WESNET: Second National survey on technology abuse and domestic violence in Australia


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22.09.2022 - 18:34
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WESNET in and Curn University have published findings from the Second Naonal Survey of Technology Abuse and Domesc Violence in Australia. Results from the Telstra-funded survey of 442 domesc violence (DV) praconers highlight significant increases in technology-facilitated abuse in Australia and mark a call to acon for responses to keep up.

Findings and emerging trends of the Second Naonal Survey will be discussed via an online webinar and panel on 24th November from 1pm AEDT, presented by WESNET CEO, Karen Bentley and Professor Donna Chung from Curn University. Panelists include Dr Delanie Woodlock, and Curn University researchers Darcee Schulze, Natasha Mahoney and Amy Pracilio.

The survey is a follow-up to a 2015 survey by DVRCV, Women’s Legal Service NSW, and WESNET which was the first and largest naonal invesgaon of technology-facilitated abuse in Australia. Following the first naonal survey, there was a shi in praconer awareness of the extent to which vicm-survivors of domesc and family violence are also experiencing technology-facilitated abuse.

Concerning trends of the survey show the alarming and increasing ways perpetrators of DV use advances in technology to further entrap, and control vicm-survivors in 2020. Since the 2015 ReCharge survey, there was a 244.8% increase in praconers reporng perpetrators’ use of GPS tracking of vicm-survivors, and 183.2% increase in the use of video-cameras.

WESNET CEO, Karen Bentley said: “The increase of technology-facilitated abuse in 2020 mirrors what we are hearing from our member services and frontline agencies supporng women across the country. Abusers are weaponising technology and using it to wield addional harms in conjuncon with the more tradional forms of abuse we know.”

The 2020 survey included new quesons about how technology-facilitated abuse co-occurs with other forms of DV. Findings show perpetrators use technology alongside broader paerns of violence and abuse, with high levels of stalking, emoonal, sexual, and financial abuse co-occurring.

The survey was launched in May 2020 amid the first wave of COVID-19, and although it was not the focus of the survey, the pandemic’s influence on perpetrator’s use of technology-facilitated abuse was clear. Respondents reported that perpetrators were using the pandemic’s climate of isolaon and reliance on technology for school, work and connecon to increase their use of technology to control and monitor vicm-survivors.

Findings report stories of perpetrators using children’s online schooling during the pandemic to seek informaon about their whereabouts, as well as increases in stalking and surveillance inside and outside of the vicm-survivor’s home using video-cameras.

Reflecting the gendered nature of DV, men were more likely to be perpetrators, and women vicm/survivors of technology-facilitated abuse.

An increase in gendered taccs of abuse was also clear. From 2015, there was a 346.6% increase in children being given a device in order to contact and control their mothers and a 254.2% increase in using children’s social media to contact vicm-survivors.

Professor Donna Chung from Curn University said this reinforces the gendered nature of technologically-facilitated abuse, and seeks to undermine the mother-child relaonship.

“We are seeing a connuing increase in perpetrators providing their children with smartphones with operaonal tracking devices. The children are told to hide the phone from their mothers as they will confiscate them. This puts the women and children under constant surveillance and therefore greater risk of harm and manipulates the child who under instrucon from the father is taught to deceive and lie

to their mother - effecvely undermining the mother-child relaonship”

The use of technology to shame and humiliate women substanally increased. There was a 112.3% increase in perpetrators sharing and distribung images to reveal vicm-survivors. Praconers also noted perpetrators oen filming and photographing sexual abuse to further control.

“This huge increase in image-based sexual abuse is partly aributable to technological advances because everybody with a smartphone can video others. This abuse is intended to shame, humiliate and inmidate women, its sexist undertones are indisputable as no similar phenomenon is occurring for men” Professor Chung said.

Feelings of fear and being trapped were some of most common words used by praconers to describe the impact of technology-facilitated abuse on vicm-survivors. Dr Delanie Woodlock said how this type of abuse creates a sense that the perpetrators are omnipresent. It is overwhelming for the vicm-survivor, and robs women of their human right to connect and interact freely online.

“The findings from our survey show in alarming clarity that technology is being used by perpetrators of domesc violence with impunity, liming women and children’s freedom in both on and offline spaces and creang a seemingly inescapable climate of fear” Dr Woodlock said.

Despite the clear increase in technology-facilitated abuse from 2015 to 2020, the praconers experience with legal, police and service responses remained unchanged. Indicang that police and jusce responses are not keeping up with the taccs of modern domesc and family violence. Praconers noted that breaches in intervenon orders made via technology were rarely enforced and

not taken as seriously as physical abuse. Such stark increases in the use of technology-facilitated abuse require a collecve and coordinated response. Ms Karen Bentley stressed it is the responsibility of everyone: governments, telecommunicaon and technology companies, the police and the jusce system to adapt and improve support for vicm-survivors and to ulmately hold the abusers accountable.

“The findings of this research are a stark reminder that technology is now fully enmeshed in all aspects of our lives. Legislave and programmac responses are constantly playing catch-up, while vicm-survivors are living daily with the terrifying reality and frontline workers grapple with new and emerging abuse taccs.”

Geng help

Abuse, stalking and threatening behaviour is never okay – whether it’s offline or online. Nobody, men or women, children or adults deserves to be abused through technology. If you are in a life-threatening situaon, call Triple Zero for assistance, or for confidenal informaon, counselling and support service, contact 1800RESPECT.