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Gendered violence

Gendered violence is any form of physical or non-physical violence or abuse against a person or group of people because of biased or harmful beliefs about gender. It can include things that happen online and that use digital technology.

Gender is a social concept that includes our understandings and views on sex, gender identity and sexual orientation. This means gendered violence is linked with gender discrimination and gender inequality. 

Gendered violence mainly impacts women, girls and LGBTIQ+ people. 

On this page:

What is tech-based gendered violence?

Gendered violence can happen both online and offline. When it uses online platforms or services, or involves other digital technology, it’s called ‘technology-facilitated gender-based violence’ or sometimes ‘tech-based gendered violence’.

This violence or abuse is linked with:  

  • gender discrimination, because it is based in harmful attitudes, beliefs, stereotypes or behaviours about gender
  • gender inequality, because it relates to power imbalances in society and the way people are not treated equally because of gender.   

Tech-based gendered violence mainly affects women and girls, and extends to LGBTIQ+ people. This is because it may be based on multiple forms of prejudice, including sexism, misogyny, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.

Tech-based gendered violence can be experienced along with other forms of discrimination, such as racism, ableism and ageism, which adds an extra layer or dimension to the abuse – this is sometimes called ‘intersectional discrimination’. For example, a First Nations woman’s experience of tech-based gendered violence will include sexism ‘intersecting’ with racism. 

Tech-based gendered violence can occur in any context or environment that uses digital technologies or online services and platforms. But it’s more likely to happen in situations where gender discrimination and gender inequality already exist, such as male-dominated online gaming spaces and workplaces.

Women and LGBTIQ+ people with high-profile jobs or leadership positions are also more likely to experience tech-based gendered violence, especially if they are younger or live with disability. This includes politicians, journalists, human rights defenders and activists.

Tech-based gender violence can occur with other forms of online and offline abuse, including domestic, family and sexual violence and abusive relationships that involve coercive control, which is an ongoing pattern of behaviour used to dominate another person through manipulation, pressure and fear. 

Gender stereotypes can also affect – and harm – men and boys. For example, men and boys who don’t conform to rigid notions of masculinity can experience tech-based gendered violence.

How common is it and what are the impacts?

In research conducted by ANROWS in 2022, 1 in 2 (51%) Australian adults reported having experienced at least one form of technology-facilitated abuse (also known as ‘tech-based abuse’).

Of those surveyed: 

  • 1 in 3 women (28.9%) had experienced sexual and image-based abuse compared to men (19.3%)
  • women were twice as likely (26.3%) to fear for their safety compared to men (12.6%)
  • significantly more women had experienced tech-based abuse by a man than tech-based abuse by a woman (while men had experienced tech-based abuse from both men and women almost equally)
  • 3 in 4 (72.7%) lesbian, gay and bisexual people had experienced tech-based abuse.

The impacts of tech-based gendered violence can be traumatic and extremely stressful, ranging across sexual, physical, emotional, social, political and economic harms.

This results in some people targeted by tech-based gendered violence withdrawing from using public online spaces or no longer discussing topics that led to them being abused. This has the effect of restricting, and even silencing, their voices online.

What are some examples?

Tech-based gendered violence covers a broad range of harmful behaviours. It includes sexist or homophobic jokes, through to online threats of rape, and sexual assault in online spaces. Find out more about sexual violence.

New and emerging technologies also create new risks of tech-based gendered violence. For example, deepfake tools and generative artificial intelligence can be used to create sexual images of people without their consent, and immersive technologies like virtual reality can be used to act out sexual abuse against people online. 

The following examples will help you recognise and understand some of the many ways tech-based gendered violence can happen. Some are behaviours that happen online or offline, such as sexual harassment, while others happen specifically online or involve technology, such as gendered trolling. Some examples may involve a combination of behaviours.

There may be other examples and some overlap between the categories.

Sexual harassment 

This is when unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature makes someone feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.

Examples of this happening online or using technology include:  

  • sharing sexualised images inappropriately – for example, posting images of women and rating their attractiveness on a work group chat or viewing sexually explicit images in public spaces where other people can see them
  • sexualised online bullying – for example, teenage boys teasing or shaming girls about their appearance, sexual history or gender in an online chat
  • pressuring someone to send nudes or sending them unwanted nudes or messages – for example, telling a woman they’re frigid if they don’t send ‘sexy pics’, or airdropping a ‘dick pic’ onto a stranger’s phone.

Gendered discrimination 

This is when someone expresses prejudice or discrimination towards someone based on their sex, gender identity or sexual orientation.

Examples of this happening online or using technology include:

  • sexist jokes, innuendo, comments and memes that belittle someone’s opinions and achievements – for example, making comments on social media about a woman politician’s clothing, as if her appearance is the most important thing about her
  • sexist language that undermines the place of women in society and their voices online – for example, participants in an online forum referring to women with insulting or sexist language
  • homophobic language that undermines gay relationships and communities – for example, people joining LGBTIQ+ safe spaces online then posting homophobic messages.

Gendered hate

This is when someone expresses, encourages or behaves with hatred or violence towards a person or group of people based on their sex, gender identity or sexual orientation.

Examples of this happening online or using technology include:

  • demeaning or degrading women – for example, a man claiming women are inferior to men and describing them as no better than animals in an online forum
  • expressing hatred and contempt for women in online ‘manosphere’ communities – including Men’s Right’s Activists (MRA), Pickup Artists (PUA), Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW), Involuntary Celibates (Incels), Fathers’ Right’s Activists, and Red Pill – for example, saying men are victims of gender equality and disadvantaged by feminism
  • misogyny, or hatred of women, linked to violent extremism – for example, an online forum that promotes misogyny and male supremacy as part of radical ideologies, including terrorism
  • transphobic language that seeks to deny the existence of trans people – for example, refusing to use a trans person’s preferred pronouns online or posting a video that ‘deadnames’ them (refers to them by a name they no longer use). 

Threats of gendered violence

This is when a threat of violence is made to intimidate, exert power over someone or control them in a way that relates to their gender – often the threat is sexual in nature.

Examples of this happening online or using technology include:

  • online threats of sexual assault – for example, threatening to rape a high-profile woman journalist in comments under a news article she wrote
  • online threats of violence that seek to control girls or women in male-dominated spaces – for example, men using violent and sexualised comments to threaten women gamers
  • online threats of physical harm and death – for example, threatening to bash a gay man or trans person because of their sexuality or identity.

Sexual assault 

This is when someone engages in a sexual activity, or makes someone else engage in a sexual activity, without the other person’s consent.

Examples of this happening online or using technology include: 

  • using a digital device or online platform to organise a meeting to sexually harm someone – for example, a man deliberately using an online dating app to meet up with a woman to sexually assault her
  • sexually harming, degrading or humiliating someone in a virtual or augmented reality environment – for example, a woman being virtually groped or penetrated while playing a virtual reality game, which may be hyper-realistic and highly sensory
  • using generative artificial intelligence (AI) to create a fake version of someone that is then sexually harmed – for example, a manosphere community creating an AI-generated version of a popular woman celebrity that they then rape with their AI-generated personas.

Gendered trolling

This is when someone posts or comments online to ‘bait’ people, which means deliberately provoking an argument or emotional reaction, and there is a gendered component. It is often done ‘for fun’, but sometimes to discredit, humiliate or punish someone because of the ideas or values they represent. 

Sustained gendered trolling can be organised, persistent and relentless in seeking to question a woman’s competence, undermine her confidence and ultimately cause her to self-censor or leave online spaces altogether. These sustained, multi-pronged online attacks can impact anyone including local government councillors, journalists, business leaders, community advocates or human rights defenders.

Examples of this include:

  • posting anonymous comments to upset people – for example, mocking a woman footballer’s playing style on her social media page, then telling fans who get upset that women should ‘toughen up’ if they want to play sports that are ‘for men’
  • provoking a social media ‘pile on’ against someone who advocates for gender issues – for example, abusing a woman who advocates for sexual and reproductive rights in an attempt to discredit her work, and encouraging others to join in to ‘express their right to free speech’
  • spreading rumours online about someone to cause them trouble – for example, falsely claiming that a gay politician is part of a secretive paedophile network, and coordinating with others to ‘go after the homo’. 

Gendered misinformation and disinformation

This is when someone shares false, misleading or deceptive information based on gendered narratives, myths and stereotypes. When this information is shared deliberately, it is known as ‘disinformation’. It includes fake content that shows people doing and saying things they did not do, to harm them or undermine social cohesion or democracy.

Examples of this happening online or using technology include:

  • making harmful claims that a person’s gender makes them less capable – for example, posting a false story online that a high-profile woman engineer only got her job by sleeping around, or that a woman of colour who receives a promotion is taking the rightful place of a white man
  • using deepfake and generative AI technologies to create fake porn to humiliate a woman – because she has a prominent public role or has rejected someone’s sexual advances – and sharing it with her family, professional or friendship networks
  • making harmful claims that gender is binary – for example, deliberately misgendering someone online – such as using he/him/his or she/her pronouns for a non-binary person who uses they/them pronouns – and saying that non-binary people are 'just confused' or ‘brainwashed’
  • spreading false information that attempts to undermine and reverse the rights of women and LGBTIQ+ people – by implying that these rights are coming at the expense of other groups.

Gendered swatting

This is when someone makes a false report to get police or emergency service responders to go to someone’s location or home and there is a gendered component. The report could relate to physical safety, such as a bomb threat, or mental health, such as a possible suicide. 

Examples of this happening online or using technology include: 

  • falsely alleging that someone has engaged in illegal activity, especially someone with a complicated relationship with law enforcement – for example, using the IP address of a gender diverse online sex worker to identify their location and then alleging they engaged in illegal behaviour, which leads to police questioning them in their place of work
  • falsely claiming that someone is a danger to the community – for example, members of an online anti-trans group claiming that a trans woman is a danger to the students she teaches, which leads to police attending the school and this being live streamed across anti-trans forums 
  • making a false report as part of an online prank – for example, an online gaming community falsely alleging to police that a prominent woman gamer has a bomb, which leads to police attending her home while she is live streaming to her audience
  • making a false report as part of family, domestic and sexual violence – for example, a man posting online that his ex-wife is suicidal and a danger to their child, which leads to emergency workers attending the woman’s home.

Gendered doxing

This is when a person shares or publishes someone’s personal details online, such as their home address, email address or phone number, and there is a gendered component.

Examples of this include:

  • sharing someone’s location information online to intimidate them and make them fear for their personal safety – for example, sharing the address of a trans woman to an anti-trans group online and urging people to target her and threaten her with violence     
  • disclosing someone’s sensitive personal information online to scare and silence them – for example, posting the Medicare card details and healthcare information of a woman who advocates for abortion rights on an anti-abortion website 
  • publishing someone’s contact details online to target them for defying the gendered norms of a group – for example, sharing the phone number and email of a feminist gamer because she is ‘destroying’ gaming culture.

Gendered cyberstalking

This is when someone tracks and harasses another person online or using technology and there is a gendered component. Learn more about cyberstalking.

Examples of this include:

  • making constant and repeated contact as part of domestic, family and sexual violence – for example, the abusive ex-husband of a woman sending hundreds of aggressive phone messages to control, threaten and terrorise her  
  • closely monitoring the movements and location of someone without their consent – for example, someone sharing an online feed with live location tracking of a woman who is part of a popular sports team, making her fear for her personal safety
  • making repeated unwanted contact with someone across multiple platforms – for example, someone commenting ‘I know where you are’ or ‘I know where you live’ on every photo a trans man who promotes trans inclusion in sports posts, in an attempt to intimate him and stop him doing his work.

Image-based abuse (also known as ‘revenge porn’)

This is when someone shares or threatens to share an intimate image or video of someone without their consent. Find out more about image-based abuse.

Examples of this include:

  • sharing nude or sexual images or videos to harm people – for example, a woman’s ex-partner sharing a nude image of her on social media to humiliate her
  • sharing digitally altered or ‘deepfake’ photos or videos that make it appear as if someone is naked or engaging in sexual activity – for example, a woman’s co-worker using generative AI tools to alter a photo so she appears to be having sex and then emailing it to everyone in their office
  • threatening to share a video chat recording of someone engaging in sexual activity unless they pay money (this is called sexual extortion or ‘sextortion’) – for example, someone secretly recording a gay international student engaging in sexual activity and threatening to ‘out’ him to his family at home.

Gendered violence and online pornography

This is when online pornography shows or contributes to gendered violence. Often it shows men dominating women, and women experiencing degrading abuse, aggression and violent sex acts. The importance of consent is also often ignored.

Examples of this include: 

  • porn depicting sexual assault and murder – for example, online porn that plays out a scene of a woman being raped 
  • porn that puts pressure on people of all genders to conform to sexual stereotypes – for example, scripts that portray men as dominant and women as only serving the sexual needs of men
  • using porn to create sexually hostile environments – for example, a workplace where men view and share pornography that shows women as sexual objects, creating an environment that feels uncomfortable and unsafe for women colleagues. 

What support is available?

Tech-based gendered violence is not your fault. You are not alone and help is available.

How eSafety can help

eSafety can help with tech-based gendered violence where it reaches the legal threshold for investigation under one of our schemes:

  • Adult cyber abuse – harmful online communication to or about a person who is 18 or older that is menacing, harassing or offensive, and intended to cause serious harm.
  • Cyberbullying – harmful online communication to or about a child or young person under 18 that is threatening, intimidating, harassing or humiliating.
  • Image-based abuse (sometimes called ‘revenge porn’) – sharing, or threatening to share, intimate images or videos of a person without their consent.

Find out what you can report to eSafety and how to report abuse or harmful content to eSafety. Even if we can't investigate your case, we can help you to find tips to protect yourself and get more support if you need it.

Other support

 

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. 

Last updated: 01/12/2023