Combatting Technology-Facilitated Abuse and Violence: A Call to Action

Imagine living in constant fear, knowing that every online interaction could be monitored, every move tracked and every personal detail exploited by an abusive partner. This is the harsh reality for millions of individuals worldwide who are victims of technology-facilitated abuse (TFA) and technology-facilitated
violence (TFV).

As technological advancements progress, the escalation of abuse has outpaced the progress of technology. Today, as we witness the emergence of AI, we face an unprecedented surge in the capacity to target and harm individuals, particularly women. Defined by the UN Women organization, Technology-facilitated violence against women (TFVAW) encompasses “any act that is committed, assisted, aggravated or amplified b the use of ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) or other digital tools, that results in or is likely to result in physical, sexual, psychological, social, political or economic
harm, or other infringements of rights and freedoms.”

The Cybersecurity Advisors Network (CyAN) is dedicated to creating a safer digital world and firmly opposes technology-facilitated abuse and violence — abuse and violence perpetrated using information and communication technologies. Addressing these issues requires immediate and focused

Methods of Abuse: Exploitative Tools and Tactics

Ten years ago in the ‘A Glimpse From the Field: How Abusers Are Misusing Technology’ report, the US National Network to End Domestic Violence found that “71% of domestic abusers monitor survivors’ computer activities, while 54% tracked survivors’ cell phones with stalkerware.” This alarming trend has
only worsened as technology becomes a more powerful weapon for abusers, enabling them to manipulate, track, and control their victims; leaving lasting scars and impacting victims for a lifetime – or worse.

Offenders exploit a wide array of technological tools to perpetuate these abuses. They include but are not limited to:

  • Clandestine digital surveillance, location tracking and cyber stalking;
  • Reputational manipulation, revenge porn/‘sextortion’, identity theft and financial exploitation;
  • Weaponising Smart Homes; and
  • ‘Doxing’ – the exploitation of personally identifiable information (PII).

AI introduces additional challenges, with deepfake technology, automated harassment and predictive algorithms for stalking being exploited for various forms of TFA, and the potential for an exponential increase in the rate of abuse.

Global Statistics on Technology-Facilitated Abuse and Violence

International statistics paint a grim picture of the devastating impact of technology-facilitated abuse and violence across the full spectrum of society. The ‘Cybervictimization and mental health among Canadian youth’ report notes that one quarter of Canadian youths “have been threatened or harassed online
or had their personal information shared without consent.”

Additionally, the JAMA journal, published by the American Medical Association, in its ‘Prevalence of Technology-Facilitated Abuse Among Sexual and Gender Minority Youths’ investigation found that the percentage of young adults in the US experiencing TFA is increasingly – ranging from nearly 13% to
more than 55% dependent upon gender and sexual orientation.

According to the ‘Measuring the prevalence of online violence against women’ 2021 study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the overall prevalence of online violence against women globally is 85%. No region is left out: 90% in Africa, 88% in Asia Pacific, 74% in Europe, 91% in Latin America and the
Caribbean 98% in the Middle East and 76% in North America.

Unsocial Spaces, a report published by Refuge in October 2021, found that approximately two million women across the UK had experienced online abuse from a current or ex-partner, noting that “the rise in pervasive, remotely operatable technologies has meant that, in a sense, the conditions of lockdown
have become a permeant feature of domestic abuse victims’ lives.”

Australian Statistics and Urgency for Action

In Australia the statistics are equally alarming. Australia’s eSafety Commission report, ‘Technology-facilitated abuse literature scan October 2023’ notes that 34% of Australians have experienced monitoring or controlling behaviours. Additionally, the ‘Technology-facilitated abuse: National survey’ states,
“approximately one in three TFA victimisation experiences were reported as occurring in a current or former intimate partner relationship.”

The nearly 30% spike in the rate of Australian women killed by intimate partners in 2022-23, as revealed by the Australian Institute of Criminology, underscores the urgency of the issue. This alarming statistic highlights the critical need for proactive measures to combat technology-facilitated abuseand violence and ensure the safety of individuals.

These statistics provide a glimpse into the prevalence of technology-facilitated abuse and violence on a global scale. However, it’s important to note that the true extent of the issue may be underestimated due to underreporting and the hidden nature of online abuse.

Addressing technology-facilitated abuse and violence demands a coordinated, collaborative, comprehensive, cross-sector approach including government bodies, law enforcement agencies, front-line service providers, technology companies and civil society organisations worldwide. As emphasised by
Australia’s Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus during a recent statement, the “personal privacy of citizens is under attack”.

Proposed legislative reforms, exemplified by the Australian eSafety Commission’s Online Safety Campaign and the government’s plans to amend the Privacy Act, targeting doxing – the malicious exposure of personal and private information – underscore the gravity of the situation and the urgent
need for action to be taken to mitigate these risks.

Joining Forces: Mobilising Against Technology-Facilitated Abuse and Violence

At CyAN, we urge governments, technology companies and businesses to implement robust permission-based control mechanisms and policies that uphold individuals’ rights to digital privacy and security. This includes empowering victims with the tools and resources they need to safeguard themselves online and offline. Additionally, we encourage active engagement with and support of civil society and nonprofit groups who are assisting these women and understanding their perspectives. Collaboration with these
organisations is essential for developing comprehensive strategies and legal reforms that address the needs and challenges faced by victims of technology-facilitated abuse.

Together, let’s champion effective, sustainable solutions that prioritise the safety, cyber security and well-being of all individuals — especially those most vulnerable to coercive control. It’s imperative that new technologies and tech features incorporate these principles into their ICT developments, ensuring
that advancements in technology are aligned with the goal of promoting safety and cyber security for all.

We wish to thank Kim Chandler McDonald and Vaishnavi J for their contribution to this position paper.