Online abuse targeting women
Women can experience high levels of abuse online, which can damage their confidence, self-esteem and feelings of personal safety.
Understand the different types of abuse and the pathways available to get help and support.
You can report the abuse to the social media service or platform it was posted on. Depending on the platform, you can generally block, report, ignore or mute the abuse. For tips on how to protect your personal information, block someone and direct links to report abuse, see the eSafety Guide.
You can also report online abuse to eSafety. We deal with three key types of reports:
If technology is being used to abuse, stalk, threaten or defame you, there are laws that can help. Collecting evidence will be important if you want to take legal action. You can learn more about how to collect evidence and take screenshots in our ‘how to’ videos.
If you are the target of online abuse, remember it is not your fault. Everyone should be free to interact online without the fear of abuse. Below we outline different types of abuse and what you can do to take action.
Trolling and cyber abuse
Trolling is when a user anonymously abuses or harasses others online for ‘fun’. Trolls deliberately post comments that will upset others to get a reaction from them. Trolls seem to enjoy it when people get upset about what they post, and often shrug off complaints about their behaviour, claiming it was all in fun. Haters and cyber abusers, however, can be genuinely angry about the views or actions of other people and seek to personally humiliate or punish them. For women who are targets of cyber abuse, the abuse can by sexist, misogynistic, racist, homophobic or transphobic. The distinction between trolling and cyber abuse can be quite blurry, but it is important to understand the difference.
Cyberstalking is a form of cyber abuse — the terms are often used interchangeably in the media. Both may include false accusations, abusive comments, attempts to smear your reputation, threats of physical or sexual violence or repeated unwanted sexual requests. Cyberstalking may also include monitoring, identity theft and the gathering of information that may be used to threaten, embarrass or harass. Cyberstalking is often accompanied by real time or offline stalking. Never let cyberstalking go on for too long — if you feel unsafe report the abuse to police now. Call Triple Zero (000) or contact your local police station.
Our advice for people experiencing cyberstalking as part of domestic and family violence, is useful whether the person cyberstalking you is known to you or a complete stranger. There is also advice on cyberstalking included in our advice on adult cyber abuse.
Image-based abuse, also known as ‘revenge porn’, happens when an intimate image or video is shared without the consent of the person pictured. This includes images or videos that have been digitally altered (using Photoshop or specialised software).
An intimate image is one that shows:
- a person’s genital area or anal area (whether bare or covered by underwear)
- a person’s breasts (if the person identifies as female, transgender or intersex)
- private activity (for example a person undressing, using the bathroom, showering, bathing or engaged in sexual activity)
- a person without attire of religious or cultural significance if they would normally wear such attire in public
Sextortion is a type of image-based abuse. It is a form of blackmail where someone threatens to share intimate images of you online unless you give in to their demands. These demands are typically for money, more intimate images or sexual favours. Perpetrators often target people through dating apps, social media, webcams or adult pornography sites. While sextortion can be used by individuals, organised crime is often behind it when the perpetrator demands money. Commonly the perpetrator is not based in Australia.
Learn more about sextortion and how to deal with it.
Fake accounts and impersonation
Online abusers may set up fake social media accounts in your name, or in the names of other people, in order to abuse you, monitor you, harm your reputation or scam you. Fake accounts are sometimes used to abuse, bully and harass people. They are also used by organised crime as part of romance scams, designed to trick people into giving money and paying for other gifts.
You can report fake accounts to the social media service or platform in which they were created — see the eSafety Guide for direct reporting links. Learn more about online scams and identity theft and how to protect your personal information. If you think your current or ex-partner may be setting up fake accounts in order to abuse or monitor you, read our advice on technology-facilitated abuse ‘what are the warning signs?’.
Doxing and swatting
Doxing occurs when your personal details are shared or publicised online. This may result in offensive comments and unwanted calls or visits from strangers. Swatting occurs when an abuser makes a hoax call to emergency services in an attempt to get a large number of police or emergency service responders to go to your home address. This can be triggered by a false report of a bomb threat, hostage situation or that someone at your address is experiencing a mental health emergency or is suicidal.
If someone has posted defamatory comments online intended to harm your reputation or the reputation of your business, there are a number of steps you can take. Firstly, collect evidence of the defamatory comments — learn more about how to collect evidence by taking screenshots in our ‘how to’ videos. You can also block unwanted contact or report it to the social media service or platform it was posted on — you will find direct links to report defamatory content in the eSafety Guide. It is also a good idea to update your social media privacy and security settings.