Children central to technology-facilitated abuse in domestic violence cases

Children are involved in technology-facilitated abuse in 27 per cent of domestic violence cases, a new eSafety report co-authored by Griffith University researchers reveals.

The report, commissioned by eSafety and funded by the Department of Social Services under theNational Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children 2010-2022, reveals that where domestic violence practitioners have knowledge of technology-facilitated abuse involving children, monitoring and stalking is the most prevalent type of abuse reported.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Molly Dragiewicz from Griffith Criminology Institute said the research provided clear evidence of the harmful effects of technology-facilitated abuse on children, including impacts on their mental health, education, and relationships with the non-abusive parent, as well as their everyday lives.

“This study provides evidence that children are highly involved in men’s domestic violence against mothers. Rather than being exposed to or witnessing abuse, children play a central role in coercive control,’’ she said.

“Abuse does not end at separation. With most families pushed into co-parenting post-separation despite histories of domestic violence, technology facilitated abuse often escalates at separation.

“The physical exchange of children provides opportunities for continued abuse and transfer of devices that can be used in technology-facilitated stalking.”

The report found common reasons for involving the child include wanting to threaten or manipulate, disparage or harass adult victims, or get information about the activities or location of child or adult victims.

It also found technology-facilitated abuse is typically perpetrated using common, commercially available devices and platforms — mobile phones, texting and social media — that do not require sophisticated technical expertise. It can even involve gaming devices such as Xbox or PlayStation. Many perpetrators don’t see their misuse of these technologies as abusive or part of domestic violence.

Associate Professor Dragiewicz said the research had become even urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There has been greater reliance on technology. This has increased the opportunity for abuse, as reflected by the dramatic increase in image-based abuse and adult cyber abuse reports to eSafety this year.

“What is needed is a clear understanding of children’s experiences of technology-facilitated abuse to ensure that technology companies and intervention services are identifying it and developing appropriate responses to help victims and prevent future violence.

“Cybersecurity policy has a blind spot when it comes to intimate threats. The focus on corporate cybersecurity and threats from foreign hostile actors leaves out some of the most common cybersecurity threats, those from intimate partners.”

Children and technology-facilitated abuse in domestic and family violence situations was written by Griffith University researchers – Molly Dragiewicz Patrick O’Leary, Jeffrey Ackerman, Christine Bond, Ernest Foo, Amy Young and Claire Reid.