Educating the frontline - empowering women through technology

This International Women’s Day we’re pledging to ‘leave no women behind’ through our eSafetyWomen program, designed to reach all women whose lives are affected by tech-facilitated abuse. eSafetyWomen provides practical tools and resources to help women feel confident, empowered and protected in the online world.

A cornerstone of our eSafetyWomen program is the training for frontline workers. Presented in partnership with WESNET, we travel to all corners of Australia to give frontline, specialist and support staff in the domestic violence sector the knowledge, skills and resources to effectively support women and their families.

The stories shared at our workshops follow the same storyline over and over again. We hear about the ways technology is used to harass, monitor and stalk a women, to impersonate her, and to issue threats and mete out punishment. It’s a relentless litany of ways to abuse, all compounding the overall cycle of control, of asserting power over another person.

Through speaking to various frontline workers at our workshops we also hear about many emerging trends—the way that new developments in technology are being used… and abused.

Eye in the sky

Drone technology is becoming increasingly popular. Also known as a UAV, (‘unmanned aerial vehicle’), these are mobile, aerial, remotely-controlled or otherwise automated devices that are extremely maneuverable and most frequently equipped with cameras.

While the technology is unique, benefiting many industries, we’re also hearing about the darker side of their use—perpetrators using them to spy on their victims. Victims have seen drones ‘peering’ into their windows, watching them undress late at night, even in high rise buildings. In some cases receiving taunting text messages relaying what the perpetrator can see, stressing what they know about a woman’s life.

That’s why our workshops for frontline, specialist and support staff in the domestic violence sector are so important—providing information and up to date resources, both face-to-face and online helps keep workers informed irrespective of where they are.

Photographs by Lesley Harrison of some of the locations we have visited with our eSafetyWomen workshops

The technology paradox

We reach out to all communities across Australia, travelling to remote areas that provide us with greater insights into the particular needs of rural communities. It seems that problems are not only as prevalent as those experienced in metro areas, but the impacts are, in many ways, exacerbated and solutions are not so straightforward.

It’s crucial that women affected by domestic violence can stay connected through technology, even if tech-facilitated abuse is part of the pattern of violence they’re being subjected to. Through safe access to technology women—especially in rural areas—can find help and support, stay in touch with trusted friends and family, and stay in control of day-to-day ‘ordinary’ living. Without it, they risk further isolation and other negatives that it can bring.

Frontline workers report that the cost of the technology can be debilitating to those who are struggling financially (a common factor in rural areas) yet there is an even greater need for access to the technology so that they feel safe and connected. It’s the paradox at the heart of this issue – technology is the vehicle for the abusive behaviour, but it’s also the means of finding help.

Photographs by Lesley Harrison

Have we made a difference?

Our goal has always been to actively raise awareness and understanding of tech-facilitated abuse; to help all women to identify it, and take steps towards preventing it.

Over the past two years we’ve conducted more than 270 workshops involving more than 4,700 frontline workers. Demand is high—the case workers, social workers, psychologists, counsellors, police, lawyers and other professionals we speak to are consistently telling us that the training is not just interesting, but directly relevant and helpful to their day-to-day work.

What is to come?

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that more is required—more information and more opportunity to practice the skills that we focus on in our workshops. So, we’re building an online learning system to complement and extend the existing face-to-face workshops, and to give access to training frontline workers in regional and remote areas who can’t attend in person.

‘eSafetyWomen—online training for frontline workers’ will offer a series of ten modules covering topics such as what is technology-facilitated abuse, securing devices, safe social networking, image-based abuse, the relevant law, evidence collection and eSafety planning through a mix of videos, quizzes, text and images. It will be framed around a compelling narrative—‘Natalie’s story’—told in excerpts over the training course.

If you would like to be informed about the new online learning system and release date please sign up to our e-newsletter, Cyberzine.