Project examining extent of technology-facilitated abuse in Australia launches

Monash University

The extent of the use of technology to facilitate sexual abuse and violence against women will begin to be understood this month, as stage one of a project researching the problem launches today.

Led by Monash University and RMIT, the first stage of the research is seeking the advice of sector stakeholders who work with victims or perpetrators of technology-facilitated abuse across community services, human services, allied health, legal services, justice professionals and prevention programs, as well as domestic violence and sexual assault services.

Workers who fit in the above categories are being requested to fill in an anonymous survey which can be completed online.

The Technology Facilitated Abuse project was announced in June this year, made possible by funding from Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) and support from the Australian Government Department of Social Services.

The two-year research study led by Associate Professor Asher Flynn from Monash University and Associate Professor Anastasia Powell from RMIT University aims to further investigate the extent, nature and impacts of these harms.

Associate Professors Flynn and Powell identified an urgent need for rigorous and current evidence on the extent of the problem in Australia to provide policy-makers with the information needed to develop an effective response.

The project aims to better understand the nature and characteristics of technology-facilitated abuse, and to establish reliable national prevalence rates for victimisation and perpetration, including online sexual harassment, stalking, partner violence and image-based sexual abuse.

The project will also examine the challenges of responding to this kind of abuse.

Researchers identified technology-facilitated abuse is a rapidly growing and serious problem, with Australian data also showing there has been an increased cause for concern during COVID-19.

Over the first half of 2020, traffic to the website of the eSafety Commissioner – which offers information about technology-facilitated abuse – doubled.

The Commissioner’s Office also recorded a 200 per cent surge in image-based abuse over March and April (when compared to the 2019 monthly average), and one weekend in April saw a 341 per cent spike in people targeted by a sex-based extortion scam.

Technology-facilitated abuse refers to the use of mobile, internet and surveillance technologies in interpersonal harms such as online sexual harassment, stalking, partner violence and image-based abuse.

In 2019, the Council of Australia Governments endorsed the Fourth Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022, highlighting technology-faciliated abuse as a key emerging issue.

Monash and RMIT researchers also released findings from a survey this year that found one in three Australians have been victims of image-based abuse, up from one in five in 2016.

The survey also found the perpetration of image-based abuse had increased since 2016 and international research suggests that technology has increased the ease with which perpetrators can engage in other forms of harassing, stalking and controlling behaviours.

“Much of this abuse occurs in the context of domestic and sexual violence, as well as in dating contexts and from strangers online,” Associate Professor Flynn said.

“We also hold concerns about emerging evidence suggesting that technology-facilitated abuse is increasing during the physical isolation measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s much we still don’t know about technology-facilitated abuse and that’s why we’re undertaking this project and seeking to gather the vital practice-based knowledge of these professionals who may come into contact with either victims or perpetrators of this abuse.”

The survey also aims to gauge sector workers’ views on the current responses, prevention activity and future needs, across Australia’s service sector, to better address technology-facilitated abuse.

All professionals, whether they work directly with victims or perpetrators of abuse or in the services and prevention sector more broadly are requested to contribute their knowledge and ideas for improving collective efforts on this vital issue.

Input from workers of diverse backgrounds and / or who work with clients of diverse backgrounds are very welcomed.

The survey can be found here.

/Public Release.