Yesterday we published a new report showing that ‘One in five young women suffer intimate relationship in Ireland’ that outlines the findings from our latest research conducted with young people. The research shows that of the women that had suffered intimate relationship abuse, an alarming 1 in 2 experienced online abuse using digital technology.
This form of abuse that perpetrators use to abuse is particularly devastating due to the ‘always on’ nature of life online. It is draining and can often feel inescapable. It is not a reasonable solution to ask young a young person to ‘opt out’ or switch off their own social media presence as this is so deeply integrated into their social lives. The victim should not suffer further for another person’s abusive actions.
In our online survey, young women told us that they had experienced harassment, stalking and image-based sexual abuse. Others had GPS tracking or spyware software put on their devices by an abuser and some women’s social media accounts and phones were invaded after their abuser demanded access to their passwords.
In the focus groups that we conducted, online abuse was widely recognised as a significant means by which to perpetrate a wide range of abusive behaviours. With the increased pressure to be accessible at all times online at almost any time, day or night, digital technology is the ideal tool for perpetrators to harass, control and abuse victims. The platforms where this kind of abuse is most likely to take place are those with a direct messaging function such as Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Whatsapp
‘It can be particularly draining. You’re always expected to be reachable, and if not you are doing something wrong. I think people can be more dismissive of it too, why don’t you just get off that platform?’ - Roisín, personal experience
The groups also saw online abuse as an issue that is hard to raise and address with no ‘clear fix’ and there was a sense that this type of abuse is not taken seriously enough within society or from a legislative or policy perspective when compared with other forms of abuse. It is clear that victims of online abuse need to be supported in speaking up about this of abuse and to seek support.
‘On Instagram it’s easy to step over the line. Over-liking photos, sending direct messages, making up multiple accounts. It’s hard to block people on Instagram too.’ – Aoife, knows someone with experience
In Ireland regulation and legislation has fallen badly behind in the fast-paced digital world. Legal remedies are urgently needed to combat intimate relationship occurring online. We recommend that the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Bill 2017 be enacted immediately and that the Online Safety and Media Regulation 2019 is enacted as soon as possible with the appointment of an Online Safety Commissioner. In particular, civil legal remedies to have distressing and abusive images removed from online platforms quickly are also desperately needed.
Take a look at our new Online Safety Guide to learn about staying safe on the internet. The guide provides instructions on how to go private on social media as well as phone and email. It also provides advice for those that have been hacked, harassed online or suffered intimate relationship abuse.