What is digital domestic abuse?

Social media is a great tool for connection, but in the wrong hands it becomes weaponised. It is increasingly being used by domestic violence perpetrators to continue their abuse of victims. Digital domestic abuse is on the rise with the increasing integration of more technology in our lives.

In Australia there are some alarming domestic violence statistics.  While domestic violence is not limited to women being victims, statistically speaking there are many more victims who are women and the perpetrator is male than the other way around.  The Domestic Violence Prevention Centre, which is based on the Gold Coast, has some key facts in their domestic violence statistics including:

  • On average at least one woman a week is killed by a partner or former partner in Australia.
  • One in three Australian women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15.
  • One in five Australian women has experienced sexual violence.
  • One in four Australian women has experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner.
  • One in four Australian women has experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner.
  • Women are at least three times more likely than men to experience violence from an intimate partner.

digital domestic abuse, domestic violence, family violenceThe US also has shocking statistics on domestic violence.  On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner. And when it comes to sexual domestic violence, women are far more likely to be victims.

What is Digital Domestic Abuse?

The Data and Society Research Institute asked 3,000 Americans over the phone about whether they have experienced abusive behaviours by current or past romantic partners. The study defined these online abusive behaviours as, “physical threats, monitoring of the victim’s online activities, stalking the victim, or threatening to post nude or nearly nude photos of the victim online.”

Overall, 12% of the participants admitted to being victims of digital domestic abuse. This holds true for both male and female participants.

“We have this world view that women are the victims and men are the perpetrators. This silences the men who are victims,” said Michele Ybarra, the lead researcher.

While men and women face a fairly equal amount of digital domestic abuse, the statistic is much greater for “Americans aged 15-29; those who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB); and those with lower levels of education and household income.”

The Data and Society Research Institute found that digital domestic abuse was often an extension of the behaviour that was happening in person: “technology is just facilitating not being in a safe relationship,” Ybarra said.

Does this mean that domestic violence victims should ‘get off’ social media?

Social media is a great way of keeping track of people. “Now everybody knows everybody’s family and friends,” says Barbara Helm, a safe adult advocate with domestic violence shelter and victim services provider Family Shelter Service. “Social media has become such a huge part of everybody’s life, and we have to let everybody know what we’re doing every minute of the day.”

“The online space is real life because if I’m holding my phone checking social media before I get out of bed in the morning, that’s my real life,” says Cindy Southworth, executive vice president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence. “If there’s a threat to my safety on social media, it’s going to be the first thing I see in the morning and the last thing I see before I go to bed.”

digital domestic abuse, domestic violence, family violence, Not only are domestic violence victims scared when they’re with their abuser, they are scared when they’re away from them. It has meant that those who work with domestic violence victims have to be savvy with technology and educate the victims in how to make technology their friend and to keep online tracking or harassment at bay.

Both domestic violence workers and a Women’s Legal Service Solicitor (Alex Davis) said that smartphones are a factor in about 80% of victims they see.  Different questions are now being asked at some family violence services such as:  Who set up your smartphone?  Who has access to your passwords? When women first present for support they are being asked to put their smartphones into flight mode as a precaution.

Social networks are well aware that abusers are using their networks to contact victims of domestic violence, and they’re doing what they can to make their networks safe and enjoyable for everyone.

“We’ve built tools — like blocking and our extensive privacy settings — to give people more control over their experience on Facebook,” a Facebook spokesman said. “Our team works in the community to provide training and guides to help educate people on how to stay safe online, including specifically for survivors of domestic violence.”

Domestic violence victims do not need to stay away from social media and technology – they just need to be taught how to use it wisely. In fact, there are apps that been developed for domestic violence victims.

If you know of someone who is experiencing any kind of domestic violence, be it digital or otherwise, then please encourage them to seek help.

If you see someone abusing someone else on social media – speak out! We make it ‘acceptable’ when we stand by and do nothing.

At Divorce Lawyers Brisbane we understand what a difficult time it can be when separating and divorcing. Please contact us today for a free, 10-minute phone consultation with one of our experienced family lawyers.