Landmark Australian Study on Internet Harassment Has Sadly Unsurprising Findings

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A new study gives some depressing insight into the frequency with which online abuse–including distributing intimate images without the subject’s consent, cyber-stalking, and threats–is experienced by Australian adults.

The Digital Harassment and Abuse of Adult Australians study, funded by the Australian Research Council, surveyed 3,000 Australians between the ages of 18-54 about their use of technology and experiences with harassment or abuse. Researchers Dr Nicola Henry and Dr Anastasia Powell also interviewed 30 experts in the fields of law enforcement and sexual and domestic support.

The team found that 3 out of 5 Australian adults had been the target of online harassment and abuse. Women and young adults were the most likely to report being sexually harassed online, although overall, men and women were equally as likely to report harassment or abuse.

Women “overwhelmingly” experienced abuse from male internet users, whereas men were equally as likely to experience abuse from women as from men. Women were also more likely to report “that they told the person to stop, changed their online details or profile settings, left the site or turned off their device, as a result of their experience.” One out of every ten adults reported having a nude or partially nude image of them shared without consent, and adults that didn’t identify as heterosexual were “significantly more likely to report being the target of both gender and sexuality based harassment.”

Dr. Powell explains,

That one in 10 Australian men and women have had a revealing image distributed without their permission is highly significant. It is clear that image-based sexual exploitation and abuse of adults, sometimes referred to as ‘revenge pornography’, is an important issue. We need uniform laws to deal with people who share images without consent.”

These interviews revealed how perpetrators of domestic violence use the threat and distribution of nude or sexual images as a means to abuse, exploit, and control their victims. Gaps need to be addressed to protect the victims of targeted abuse, harassment and revenge pornography and we also need to better utilise existing laws so that victims of online harassment, cyberstalking and intimate partner violence are supported to seek justice.

(via Phys.org, image via Shutterstock)

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