Have you used it for social media, to like something or follow someone, to communicate with friends and family?
Technology now plays a huge role in our relationships.
We send each other texts, tweets, snaps and selfies.
Use it for online dating, post comments, join group chats…and mute them just as quickly.
Not so long ago, communication like this was the stuff of science fiction. Now we take it for granted.
But we’re also seen the emergence of a darker side: Digital and Online abuse.
So what is Digital and Online abuse?
How do we identify it and how can we deal with it?
Digital and Online abuse can take many forms:
But at its heart, it can generally be identified as straight-up, harassment and bullying.
Take for example, sexting – a fairly recent phenomenon and a fun element in a healthy relationship, between between two consenting adults. However…
A research study* about ‘Sexting’ found that while the practice was common among youths and young adults, 20% of participants reported being coerced into it at some stage.'' *
* (Drouin et al, 2015) ‘Sexting: A new digital vehicle for intimate partner aggression’
These individuals were also more likely to experience more traditional forms of abuse at the hands of their partner, such as physical, emotional or sexual, suggesting that sexting coercion maybe an indicator of intimate partner violence.
Women’s Aid, who run the national domestic violence helpline, say many victims of domestic violence report additional digital and online abuse.
According to their website** digital and online abuse can include:
The use of technology in a relationship can often take a sinister turn when couples break-up.
Where couples, in the past, contested ownership of property, pets or CDs, now many are faced with the issue of "What happens to our intimate pictures or recordings?"
Unfortunately, there have been documented cases where people’s lives have been shattered, or even driven to suicide, by ex-partners taking intimate images and posting them online.
Such cases have become known as 'Revenge Porn', named after online 'ex- girlfriend' pornography sites that began to specialise and market such material.
Often in the discussion around revenge porn, commentators blame the victim for taking the pictures in the first place, rather than vilifying the person who shares it with others.
According to Statistics from the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative*, “47% of revenge porn victims contemplate suicide”.
The emergence of digital and online abusive situations has created new challenges to law makers.
Currently, digital and online abuse cases fall under Section 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997 and there have successful prosecutions of people who committed harm via communications technology.
Law Reform Commission
A recent report of the Law Reform Commission (LRC) on Harmful Communications and Digital Safety (2016) highlighted areas where the law could be strengthened.
The LRC report also proposed:
The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment are currently considering these recommendations.
The following information has been developed by Women’s Aid (UK)* and is specific to victims of domestic and sexual violence.
If you are planning to leave an abusive relationship
What to do once you are safe from the abuser
Securing mobile phones
Using Social Media
Removing Material from Social Media Sites
All the prominent social media companies have content and conduct policies and standards, which outline their approaches to different categories of harmful content.
Not all of these categories appear to be treated in the same way, with removal more likely in the case of some types of content rather than others.
Although new protections for victims of digital and online abuse are currently being drafted into legislation, there are already laws in place which can protect people from many aspects of digital and online abuse.
The ‘What would you do?’ campaign website has a dedicated section on digital and online safety. Information on how to wipe your internet history and how to cover your tracks when browsing the internet.
Women’s Aid is the leading organisation in Ireland dealing with domestic violence in Ireland. As well as providing services to women who suffer abuse at the hands of intimate partners, their website has an extensive area covering digital and online safety.
The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) is an American organisation that has published extensively on how victims of domestic violence can protect themselves from digital and online abuse.
Paladin is the UK national stalking advocacy service. As cyber stalking is increasingly becoming a feature of domestic abuse, it’s a great source of information.
If you suspect someone you know is being abused, don’t wait for them to approach you - follow your instincts.
Look for a private moment where you can express concern and let them know you’re there for them.
There are several agencies in Ireland who can offer help and support.
Check out www.whatwouldyoudo.ie for a list of services and advice.
Remember, if you suspect someone is being abused - before you get involved, ask yourself if it’s safe and legal to intervene.
If the situation is already violent or looks like its escalating quickly, don’t directly intervene. Call the Gardaí on 999.
The only effective bystander intervention is a non-violent one.
If you see or suspect domestic abuse, visit whatwouldyoudo.ie or call 999.
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