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05th Sep 2022

Study finds link between online harassment and domestic violence

Sarah McKenna Barry

Research found that that 83% of domestic abuse survivors experienced cyber-abuse as well.

New research from the University of Suffolk has found a strong correlation between online abuse and offline domestic violence.

Researchers from the Institute of Social Justice and Crime undertook six months of research examining the links between technology-facilitated violence against women and girls (TFVWG) and offline forms of abuse. The research had been commissioned by the South West Grid for Learning in order to develop Minerva, an upcoming secure platform where victims can report and remove harmful and inappropriate content online.

In one survey of domestic abuse survivors in the UK, 83% of participants reported experiencing “smartphone coercion or social media abuse”. Additionally, the research found high levels of “cyber-abuse and cyber-monitoring of women by men who had been arrested for domestic violence”.

Perpetrators of TVVAWG often use surveillance and digital technology, such as GPS and surveillance apps to target their victims.

What’s more, those who have survived cyberstalking have noted how it often transitions to real-life stalking, harassment and abuse, and vice versa.

According to researchers Megan Hermolle and Dr Katherine Allen, the most commonly reported forms of online abuse are unwanted sexual messages (53.8%), cyberstalking or harassment (36.8%), receiving unwanted violent or pornographic content (28.2%) and threats or blackmail (28.2%).

Worryingly, the research suggests that the fast pace of technology may outrun the level of support frontline services can provide survivors, and that these services are often only available during working hours.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Katherine Allen said that the research shows an “intrinsic link between online and offline abuse”.

“The concerning thing is it’s not just a problem with specialist surveillance or tracking software, because increasingly our lives are dependent and integrated with apps and social media,” she said. “Work, commerce and socialising largely require access to online platforms. We know too that online abuse against women gathered pace during the pandemic, as more people relied on online platforms.”

If you have been affected affected by any of the issues raised in this article, contact Women’s Aid 24/7 on 1800 341 900 or the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre on 1800 77 8888.