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Domestic violence

Domestic, family and sexual violence can be physical or non-physical abuse, and it can include things that happen online or that use digital technology.

The abuser might be a partner, ex-partner, family member, someone you share a home with, or someone you are dating. This type of abuse can happen to anyone. It’s important to know you are not alone and help is available.

This information will help you deal with domestic, family and sexual violence that happens online or uses digital technology. It includes links to advice about how to get help and safe ways to stay connected with your family, friends and community.

If you’re abused, it’s not your fault and you have the right to be believed. This information will help you deal with domestic, family and sexual violence that happens online or uses digital technology.

Stay safe

If you are in Australia and feeling unsafe right now, call the police on Triple Zero (000) or contact 1800RESPECT or another specialist counselling or support service.  

It may be best to make contact from a trusted person’s phone or device, if you think yours is being tracked or monitored. 

If an abusive person learns that you are seeking help and information, their behaviour may get worse, so it’s a good idea to ask a support worker to help you.

On this page:

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence includes both physical and non-physical abuse that happens between:

  • people who are in a relationship together, whether or not they are living together
  • people who have broken up or are separated
  • people who are co-parenting with an ex-partner 
  • people who are unrelated but living in the same place – for example housemates and people living in care homes, boarding homes or refuges.

What is family violence?

Family violence includes both physical and non-physical abuse that happens between: 

  • family members – for example a parent and child, siblings, relatives or guardians
  • people in a culturally recognised family group or caring arrangement.

What is sexual violence?

Sexual violence is sexual behaviour that occurs without consent. It includes both physical and non-physical abuse.

Sexual violence can happen:

  • as part of domestic and family violence – if the abuser is a current or former partner, someone you are in a relationship with or a family member
  • outside of domestic and family violence – if the abuser is someone you don’t have an ongoing intimate or family relationship with, such as a stranger, a date or hook-up, a friend, a colleague, a classmate, an acquaintance, someone you know through another person, or someone you’ve only met online. 

Find out more about sexual violence.

In some cases, sexual violence is perpetrated against children. Any sexual activity between a child and an adult is child sexual abuse. Sexual activity may be sexual intercourse, sexual touching or sexual acts that happen in person or online. It may involve coercion, force or implied force. Online child sexual abuse is any form of sexual abuse of a child under 18 that has a link to the online environment.

Find out more about child sexual abuse online.

How can technology be used as part of domestic, family and sexual violence?

If digital technology is used to harm or abuse someone, this is often called ‘technology-facilitated abuse’ or ‘tech-based abuse’. It can happen as part of domestic, family and sexual violence.

Every person’s experience of tech-based domestic, family and sexual violence is unique. 

Examples include:

  • harassing or threatening you online or with a digital device 
  • sharing or threatening to share an intimate image or video of you online without your consent, also known as image-based abuse or ‘revenge porn’
  • cyberstalking 
  • controlling your online communication  
  • restricting or controlling your access to devices and online accounts 
  • financially abusing you using technology.

The most important thing to know is that regardless of your experience of tech-based domestic, family and sexual violence, it is not OK and help is available.

Tech-based coercive control

Tech-based coercive control is almost always a factor in family and domestic violence. It can be part of sexual violence. Coercive control is an ongoing pattern of behaviour used to control another person through manipulation, pressure and fear.
 
Tech-based coercive control can be difficult to recognise and escape, because technology is so common and affects almost every part of our lives.

Tech-based coercive control can be used to:

  • undermine your self-worth, confidence and independence
  • cut you off from social supports such as friends, family, services and money
  • pressure or threaten you to make you do things, or stop doing things
  • track where you are going and what you are doing
  • ‘gaslight’ you to make you unsure about what is real 
  • isolate you so you feel trapped and unable to leave the relationship.

Find out more about coercive control.

How common is tech-based domestic, family and sexual violence?

An eSafety literature scan shows that tech-based abuse is a growing issue within family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia.

Key findings

  • 99.3% of Australian family, domestic and sexual violence practitioners had clients who experienced technology-facilitated family and domestic violence.a
  • 62.3% of Australian adults surveyed online (aged 18-54) had experienced technology-facilitated sexual violence.b
  • 72% of Australians who used a dating app or website experienced sexual violence.c
  • Perpetrators of technology-facilitated sexual violence are more likely to be men than women.a
  • 9,060 image-based abuse reports handled by eSafety in 2022-23 – a 117% increase on the previous year.d
  • Family, domestic and sexual violence practitioners reported seeing more video cameras and tracking apps being used since 2015.a
  • 2 in 3 Australian family, domestic and sexual violence practitioners reported seeing text messaging used ‘all the time’ to facilitate technology-facilitated abuse.a
  • 1 in 3 victim-survivors of image-based abuse experienced multiple forms of abuse perpetrated by a current or former partner.e

People most at risk

People who are at greater risk of experiencing technology-facilitated abuse as part of family, domestic and sexual violence include:

  • women and girls
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women
  • women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
  • women with disability
  • LGBTQI+ people
  • women in rural areas.

Impacts

  • Technology enables perpetrators of abuse to exert power and control over victim-survivors in a variety of ways.
  • Constant surveillance can prevent victim-survivors from undertaking daily activities or contacting support services.
  • Victim-survivors of technology-facilitated abuse can experience amplified levels of fear as a result of control and harassment.
  • Victim-survivors of technology-facilitated abuse can experience mental health issues, with hypervigilance and ongoing fear leading to anxiety and PTSD.

 

References

aWoodlock D, Bentley K, Schulze D, Mahoney N, Chung D and Pracilio A (2020a) Second national survey of technology abuse and domestic violence in Australia, WESNET.
bPowell A and Henry N (2019) ‘Technology-facilitated sexual violence victimization: results from an online survey of Australian adults’, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 34(17):3637–3665.
cWolbers H, Boxall H, Long C and Gunnoo, A (2022) Sexual harassment, aggression and violence victimisation among mobile dating app and website users in Australia, (Research report no. 25), Australian Institute of Criminology.
deSafety Commissioner 2023a. Annual performance information 2022–23 provided by eSafety Commissioner, Australian Government, in September 2023.
ePowell A, Flynn A and Hindes S (2022a) Technology-facilitated abuse: national survey of Australian adults’ experiences, (Research report, 12/2022), ANROWS.

What are the impacts?

Tech-based domestic, family or sexual violence can impact you physically, mentally, emotionally, culturally, socially and financially. It can be traumatic and extremely stressful, especially if your abuser has isolated you from friends, family and support networks.  

People who have experienced tech-based domestic, family or sexual violence report a variety of effects that can make it difficult to carry out normal daily activities. These include feeling scared, confused, violated, uncertain, powerless, angry, depressed, anxious, distrustful and/or worthless. 

People also might report: 

  • finding it hard to remember things, get organised, manage caring responsibilities or manage their own wellbeing 
  • feeling as if they are ‘walking on eggshells’ or watching their back all the time, so they can’t ever relax 
  • becoming super-focused and noticing and remembering everything
  • being unable to ‘switch off’ and focus on anything apart from the abuse. 

Some people feel embarrassed, ashamed or guilty about experiencing domestic, family and sexual violence, but it’s important to remember it’s not your fault and help is available.

Abusers who use tech-based abuse in family and domestic violence are also more likely to use physical violence against their partner and any children involved, and there’s a higher risk of murder.

The risks may build up over time, but can also rapidly increase if you confront your abuser, try to leave them, or after the relationship has ended.

For this reason, tech-based domestic, family and sexual violence needs to be taken very seriously. Anyone who thinks they may be experiencing it should consider making an online safety plan and seek help.

How to get help

It’s important to remember that you are not alone and help is available. 

  • If you are ever concerned about your immediate safety call the police straight away on Triple Zero (000).
  • Domestic, family and sexual violence services provide specialised support and advice, so you can choose one that’s right for you. If you think your devices are being tracked or monitored, it may be best to contact the service using a computer or phone belonging to someone else, such as a friend or neighbour.

Get support

  • Stay safely connected with your trusted friends, family and support systems as much as possible. Make sure your friends and family have your contact information and check in on you regularly. Use a safe phone or device that your partner or ex-partner does not have access to. This might be a friend’s phone or a device at their house, or a computer at your work or a public library. 
  • Follow eSafety’s steps for reporting online abuse if it’s safe to do so – it’s usually best to make a safety plan first. We have legal powers to help you deal with the most serious online abuse, including removing harmful content such as:
    • adult cyber abuse – menacing, harassing or offensive online communication that is intended to cause serious harm to someone who is 18 or older (for example, a partner or ex-partner might send you messages or post online comments threatening to rape, harm or kill you) 
    • image-based abuse (sometimes called ‘revenge porn’) – when someone shares or threatens to share an intimate image or video of you without your consent (for example, a partner or ex-partner may threaten to share a nude of you online unless you do what they tell you).
  • Stop intimate images and videos from being uploaded to online platforms without your consent. If you’re under 18, you can use takeitdown.ncmec.org and if you’re 18 or older, you can use StopNCII.org. These are free online tools that prevent your image or video being shared on certain platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and OnlyFans.
  • Find out how to access family and domestic violence leave. All employees are entitled to 10 days of paid family and domestic violence leave each year. This includes full-time, part-time and casual employees experiencing ‘tech abuse’. 

Share your experience

If it feels right for you and your recovery, you may like to consider sharing your story with the Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence Commission. The Commission aims to promote the voices of people with lived and living experience of domestic, family and sexual violence and ensure their stories help to shape policy and service delivery.

Last updated: 02/05/2024