Tech abuse: Women suffer most in gender-biased digital world.

February 11, 2024
3 mins read

TLDR: Technology-facilitated abuse has a pronounced gender bias, with 96% of perpetrators being male and 93% of victims being female. This form of abuse involves the use of technology to coerce, stalk, or harass another person. A study in Australia found that 51% of adults had experienced some form of abusive behavior, with the most common being monitoring or controlling behaviors, emotional abuse and threats of harm, and harassment. The study also revealed that a significant majority of victims identified their perpetrators as male, and nearly half of perpetrators identified the victim as a current or former intimate partner. This article emphasizes the need to prioritize the safety and well-being of all individuals, regardless of gender, to create a digital landscape that is safe and respectful for everyone.

A concerning trend has emerged: technology-facilitated abuse, with evidence indicating that it disproportionately affects women. From cyberstalking to the non-consensual distribution of intimate images, the misuse of technology for abusive purposes is a pervasive issue with significant gender disparities.

Technology-facilitated abuse is a form of controlling behavior that involves the use of technology as a means to coerce, stalk or harass another person. eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant says while the bulk of tech abuse functions are readily available in smartphones, some perpetrators are getting more devious. “We’ve seen people fit kill switches to cars, so that a woman can’t go beyond the school and back without her car stalling,” “We’ve seen people program smart TVs to leave menacing messages every time the TV is turned on. “We’ve seen people remotely controlling heat or lighting, to either heat out their family or keep them in the dark.” she says. She also said there was varying levels of technical expertise among perpetrators, but there weren’t enough services using people with technical knowledge to provide assistance.

The World Economic Forum recently praised Australia as a world leader in putting the onus back on tech companies to make their products safer. The approach acknowledges the critical role that technology companies play in preventing and addressing technology-facilitated abuse. Research conducted in Australia has already demonstrated the alarming rise of technology-enabled violence against women as a significant and escalating issue.

Although the prevalence of technology-facilitated abuse (TFA) was evident within the Australian community, there was no previous national baseline established prior to this study. A comprehensive examination of 4,562 adult Australians delved into the prevalence, characteristics, and adverse effects of technology-facilitated abuse, marking the inaugural nationally representative survey of its kind.

Findings reveal that technology-facilitated abuse is alarmingly widespread. A staggering 51% of Australian adults disclosed experiencing at least one form of abusive behavior in their lifetimes. The most prevalent forms included monitoring or controlling behaviors (34%), emotional abuse and threats of harm (31%), and harassment (27%). Additionally, a quarter of respondents reported instances of sexual and image-based abuse.

A significant majority of victim-survivors (62%) identified the perpetrator as male, with 37% indicating the perpetrator was a current or former intimate partner. In terms of self-reported behavior, 23% of Australian adults admitted to engaging in technology-facilitated abuse at least once in their lives. Notably, nearly half of perpetrators (48%) identified the victim-survivor as a current or former intimate partner.

Survivors recounted instances of their online personas being compromised via social media accounts, emails, and location tracking services, alongside enduring surveillance via apps and tracking gadgets. Among those who suffered abuse from partners, many recounted that the abusive conduct commenced during the relationship and intensified post-separation. The abusive behaviors encompassed instances where perpetrators utilized their children’s electronic devices to exert control and surveillance over them following the split.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of individuals identifying as LGB+ disclosed experiencing at least one incident of victimization. This finding highlights the vulnerability of the LGB+ community to various forms of victimization, including discrimination, harassment, and violence. The study also revealed that seven in ten (70%) Indigenous and First Nations respondents reported at least one experience of victimization underscoring the longstanding systemic challenges faced by Indigenous communities, perpetuated by historical injustices and ongoing inequalities. Additionally, the study found that almost three in five (57%) respondents with disabilities reported experiencing technology-related abuse.

The data reveals a concerning trend that highlights the disproportionate impact of technology-facilitated abuse on women, from cyberstalking to the non-consensual distribution of intimate images. As society grapples with the complexities of technology’s role in interpersonal relationships, it becomes imperative to prioritize the safety and well-being of all individuals, regardless of gender, and to work towards creating a digital landscape that is safe, inclusive, and respectful for everyone.

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