Women are more likely than men to be the target of sexual and gendered abuse that happens online or uses digital technology.
Tech-based abuse (sometimes known as ‘technology-facilitated abuse’) is behaviour that uses an online space or digital technology to threaten, intimidate, bully, harass, humiliate or coerce someone.
Women are likely to experience tech-based abuse more frequently than men and have to deal with it over longer periods of time. The abuse is often more severe in its nature and damaging in its psychological impact, leaving women twice as likely (26.3%) to fear for their safety compared to men (12.6%).
Tech-based abuse affects women in all their diversity – including transgender women. It can include technology being used as part of sexual harassment, sexism and misogyny, and even sexual assault.
The abuse is often linked with:
- gendered 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.
Find out more about tech-based gendered violence.
Some women and girls are more at risk
The risk of tech-based abuse is even higher for some women and girls than others, often because of their circumstances or because of discrimination linked to their identity.
This includes women and girls who:
- are experiencing domestic, family or sexual violence
- have an online presence for work
- are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
- come from a culturally or linguistically diverse background
- live with disability
- identify as LGBTIQ+.
Read our research pages to find out more about the types of tech-based abuse experienced by women most at risk, and the affect it has on their lives.
Women dealing with domestic, family and sexual violence
Studies show that the majority of women dealing with domestic, family and sexual violence experience part of the violence online or through digital technology.
The abuser is usually the person’s partner, ex-partner, a family member, or someone the woman is sharing a home with or dating.
If a woman who experiences domestic and family violence has a child or children in her care, often she is also worried about their safety. Research shows that 27% of domestic violence cases involve tech-based abuse of children.
Women from diverse backgrounds
Research shows that women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, First Nations women, women living with disability and those who identify as LGBTIQ+ are at a greater risk of tech-based abuse.
This is often because they are affected by more than one type of prejudice or discrimination (sometimes known as ‘intersectionality'). For example, a First Nations woman may be impacted by both sexist and racist abuse at the same time.
- Read our research about how women from diverse backgrounds experience online abuse.
- Find out how to get help in languages other than English.
- Explore our First Nations resources.
- See our advice for LGBTIQ+ people dealing with online abuse.
Women In The Spotlight
Some women face tech-based abuse because they have an active online presence ‘in the spotlight’ as part of their working life.
eSafety surveyed a group of women about their online experiences and found:
- 1 in 3 had experienced online abuse in a work context
- 1 in 4 were hesitant to move into a role that required an online public or media presence
- most of the abuse happened on social media and included harassment, doxing and trolling.
Find out more about how to deal with online abuse as part of your working life.
What can the abuse look like?
Women and girls can experience tech-based abuse on all types of online platforms, such as social media sites, messaging services, chat forums, gaming platforms and apps. The harmful content could be a post, comment, text, message, chat, livestream, meme, image, video or email.
The following examples will help you recognise and understand some of the many ways tech-based abuse can happen. There may be some overlap between the categories. You can also find more examples on our page about gendered violence.
This is when unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature makes someone feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. 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.
This is when someone expresses prejudice or discrimination towards another person based on their sex, gender identity or sexual orientation. For example, making comments on social media about a woman politician’s clothing, as if her appearance is the most important thing about her.
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. For example, a man claiming women are inferior to men and describing them as no better than animals, in an online forum.
This is when someone engages in a sexual activity, or makes someone else engage in a sexual activity, without the other person’s consent. This can happen online or using digital technology. For example, a man coercing his girlfriend into getting sexual in a video chat even though she doesn't want to, by saying he'll end the relationship and tell everyone she's frigid if she doesn't do it.
This is when someone shares or threatens to share an intimate image or video of someone without their consent. For example, a woman’s ex-partner sharing a nude image of her on social media to humiliate her.
This is a type of image-based abuse when someone tries to blackmail another person over their intimate images or videos. For example, threatening to share a nude of someone unless they agree to get sexual in a video chat or pay money.
This is when someone posts or comments online to ‘bait’ people, which means deliberately provoking an argument or emotional reaction. It is often done ‘for fun’, but sometimes to discredit, humiliate or punish someone because of the ideas or values they represent. 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’.
This is when a person shares or publishes someone’s personal details online, such as their home address, email address or phone number. For example, posting the Medicare card details and healthcare information of a woman who advocates for abortion rights on an anti-abortion website.
This is when someone tracks and harasses another person online or using technology. For example, the abusive ex-husband of a woman sending hundreds of aggressive phone messages to control, threaten and terrorise her.
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. For example, threatening to rape a high-profile woman journalist in comments under a news article she wrote.
This is when a child under the age of 18 is involved in, or exposed to, sexual activity that is unlawful – this includes when they don’t want it to happen, they’re not old enough to legally consent to it, and/or they don’t understand it. For example, an adult ‘grooming’ a 12 year-old girl for sexual contact by sharing sexual content or conversations with her is a form of online child sexual abuse. It also includes sharing or threatening to share a sexual image or video of a child online. These images and videos are known as ‘child sexual exploitation and abuse material’ and they are illegal.
What support is available?
Online abuse can be traumatic and stressful but it’s important to remember that it’s not your fault and help is available.
How eSafety can help
eSafety can help with tech-based abuse 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. For example, being bombarded with sexually explicit comments and threats of violence after sharing a post online about your experience of being sexually harassed after work drinks may reach our threshold for investigation and removal of the harmful content.
- Cyberbullying – harmful online communication to or about a child or young person under 18 that is threatening, intimidating, harassing or humiliating. For example, a group of teenage boys teasing and shaming a girl about her appearance and sexual history in a series of online chats is likely to reach our threshold for investigation and removal of the harmful content.
- 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.
- Report online child sexual abuse, including sexual grooming, to the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) . You can also report child sexual abuse material to eSafety for investigation and removal.
- Reach out for help – find a counselling and support service that is right for you.
- Get more tailored advice – eSafety has more resources for women, including tips on connecting safely.
Remember your safety is important. If an abusive person learns that you are seeking help and information, their behaviour may get worse, so it’s a good idea to ask a support worker to help you.
Last updated: 12/12/2023