Tips on how to stay safe online during the COVID-19 pandemic

Adult cyber abuse

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

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

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

Adult cyber abuse: what it is and strategies to respond

What is adult cyber abuse?

Adult cyber abuse is behaviour that uses an online service or platform to menace, harass or offend someone.

The abuse can take place on social media, in texts or emails and through online chats, message boards and other forums that allow people to post public comments.

Types of abusive behaviour that people experience online include:

  • being ridiculed, insulted or humiliated because of their physical appearance, religion, gender, race, disability, sexual orientation or political beliefs
  • finding their personal contact details have been made public on a social media service or other online platform
  • being threatened online or other people online being encouraged to harm them
  • being stalked online
  • having their social media, bank or email accounts hacked
  • being encouraged to harm themselves
  • repeatedly being sent obscene messages
  • having their intimate images or videos posted online without their consent (this is known as image-based abuse)
  • having fake sexually explicit images or videos of them posted online (this is also known as image-based abuse).

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

Your immediate reaction might be to make the abusive content disappear, but it is really important that you keep evidence of it in case you need to report it. Our advice on collecting evidence can help. 

Report and block

Report the abusive user or account to the service or platform where the content or comments were posted. You can find online safety advice and reporting links in the The eSafety Guide. If the material reappears under a different name, report the suer or account again. Find out more about how to report abusive content or conduct to social media services.

Once you have saved evidence and reported the abuse, use the tools available to you to block or mute the user or account. If they reappear under a different name, block or mute them again.

Check out our tailored advice

Seek help

You can also report what has happened to you to eSafety. We can provide general advice and guidance to adults experiencing online abuse. This includes when to seek legal advice and where to go for legal help.

Find out more about how the police can help and what to expect when you report online abuse to the police. 

What about the law?

Many forms of adult 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 online 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.

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