Tech plays role in majority of domestic violence situations

eSafety commissioner warns of tech-facilitated abuse

Almost all Australian women in domestic and family violence situations have suffered technology-facilitated abuse, according to Australia’s eSafety commissioner.

In 98 per cent of cases, current or former partners have employed technology to abuse, harass, control or stalk them, Julie Inman Grant said today in remarks prepared for a National Press Club address.

“Their weapons of choice are relatively low tech — smartphones, social media, email and GPS tracking,” Inman Grant said. “But we are increasingly seeing surveillance devices in teddy bears, prams, under floor boards.”

In one case a woman who moved states to escape a violent former partner found her new home under surveillance via a drone.

The eSafety commissioner said that since the 2016 launch of eSafetyWomen as part of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, specialised training had been delivered to some 6000 frontline workers in the domestic violence sector.

Content take-downs

In the space of 12 months the Office of the eSafety Commissioner conducted 13,000 investigations into illegal online content, according to Inman Grant.

The eSafety commissioner said that figure included more than 8000 investigations into child sexual abuse.

Some 35,000 images and videos were referred for take-down through our international partners, Inman Grant said. (Some of that material included “self-produced child sexual abuse material,” the commissioner said.)

In August the Enhancing Online Safety (Non-Consensual Sharing of Intimate Images) Act 2018 received Royal Asset, introducing a new take-down notice system intended to combat image-based abuse (so-called “revenge porn”).

Inman Grant’s office has been charged with administering the system. Within 48 hours of receiving a notice, an individual or service provider must remove an image or video (subject to a range of exemptions). Failure to do so can lead to fines of up to $105,000 or up to $525,000 for corporations.

“We are extremely pleased that the government recently enacted new legislation to introduce a civil penalties regime that the eSafety Office will administer,” the eSafety commissioner said.

“This scheme is designed to both deter and penalise individuals and content hosts who share image-based abuse material and gives us significant new capabilities to go after perpetrators and offer victims more options for redress. There are also aggravated criminal penalties for repeat offenders of up to seven years in prison.”

eSafety Office research reveals that one in 10 adult Australians have had an intimate image or video shared online without their consent, the commissioner said.

“This increases significantly among more vulnerable cohorts, with one in five women between ages 18 and 45; one in five for those identifying as LGBTIQ; and one in four Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders having experienced image-based abuse.”

The expansion of the office’s powers since its launch in 2015 (as the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner) has been questioned by tech companies, which have argued that the government should minimise duplication when it comes to policing social media content.

Inman Grant said that her office has so far “helped resolve almost 1000 cases of serious cyberbullying”.

“We have significant regulatory powers to penalise and fine social media companies, perpetrators and other content hosts for failing to take down violating content,” the commissioner said.

“However, we have found that a cooperative, co-regulatory approach is the most efficient and effective way of protecting our citizens from online harms.

“To this end, we have forged strong working relationships with the social media services, and to date we have been able to get serious cyberbullying material rapidly removed from these services without having to use our formal powers.”

eSafety Office research reveals that around 20 per cent of young Australians have experienced cyberbullying. The average age of victims is 14 and girls are bullied online more than boys, according to its research. Around a quarter of reports to the eSafety Office include direct threats of violence or harm targeted at a child. 

Earlier this year the government commissioned an independent review of the Office of the eSafety Commissioner; the outcomes of the review are yet to be released.

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