Monash University: Half of Australians have experienced technology-facilitated abuse in their lifetimes

Technology-facilitated abuse is a form of interpersonal violence using mobile, online and/or digital technologies. It includes four main types of behaviours:

Monitoring and controlling, such as keeping track of where, and with whom, the victim/survivor is

Emotional abuse and threats, such as sending put-downs or threatening to harm the victim/survivor

Harassment, such as sending offensive material or maintaining unwanted contact

Sexual and image-based abuse, including sexual coercion, as well as the taking or distribution of sexual imagery without consent.

In a study of 4562 adult Australians, we explored the prevalence, nature and harms of technology-facilitated abuse. It’s the first nationally representative survey of this kind. Our study included interviews with 20 adult victim-survivors and 10 perpetrators.

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How common is it?
We found technology-facilitated abuse was very common. One in two (51%) Australian adults reported having experienced at least one abusive behaviour in their lifetime.

Most common was monitoring or controlling behaviours (34%). Emotional abuse and threats of harm were also common (31%), as was harassment (27%). A quarter of respondents had experienced sexual and image-based abuse.

A majority of victim/survivors (62%) said the perpetrator was a man. One in three (37%) said the perpetrator was a current or former intimate partner.

As for self-reported behaviour, one in four Australian adults (23%) reported having engaged in technology-facilitated abuse at least once in their lifetimes. Almost one in two perpetrators (48%) said the victim/survivor was a current or former intimate partner.

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What does the abuse look like?
Participants described various ways in which they experienced or perpetrated abuse. This included low-tech forms, such as threatening text messages, through to more high-tech behaviours, such as secretly installing malicious spyware on a digital device. Victim/survivors described having their online identities hacked through social media profiles, emails and location services, as well as being monitored through apps and tracking devices.

For many victim/survivors abused by a partner, the abusive behaviours started during the relationship and escalated after separating. This abuse included perpetrators using their children’s digital devices to control and monitor them after separation.

Monitoring through technology was reported to have facilitated in-person stalking. It was also used to gaslight and psychologically abuse victim/survivors. Several participants reported that perpetrators would hack into their technologies, rather than directly contact them, as police often could not detect or prove this behaviour.