Domestic violence is a serious national issue in Australia and globally. It is an inherently gendered crime. Research consistently shows the overwhelming majority of offenders are male and the victims are female.
Australian governments have recently taken a strong stand against domestic violence, focusing mainly on preventing physical forms of abuse. For example, in 2015, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) announced it would implement a A$30 million campaign designed to reduce domestic violence against women and their children. Another example is the New South Wales government’s Domestic Violence Strategy 2013-2017, which aims to improve the criminal justice system’s response to domestic violence.
But what is missing from these strategies is a focus on technology-facilitated domestic violence. This is a form of domestic violence that provides abusers a pervasive way to control, coerce, stalk and harass their victims.
It includes a range of behaviours. These include sending abusive text messages or emails, making continuous threatening phone calls, spying on and monitoring victims through the use of tracking systems, abusing victims on social media sites, and sharing intimate photos of the victim without their consent (“revenge porn”).
A well-publicised example of technology-facilitated domestic violence is the 2010 incident involving Lara Bingle, whose nude images were shared without her consent by her former partner, Brendan Fevola.
The first Australian study conducted to specifically investigate the use of technology in the context of domestic violence is the 2013 SmartSafe Project. The study involved surveying 152 domestic violence caseworkers and 46 victims in Victoria.
Almost all of the caseworkers who participated in the survey (98%) said their clients had experienced technology-facilitated abuse by a former partner. Five of the most commonly used technology and online platforms by abusers are:
- smartphones (82%);
- mobile phone (82%);
- social media (82%);
- email (52%);
- GPS tracking (29%).
Other Australian studies further highlight that technology-facilitated domestic violence is prevalent and has significant “real world” implications. For example, in its review of domestic violence homicides occurring between 2000 to 2012, the NSW Domestic Violence Death Review Team observed that technology was commonly being used to stalk, monitor, and control their intimate partners while the relationship was on foot. This challenges: