Tech revolution essential to help stop technology-facilitated abuse

As new research reveals 1 in 2 Australians have experienced technology-facilitated abuse at some point in their lifetime, the eSafety Commissioner is calling for a radical shift in technology design and use to help end online abuse.

eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said the research by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) reinforces the widespread prevalence of this type of abuse, and the heightened risk for some minority groups.

“The ANROWS research is a stark reminder that more needs to be done to ensure all Australians can live their lives free from physical, psychological and emotional harm – online and offline,” Ms Inman Grant said.

“These efforts must also recognise the particular risks to women and those people living at the intersection of social disadvantage and discrimination, notably LGB+ communities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and people living with a disability.” 

The research included surveys of victim-survivors aimed at understanding their experience of technology-facilitated abuse and the tactics perpetrators used.

“We cannot ignore the relationship between technology-facilitated abuse and family and domestic violence; 40 per cent of female victim-survivors and 32 per cent of males said the abuse came from a partner or former partner,” Ms Inman Grant said.

“This supports what we’ve been hearing from the frontline services we work with: domestic violence perpetrators are using both low-tech and high-tech methods to control, demean and silence.”

Ms Inman Grant said while technology is currently giving perpetrators round-the-clock access to their targets, it can be part of a solution.

“We must adjust our collective mindset and flip our focus – from what victim-survivors can do to stay safe, to what society must do to end abuse and hold perpetrators to account.

“It’s time for all users, creators and advocates of technology to help us reimagine a safer, more inclusive, more respectful future.

“We need technology companies to design and build demonstrably safer products and proactively flag and remove abusive content. eSafety's Safety by Design initiative was developed with industry for precisely this reason, so that they had tangible guidance around how to anticipate risk and build in protections against misuse.

“Of course, we all have a role to play in ensuring civility online, so people can strive to become upstanders, doing their best to help call out online abuse in every corner of the internet.”

Ms Inman Grant encouraged frontline services to take advantage of free eSafety training to help their staff identify and manage the online and technological dimensions of domestic violence.

“The research insights into the motivations and methods of those enacting this abuse will help improve the programs, training and outreach we provide to these frontline services,” she said.

“eSafety is also continuing our efforts to reach more Australians experiencing serious adult cyber abuse or image-based abuse, common examples of technology-facilitated abuse, by providing victims with advice and support to remove harmful content. We have powers to remove the worst kinds of harmful online content when people report it to us.”

eSafety was a member of the ANROWS Technology-Facilitated Abuse Research Advisory Group. Read the full research report.  

For advice on how to stay safe online, and to report serious online abuse, visit: esafety.gov.au.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.

In an emergency, call Triple Zero (000).

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