We live in a time of extreme technological advancement. Although this is generally a good thing because it can mean our lives are made that little bit easier, this also means that there are new ways that perpetrators of domestic violence can inflict harm upon victim-survivors. Technology-facilitated abuse is a unique form of interpersonal violence and harassment that uses technology to inflict harm and can involve the use of phones, GPS, social media, and cameras, amongst others.
According to researchers at Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS), technology-facilitated abuse falls into four distinct categories:
- harassing behaviours
- monitoring and controlling behaviours
- emotional abuse and threats and
- image-based sexual abuse, all of which can be co-occurring.
Additionally, perpetration of technology-facilitated abuse can be both overt and covert. Overt technology-facilitated abuse involves actions that are very openly coercive and abusive; the perpetrator is not trying to hide their actions because they want to create fear to control their partner. In contrast, covert technology-facilitated abuse is more subtle and concealed; the perpetrator is trying to stay hidden while quietly monitoring every aspect of their partner’s life to exert control.
According to a report conducted by ANROWS in 2022, approximately 50% of Australians have experienced at least one incident of technology-facilitated abuse in their lifetime. Additionally, the report found that women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and people with a disability are more likely to experience technology-facilitated abuse than people who are not members of these communities. Technology-facilitated abuse goes across geographical boundaries and has been described as a relentless form of abuse that can make women feel unsafe, isolated, and overall, mentally unwell.
While at Bonnie’s, I have witnessed first-hand the impact that technology-facilitated abuse can have on victim-survivors. Many cases have looked like this:
- Women are afraid to answer the phone or feel anxious whenever they make a phone call.
- Having to throw away devices because the spyware installed could not be removed at all.
- Having to constantly change location because the perpetrator kept finding them,
- Women are too terrified to leave a violent relationship because there are cameras inside the house watching their every move; the list goes on.
But I have witnessed the staff here work tirelessly to make women feel as safe and secure as possible, despite the challenges of technology-facilitated abuse. This is done in lots of different ways, including developing detailed safety plans, helping women get access to a new phone, and texting or emailing women rather than calling where possible. Overall, workers at Bonnie’s are proactive and creative in their efforts to support women experiencing technology-facilitated abuse and I deeply admire their commitment to and passion for keeping women safe.
A great resource for anyone experiencing technology-facilitated abuse is The Women’s Services Network, also known as WESNET. This organisation provides a range of services but are probably best known for their work in supporting people to access tech safety. WESNET has a dedicated trove of resources and toolkits for front-line workers and women experiencing technology-facilitated abuse. A link to their website can be found here: https://techsafety.org.au/.
Blog by Social Work student Kate. Kate is currently underway in her 4th year of her Social Worker degree and is completing her Honours thesis on technology-facilitated abuse.