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Adult cyber abuse

Experiencing online abuse can have a devastating impact on your wellbeing and sense of safety.

This page is about cyber abuse or online abuse experienced by adults. For help with cyberbullying of children, check out our advice for kids, young people, and parents. We also offer targeted advice for women experiencing online abuse and for anyone experiencing image-based abuse, or online abuse as part of domestic and family violence.

Do you feel unsafe right now?

Call Triple Zero (000) if you are in immediate danger.

Contact your local police if you there are threats to your safety or there are threats to your friends or family members.

What is cyber abuse?

Cyber abuse is behaviour that uses technology to threaten, intimidate, harass or humiliate someone — with the intent to hurt them socially, psychologically or even physically.

It can take place on social media, through online chat and messaging services, text, messages, emails, on message boards and in online forums that allow people to publicly comment.

Examples of cyber abuse include

  • Sharing intimate or sexual photos or videos online without consent — either to humiliate or shame someone, or for the ‘entertainment’ of others (this is also known as image-based abuse).
  • Targeted and persistent personal attacks aimed at ridiculing, insulting, damaging or humiliating a person — this might relate to someone’s physical appearance, religion, gender, race, disability, sexual orientation and/or political beliefs (‘online hate’ targeting an individual).
  • Encouraging someone to self-harm and/or suicide.
  • Seriously offensive and shocking material — this can include posting inflammatory comments on memorial and tribute pages or posting images of deceased people with intent to upset family members or others.
  • Repeatedly sending obscene messages to a person or their family, friends or work colleagues.
  • Posting digitally manipulated explicit images of a person online, for example on social media or on pornographic websites (this is also known as image-based abuse)
  • Posting someone’s personal information on social media or elsewhere online along with offensive and/or sexual comments — resulting in calls and visits from strangers.
  • Threatening violence or inciting others to do the same — such as threats of death and sexual assault that might lead to physical contact and/or assault.
  • Stalking a person online and hacking into their accounts, such as social media, banking or email accounts (‘cyberstalking’).

Sometimes inappropriate or hurtful behaviour may not be serious enough by itself to be considered ‘cyber abuse’. 

For example

  • sarcastic comments
  • insults (or ‘flaming’)
  • strong opposing views
  • off-topic statements that deliberately derail conversation threads (a kind of ‘trolling’)

However, when these actions are part of a larger or serious pattern of behaviour targeting an individual, they can become cyber abuse — behaviour that can have a seriously threatening, intimidating, harassing or humiliating effect on the person.

What can I do?

Resist the urge to respond

It can be hard, but try not to respond or retaliate. People who say hurtful things often do so just to get a reaction. 

Minimise exposure. If possible, try to switch off at certain times of the day and/or create safe havens. For example, keep your device out of your bedroom at night.

Save evidence

Before you block or delete, make sure you document what is happening. Your immediate reaction might be to make the abusive content disappear, but it is really important you keep evidence of it. Our advice on collecting evidence can help. 

Block and report

Use all the tools available to you to block or mute them, and if they reappear under a different name, block or mute them again.

Report the person being abusive to the service or platform the material was posted on. You can find online safety advice and reporting links in the eSafety Guide. If the material reappears under a different name, report them again. Find out more about how to report cyber abuse to social media services.

Check out our targeted advice

Seek help

Find out more about how the police can help and what to expect when you report cyber abuse to the police. See also what about the law below.

Report what is happening to you to eSafety. We can provide general advice and guidance to adults experiencing cyber abuse. This includes when to seek legal advice and where to go for legal help.

What about the law?

Many forms of cyber abuse could be considered illegal under state or federal legislation. 

For example, under the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995 (‘the Act’) it is an offence to menace, harass or cause offence using a ‘carriage service’. It is also an offence under the Act to use a carriage service to make threats to kill or cause serious harm to a person, regardless of whether the person receiving the threat actually fears that the threat would be carried out. 

These provisions could capture instances of menacing, harassing or offensive conduct and threats carried out using landlines, mobile phones (including via MMS, SMS) and the internet, including via emails and social media.

An example would be using a mobile phone to repeatedly send offensive images to someone.

 

Most Australian states and territories also have laws covering stalking, blackmail, criminal defamation and various unlawful uses of technology. A number of jurisdictions have also passed laws creating offences for the threat to distribute, or distribution, of intimate images (image-based abuse).

 

Get legal help

Legal advice can help you work out the best way to address the cyber abuse you may be experiencing.

Depending on your situation, this could include seeking a protection order to keep a person from contacting you or a claim to sue if your reputation has been harmed by another person posting or sharing offensive material about you.

Your local Community Legal Centre or Legal Aid in your state or territory may be able to provide this advice.You can find out more about community legal centres and locate your local community legal centre by visiting the National Association of Community Legal Centres website.

You can also contact the Legal Aid Commission in your state or territory. View all legal services.

Counselling and support

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