More and more, Women's Aid is hearing from women using our services about various forms of digitally assisted stalking where technology is being used by abusive boyfriends and ex-boyfriends to monitor and control women, particularly younger women. Women have disclosed abuse such as their mobile phone calls and texts being monitored and social media and technology being used to stalk and control them.
We hear from women whose online use was being tracked and scrutinised and whose boyfriends demanded access to their private email and social networking accounts. We also hear from women whose boyfriends and ex-boyfriends had placed lies about them on internet sites; women who had been photographed and filmed without their consent, sometimes having sex, and having the images uploaded to the internet.
Women have told us they feel like they are constantly being watched and that their privacy is completely invaded and controlled. Quite often it prevents women from seeking help as they fear their boyfriend will see that they have rung a helpline, looked at a domestic violence support website or spoken of the abuse to their friends, family or colleagues in an email or text.
To find out more about digitally assisted stalking and online safety click here.
During the 2in2u campaign, Women’s Aid is urging the Government to act to address the dangerous trend of digitally assisted stalking.
Women’s Aid welcomes the upcoming Law Reform Commission examination of these and other forms of cyber-bullying, which are not dealt with in current law, and urges the commission to maintain a particular focus on cyber-stalking in intimate relationships. However, the Commission’s recent conclusion that the current law of harassment is sufficient to deal with stalking in domestic violence cases would leave women and children vulnerable.
Abusers use multiple methods to stalk and monitor women, often escalating after separation, when it can be more difficult to access current legal protection. In our experience, the definition of harassment in law is complex and hard to prove, and rarely used to protect women who are stalked by their partners or exes. Women’s Aid recommends that a specific stalking offence be introduced in Irish law, with a comprehensive but not exhaustive definition, including new forms of cyber-stalking, and that stalking be recognised as grounds for a safety order.
To fully protect young women from dating abuse, Women’s Aid urges the Government to recognise that abuse within relationships can feature even when relationships aren’t ‘domestic’, and make safety orders available to women who have never lived with their partners, as part of the current review of domestic violence legislation. Until these changes are made, young women in dating relationships remain outside of the law.