New guide to help frontline workers and victims combat technology-facilitated abuse

New guide to help frontline workers and victims combat technology-facilitated abuse

The new booklet follows the recent billboard campaign by Safe Ireland and Cyber Awareness Ireland highlighting digital abuse.

A new safety guide to help frontline workers and victims recognise and combat technology-facilitated domestic abuse was launched on Wednesday in Cork.

Safe Ireland and the National Cyber Security Awareness Taskforce developed the booklet over the past year.

Perpetrators of abuse are using technologies to control their partners but this new form of crime is not always understood by first responders.

The safety-guide has been designed for specialist domestic violence professionals who work with victims of domestic abuse and coercive control.

Safe Ireland CEO Mary McDermott said that digital abuse follows the norms of other forms of abuse where victims are often blamed, disbelieved or dismissed.

“Technology-facilitated abuse has become a powerful means of coercion by perpetrators which allows significant reach beyond the boundary of the home.

“As healthy behaviours regarding the use of technology have not yet been culturally settled, in many cases women may not recognise technology-facilitated coercion and abuse as the behaviour may be perceived as normal.” 

Ms McDermott said that domestic abuse transcends race and social class. 

A perpetrators will not necessarily be the “monstrous, knuckle-dragging” stereotype of an abusive man but is found everywhere a toxic culture allows people to control their partners and children.

Recognising how abuse happens through technology — like location tracking and “bombing” someone’s phone with many messages, is important for first responders and victims, she said.

Upskilling victims, to help them spot when someone is preying on them, is also a vital function of the booklet, Ms McDermott said.

The booklet,  Supporting Women: Responding to Technology-Facilitated Domestic Abuse, was launched on the fringe of the Cyber Ireland National Conference.

It follows a two-week billboard campaign in Cork which created awareness of behavioural red-flags which signal technology-facilitated abuse.

Joanne O'Connor, founder of Cyber Awareness Ireland said: “The partnership between the National Cyber Security Awareness Task Force and Safe Ireland is narrowing the tech security knowledge gap between the cyber security industry in Ireland and the national organisation that supports survivors of domestic abuse. 

We hope this guide will enable support and service workers bolster the existing services Safe Ireland provide and enhance the protection of victims and survivors of technology-facilitated abuse. 

Louise O’Hagan, co-founder of Cyber Awareness Ireland, said that the guide has been warmly welcomed by frontline services.

She said that a paradigm shift is overdue in society so that the focus moves to keeping people safe online – not just data.

Alicia O’Sullivan, founder of Safety Over Stigma, a group which aims to educate people about technology-facilitated abuse and their rights and responsibilities online, said that she wished the guide had been available sooner.

The recent Safe Ireland and Cyber Awareness Ireland billboard campaign highlighted digital abuse.
The recent Safe Ireland and Cyber Awareness Ireland billboard campaign highlighted digital abuse.

When she reported that someone had made a fake online profile with her images, linking it to pornographic sites, she felt garda understanding of the issue and training in the area was lacking.

“I wish it was there when I reported the abuse. Proper training of frontline staff is vital.

“There’s other sensitive crimes for which training has been provided. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have that same sensitivity for victims of sexual crimes, particularly the added stigma of it being virtual.” 

Support-training initiatives, including free Cyber Security Essentials Training webinars provided by Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and a series of informational videos created by security software development company Trend Micro are being provided in conjunction with the booklet.

A new online accredited course in technology-assisted abuse is currently under development at University College Cork. The course will be available nationally and is designed specifically for frontline domestic abuse professionals, but is also expected to be of significant interest to university staff and students.

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