Lifeline or weapon? How technology is used to control and silence women

Technology is routinely being weaponised against women to demean, control and ultimately silence them according to a keynote speech to be given by Australia’s eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant at the National Summit on Women’s Safety.

The landmark speech, delivered on the opening of the second day of the Summit, will detail how abuse via technology has become a common feature in family and domestic violence cases and is now becoming commonplace in wider society.

It will also illustrate how personal and professional online harms are becoming increasingly intertwined, causing women to withdraw from situations and roles that may put them in harm's way, further undermining their economic opportunities and entrenching existing inequalities.

“Women are disproportionately targeted in every form of online abuse we deal with at eSafety and this abuse is often rooted in misogyny and designed to demean, control and ultimately silence women,” Ms Inman Grant said. “And this is why we have a specific focus on women through our eSafety Women program."

“And we see this in its most extreme form in domestic family violence situations where an abuser, usually male, uses technology to isolate, harass, monitor, stalk, and threaten a current or former female partner.

“Importantly, we now recognise that this technology facilitated abuse can be a red flag for future physical violence as we saw in the tragic case of Hannah Clarke and her three young children.

“Our domestic violence frontline worker training and resources around TFA are key to helping support and protect these women and children but we all need to band together and do more to halt the increasing weaponization of technology against women.”

Ms Inman Grant said that the online abuse experienced by women daily is also causing many to limit their participation on social media and is dissuading them from taking high-profile professional roles that could make them a target online.

“Our research shows that over a third of women have experienced abuse online as part of their professional lives and a quarter would think twice before taking on a public facing role, for fear of the abuse they might receive,” she said.

“Our Women in the Spotlight (WITS) program aims to change this dynamic by providing tips and strategies as well as social media self-defence training to help women build their psychological armour and learn to interact online with impact, confidence and resilience.

“We need to understand that online violence hurled against women is much more targeted, sexualised and threatening than abuse their male counterpart’s experience.

“Our soon-to-be-operational, world-first adult cyber abuse scheme will provide new pathways for women who are on the receiving end of cyber stalking and threatening online abuse.

“But it’s also time for the tech industry to step-up. The platforms haven’t made the kind of progress we need to see in terms of making online spaces safer and less toxic for women and this needs to change.”  

In the Commissioner’s speech, she will also outline eSafety’s unique approach to managing these issues on the three pillars of prevention, protection and proactive change and the forward leaning steps she’ll seek to take in tackling the spectrum of online harms targeting a broad range of women.

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