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More perpetrators misusing technology to abuse victims

More perpetrators misusing technology to abuse victims

A close up of a woman holding a mobile phone

A report released by WESNET and Curtin University has found that perpetrators are finding new ways to misuse technology to abuse victims.

The Second National Survey of Technology Abuse and Domestic Violence in Australia outlines results from a national survey of 442 specialist family violence practitioners and found significant increases in technology-facilitated abuse in Australia.

Practitioners’ awareness of the use of technology in family violence has increased since the previous survey conducted in 2015, however they find it hard to keep up with the numerous ways that perpetrators seek to control and monitor women.

WESNET CEO Karen Bentley says “The findings of this research are a stark reminder that technology is now fully enmeshed in all aspects of our lives. Legislative and programmatic responses are constantly playing catch-up, while victim survivors are living daily with the terrifying reality and frontline workers grapple with new and emerging abuse tactics.”

The report states that there was little shift in legal responses to this abuse compared to 2015. Respondents noted that breaches to intervention orders made via technology were rarely enforced and are often taken less seriously than physical abuse.

Impact on victim survivors

While the impact of technology-facilitated abuse on victim survivors is similar to 2015, there is an increased perception that they experience high levels of fear and terror as a result of the technology-facilitated abuse and that they feel trapped and hopeless.

One survey respondent reported:

The impact is huge. Since technology is such a part of everyday life now, women often feel they have no escape from the perpetrator. This kind of constant, relentless abuse has a massive impact on women’s mental health. I have seen women become completely paranoid and jump at every sound due to the abuse.

Technology facilitated abuse can increase the isolation felt by victim survivors and the fear of using technology to keep in contact with friends, family and services can cause significant impact on their lives.

In some cases, the victim survivor returned to their abuser because they felt they could not escape control. This intensified during the first wave of COVID-19 in Australia (the survey ran from May to August 2020).

Other key findings

  • Almost all survey respondents (99.3%) said they had clients who had experienced technology-facilitated stalking and abuse.
  • There was a 74.4% increase in the reported use of text messages, email or instant messages to threaten victim survivors.
  • There was a 244.8% increase in practitioners reporting perpetrators’ use of GPS to track victim survivors and 183.2% increase in the use of video cameras.
  • A high proportion of respondents reported perpetrators used government services such as myGov to abuse victim survivors, with 27% of respondents seeing this ‘all the time’ and a further 37.8% seeing it ‘often’.

The use of children in technology-facilitated abuse showed significant increases since the 2015 survey.

  • There was a 346.6% increase in children being given a phone or other device as a way to contact their father and monitor their mother’s movements.
  • There was a 254.2% increase in perpetrators’ use of children’s social media accounts to contact children’s mothers.
  • 49.4% of respondents reported that perpetrators use court-ordered child contact to abuse, threaten and intimidate women ‘all the time’.

Download the report

About the research

The research was conducted from May to August 2020 via an online survey of 442 practitioners in the specialist family violence sector. It is a follow-up survey to the 2015 ReCharge study, conducted by DVRCV, Women’s Legal Services NSW and WESNET.

Find out more

To find out more about safe technology use, read DVRCV’s technology and family violence information.