our submission, as they highlight how eSafety seeks to support women and girls across the continuum of online harms.

Women are at-risk online in different ways and eSafety’s women’s programs reflect that there is a spectrum of online harms, varying by degree and nature. Our eSafetyWomen programs support women experiencing technology-facilitated abuse as an extension of domestic and family violence. It also includes Women Influencing Tech Spaces, which focuses on women in the public eye who sadly, but undeniably, experience disproportionate levels of abuse of personal, sexual and gendered abuse.

Our submission explored what we understand about gendered abuse online. We did this through the concepts of a ‘gender lens’ and an ‘intersectional lens’. These multidimensional lenses provide a richer and clearer picture of the nature and extent of violence and abuse being experienced by women and girls.

Starting with the gender lens, which tends to reflect broader societal perceptions around inequality, women are often targeted online for the audacity of being women. It is often a deliberate tactic to silence women’s voices and is part of a broader spectrum of violence, abuse and gendered harassment.

Our online hate speech research shows that while women and men experienced similar rates of hate speech, women were 1.6 times more likely to experience abuse on the basis of their gender and 1.5 times more likely to experience abuse on the basis of their physical appearance. Similarly, more than two-thirds of eSafety’s complaints about cyber abuse and image-based abuse, excluding sextortion, involve women.

Overlaying, and sometimes compounding gendered abuse are a range of other multi-dimensional factors including sexuality, ethnicity, religion and levels of English literacy. An intersectional lens is important for understanding and responding to the specific, diverse and multidimensional needs of at-risk women and groups, who may be impacted by multiple and aggravated forms of discrimination and inequality.

Specifically, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, women who identify as LGBTQI+ and women with disabilities are at greater risk of abuse online.

Our submission did not shy away from emphasising the severity of technology-facilitated abuse and the seriousness of its impacts. But it also focused on possible reform and solutions.

My quarter century working in the technology industry has largely shaped my outlook as a, “tech optimist.” I also believe technology can serve as a leveler and drive gender equal outcomes. Through capacity building initiatives in online safety and digital literacy, we can arm and empower women and girls to stay safe online: we can equip them with the skills, strategies and resilience they need to use technology platforms as a tool, rather than as a weapon perpetuating abuse.

Our submission made a number of recommendations. We focused on measures to address technology-facilitated abuse, including through increased training for specialist frontline workers and a process of co-design with at-risk groups to raise their awareness of technology-facilitated abuse and how to deal with it. We also focused on measures to promote international collaboration and coordination on online safety and gender equality.

While I have one eye on the future, and the better online world I want to create for women and girls, my other eye is firmly focused on how I can help women and girls navigate the turbulent seas of the internet today.

If you’re experiencing harm online, please remember that you are not at fault, you are not alone and that you do have options. Support and help is available, including from eSafety.

  • If you are experiencing technology-facilitated abuse, including in the context of domestic and family violence, look at our eSafetyWomen Also contact 1800RESPECT for help with safety planning.
  • If you’re a girl aged under 18 and experiencing cyberbullying, report to the social media service or to eSafety’s cyberbullying scheme. If you need someone to talk to, contact Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.
  • If you’re a woman aged 18 or over experiencing cyber abuse online, report to the social media company and explore eSafety’s tips for building your psychological armour. Also see when and how eSafety may be able to help informally.
  • If you’re a woman of any age experiencing image-based abuse, report to eSafety’s image-based scheme.
  • If you need someone to talk to, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636. Both services also have chat functions and other contact options, if it is not safe for you to call.
  • If you’re in immediate danger, call Triple Zero (000).

More broadly, I encourage you to explore eSafety’s website, Australia’s national online safety hub, which contains an extensive range of information to help keep you safe online.

This inquiry is an important opportunity to address the unacceptable – and frankly, shameful – rates of family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia.

But I do believe it is an opportunity: our opportunity to create a better world where women and girls are safe, respected, and empowered online.