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Technology devices and social media become new rising domestic abuse tools, report finds

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Digital technologies are increasingly becoming the latest tool used by domestic abuse offenders, a Home Office report has found.

It comes as researchers from the Universities of Kent and Portsmouth found an increasing number of cases and reports of technology-facilitated domestic abuse (TFDA).

The report has found how perpetrators can use technology to their favour
The report has found how perpetrators can use technology to their favour

Dr Jason Nurse, associate professor in cyber security at the University of Kent, together with Dr Lisa Sugiura, senior lecturer in criminology and cybercrime at the University of Portsmouth, identified a range of abusive behaviours.

These incorporate offences under the 1990 Computer Misuse Act (CMA) and digital tools, and include: using spyware to access victims' accounts and to monitor their movements; creating fake accounts to abuse and harass partners or ex-partners, or to impersonate them in a derogatory manner.

Others include stalking and monitoring victims through smart devices, home appliances, geo-location apps and social media; having unauthorised access to emails and social media accounts.

Perpetrators could also threaten to expose and release intimate pictures or videos of their (ex)partners to friends and family or online - an act known as 'revenge porn'.

Dr Nurse said: "Perpetrators are adept at adjusting to new technology and exploiting legitimate tools. Smart devices such as Alexa, Nest and Hive (smart heating systems), and the Ring doorbell and cameras, are also being used within domestic abuse contexts."

He added that he was shocked to discover how easy it is to find products online, marketed specifically to stalking and monitoring partners - from teddy bears with covert cameras to car trackers.

A new report is looking into how tech is driving new forms of domestic abuse

The report’s lead author, Dr Lisa Sugiura, said: "With the increased use and development of technology, perpetrators of domestic abuse are progressively using CMA offences and digital tools to monitor, threaten and humiliate their victims.

"Technical skills are not necessary to perpetuate most forms of technological abuse. Many of the tools used are everyday technologies, readily available, accessible, and familiar. Apps are affordable and easy to use."

Both professors explained that technology is a facilitator to online abuse, which is a coercive and controlling behaviour that can be a strand of a pre-existing pattern of domestic abuse.

They added that despite no physical abuse, harmful behaviour instigated by technology is in no way less serious.

The report also found that children are increasingly being involved in TFDA cases, especially in divorce or shared custody scenarios, by being used to facilitate abuse between their parents.

These include exploiting the child's devices, such as tablets, phones and game consoles, to monitor and maintain control over victims.

Researchers identified many dangerous abusive behaviours
Researchers identified many dangerous abusive behaviours

Ruth Davison, from domestic violence charity Refuge, said: "The rise of tech and smart products and the way in which they can be used by perpetrators is a major concern for Refuge.

"Whilst technology is a huge part of our lives, for women experiencing domestic abuse it is an ever-growing tool used to create fear, harass, intimidate and control them.

"Tech abuse is an insidious and growing form of abuse and we are seeing a rise in complex cases where technology has been misused to spy on women and track or control their movements."

To help and guide domestic abuse victims, the report listed a series of recommendations to tackle TFDA.

These include: changing all passwords when a relationship ends, and avoid any combination an intimate or ex-partner might guess; checking any devices with internet connectivity for spyware trackers pre-installed; look out for hidden cameras, GPS trackers or microphones in any gifts, toys and other seemingly innocent items coming from an ex-partner.

And victims should also check the privacy and use of facial images and email addresses on social media accounts.

Victims are advised to change all passwords after a break-up
Victims are advised to change all passwords after a break-up

Researchers also advised that policy, legislative and support responses consider these rapidly developing practices of abuse.

They called for the role and implications of technology in domestic abuse to be added to Domestic Abuse Bill, as well as training police to identify potential criminal offences.

They also urged tech companies to do more to prevent the creation of fake accounts, and remove those who repeatedly do so; and for online retailers to stop the sale of spy kits and technologies, especially those directly marketed to tracking and spying on partners.

You can read the report, titled ‘Computer Misuse as a Facilitator of Domestic Abuse’, on the by clicking here.

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