How to get police and legal help for adult cyber abuse
Serious adult cyber abuse can be a crime. The police may be able to help protect you against violence, and they could be able to charge the person responsible with a criminal offence.
How the police can help
The Online Safety Act allows eSafety to investigate serious adult cyber abuse as a civil matter. This means we may be able to help have the harmful content removed and take enforcement action such as seeking fines or penalties for those who do not remove it. But the police may be able to go further, by investigating whether a criminal offence has been committed.
If you are feeling unsafe or frightened, or threats have been made to harm you or your friends or family, it is important to contact the police – they may be able to help protect you.
Whether they can take criminal action against the person responsible will depend on the type of abuse and the laws that apply in your state or territory.
Even if there are no specific laws the police can use for your particular case, you can ask them to record your complaint in a report. This means that if the abuse continues or gets worse, there is a record of your concerns which may assist with future investigations.
In some cases, the police may also help you seek a protective order to prevent or limit the person from contacting you.
The police will consider factors like the severity of the abuse, how long it has been going on, whether there is enough evidence to prove who is carrying out the abuse, and where that person is located.
To prepare yourself for this, you should gather evidence such as screenshots, relevant emails and web addresses, and put together as much information as you can to show what has been happening to you. Read our advice on how to collect evidence.
If the police decide they have enough information to begin a criminal investigation and the matter is heard in court, the court will need to be convinced ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ that the alleged offender was responsible for the crime committed. Whether a matter is successful will depend on the individual case and the strength of the evidence.
Contacting the police
You can call the police or visit your local police station to report adult cyber abuse.
In an emergency you should always call Triple Zero (000).
If it’s not an emergency, you can call the Police Assistance Line on 131 444 or find your local police station online:
- Australian Capital Territory
- New South Wales
- South Australia
- Northern Territory
- Western Australia
The police may ask you to make a statement summarising your experience. Also, they are likely to ask if you have any evidence to prove what has been happening, so it’s a good idea to have that ready to send or show them.
Make sure you write down the police report or event number, and the name and rank of the officer you speak with, in case you need it later.
It is a good idea to take a supportive friend or family member along when you meet with the police. They can help by taking notes that you can read over later.
Or you may wish to discuss taking a lawyer with you. Find out more about how to get free legal advice or find a private lawyer.
You can ask for a specialist police officer
You may be able to speak with a specialist police officer, so it’s a good idea to ask if you are unsure.
- If your situation involves domestic or family violence you can ask to speak to a specialist Domestic Violence Officer.
- If you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer (LGBTIQ+) you can ask to speak with a Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officer.
- If you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander you can ask to speak to an Aboriginal Liaison Officer.
- If you are from a multicultural community you can ask to speak with a Multicultural Community Liaison Officer.
Which laws apply?
Many forms of serious adult cyber abuse could be considered illegal under state or federal laws, as well as the Online Safety Act.
For example, under the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995 it is an offence to menace, harass or cause offence using a ‘carriage service’ (a service that carries communications electronically). It is also an offence under this 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 landline phones, mobile phones (including via MMS, SMS) and the internet (including via emails and social media). The law might, for example, be applied when a mobile phone is used to repeatedly send offensive images to scare someone.
Most Australian states and territories also have criminal laws covering:
- stalking or intimidating
- unlawful uses of technology
- making threats to kill or cause serious harm to a person
- threats of violence
- encouraging self-harm or suicide
- breach of confidence
A number of jurisdictions have also passed laws creating offences for distributing, or threatening to distribute, intimate images – eSafety deals with this through our regulatory scheme covering image-based abuse.
Get legal help
Legal advice can help you work out the best way to deal with adult cyber abuse. Depending on your situation, this could include seeking a protection order to keep a person from contacting you.
You should also seek legal advice if you want to try to sue a person for harming your reputation. As explained in our Adult Cyber Abuse Scheme regulatory guidance, the Online Safety Act is not designed to assist in cases of reputational harm caused by the posting of defamatory material online.
Free legal advice
If you are under 25 you can get advice from Youth Law Australia.
There may also be a specialist legal service that can help.
Find a private lawyer
You may prefer to engage a private lawyer near you, but make sure you find out about their legal fees first.
Report adult cyber abuse to eSafety
If the content is seriously harmful and the service or platform does not help, you can report it to eSafety using our online form.