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Adult cyber abuse and online hate – what’s the difference?

It's useful to understand the difference between online hate and adult cyber abuse and learn what eSafety can do to help.
 
While some online hate may reach the legal threshold of adult cyber abuse that allows eSafety to investigate, not all will. But there are still things you can do to protect yourself and deal with the experience.

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“My ex used my phone to stalk me and kept sending messages saying that I couldn’t hide from him.”
“When I posted about being sexually harassed some men said it was just flirting. They threatened to show me what sexual harassment really looked like.”
“A random person started messaging me with racist and homophobic comments and they posted my home address on social media.”
Each of these people has experienced serious adult cyber abuse.

That's when someone who's 18 or older is targeted with severely abusive online content that's intended to cause them serious physical or mental harm.
“I felt scared.”
They may be targeted because of how they look, where they’re from, their religion, gender, disability, political beliefs, or sexuality.
It might be a post, a comment, a meme, a message, an email or even a chat in a game. 
It could be sent to the person targeted or it might be about them.
“I felt trapped.”

They may be harassed using a phone or anything else connected to the internet.
Someone may share their personal details or encourage others to pile on the abuse.
Any adult can be targeted by anyone at any time.
“I felt alone.”
The Online Safety Act gives eSafety broad powers to help all Australians have safer and more positive experiences online.
If you're dealing with serious adult cyber abuse, we can help you.

Start by saving information. 
Even though you might want to get rid of anything bad don't delete it or block anyone yet, because you may need it as proof.
Just keep it and follow these steps.
First, collect any evidence by taking a screenshot and noting the web address or URL.
It's also good to include the account name, profile, and online service provider as well as the date and time of the abuse.
Then report it to the online service provider that was used to post or send the content.
They have a responsibility to help you.

If you don't hear back, contact us here at esafety.gov.au.
We can direct the person responsible and the service provider to remove seriously harmful content quickly.
“Thanks to eSafety, I got my life back.”
“I have support.”
“I feel safe again.”
To find out more about adult cyber abuse, how to report it, and tips for staying safe online, visit esafety.gov.au.

WATCH NOW: How eSafety can help you deal with adult cyber abuse

Serious online abuse can happen to anyone at any time, but eSafety is here to help. Find out about some typical experiences and the steps you can take to deal with harmful content.

What is adult cyber abuse?

Adult cyber abuse is when the internet is used to send, post or share content that is harmful to the physical or mental health of someone who is 18 or older. It can include posts, comments, emails, messages, memes, images and videos.

The person may be targeted because of their sexual preference, gender, ethnicity, race, religion, disability or another reason.

Examples of adult cyber abuse include:

  • threats of violence that make someone fear for their physical safety
  • incitement of violence, which encourages other people to make physical threats or pile on
  • doxing or revealing a person’s address alongside an allegation that this person has done something really bad and ought to be punished
  • purposely targeting a person’s known vulnerabilities - for example, repeatedly 'fat-shaming' a person with a history of anorexia.

Adult cyber abuse should be reported to the app or online service used to send, post or share it. This is often the fastest way to have it removed.

If the app of service doesn't help, the harmful content can be reported to eSafety – if it also meets the legal definition of adult cyber abuse. This means is must be menacing, harassing or offensive and intended to cause someone serious harm.

Find out more about adult cyber abuse and how eSafety can help.

Report now

What is online hate?

Although there is no internationally agreed legal definition of online hate, it can be described as any kind of online communication that attacks, discriminates, insults or uses hateful language against a person or group based on their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or disability.

There are overlaps between adult cyber abuse and online hate, as some online hate may be so serious and threatening to an individual that it meets the definition of adult cyber abuse under the Online Safety Act.

However, one of the key distinctions is that adult cyber abuse must target a specific person, not a broad range or group of people. For example, eSafety cannot act on behalf of an organisation that is experiencing racist or misogynist abuse online, as this abuse is directed at a group rather than a specific person. It also cannot act if online hate makes derogatory claims about, for example, all LGBTIQ+ people or all trans people. In cases like this, the Australian Human Rights Commission may be able to help you.

Examples of online hate can include receiving racist, homophobic or transphobic comments after posting something positive relating to LGBTIQ+ people.

Learn more about online hate and discrimination and how it affects the LGBTIQ+ community.

Get support

QLife

All ages. Counselling and referral for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and/or intersex. Phone counselling and online chat available every day from 3pm to 12am.

Lifeline

All ages. All issues. Phone counselling and online chat available all day, every day.

More support services

Last updated: 17/04/2023