How technology is driving new forms of domestic abuse

Dr Lisa Sugiura opens up the conversation on how technology is enabling domestic abuse and coercive control, and what needs to happen to put a stop to it

  • 22 March 2022
  • 27 min listen

A new government 'enough' campaign is calling an end to the abuse and harassment of women and girls, but in the online arena, more needs to be done to challenge domestic abuse.

In the latest episode of the Life Solved podcast, Dr Lisa Suguira shares her findings from a University of Portsmouth study into criminal behaviour online.

Protecting the Most Vulnerable

Lisa combined her academic interests in cybercrime, tackling gender-based violence and criminology into research that focuses on the social and behavioural aspects of crime. Her unique perspective made her realise how the ease and accessibility of social media and online resources can actually leave vulnerable people more at risk.

Working with a team of researchers from across different organisations, she took an interdisciplinary approach to looking at reports of online harms in abuse cases. This was on behalf of the Home Office’s Domestic Abuse Perpetrator’s Fund. The team were originally looking to see if criminal offences covered in the existing Computer Misuse Act 1990 crossed over with domestic abuse offences.

Interviewing victim support services, police and other experts, Lisa was able to build up a picture of where harmful online behaviour came into domestic abuse settings. 

Not only did she find they were regularly present, she also realised there continue to be obstacles in bringing offenders to justice for these actions:

The law is always so far behind technology developments and the pre-existing legislation often doesn't account for some of the new harms that arise from technology

Dr Lisa Sugiura, Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Cybercrime

What is Online Abuse?

Online stalking, coercion for passwords and personal information, monitoring of accounts and messages, “revenge porn” or even spying are all examples of this kind of abuse. And whilst these behaviours can be deeply harmful, collecting evidence for them could actually put victims in more danger:

There’s a problem with collecting evidence that is admissible in court, that the police can actually use. Sometimes the onus of responsibility to collect that is on the victim: The victim, who might not be in the right state of mind to deal with that. It could also put them in more severe risk of danger as well

Dr Lisa Sugiura, Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Cybercrime

To Lisa, the problem with outmoded legislation is twofold: police forces don’t all have the training or support to gather evidence to support a criminal conviction and victims may not even recognise what is happening to them as a crime.

There have been recent moves to address this in the new Online Harms Bill, but Lisa says it doesn’t go far enough.

We've got the new domestic abuse bill, but technology is implied rather than specified. So you're not really taking into account particular nuances then about what technology is doing and impacting upon these sorts of harms.

Dr Lisa Sugiura, Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Cybercrime

Instead, Lisa is pushing for technology abuse to be specified as criminal actions in future legislation, and thinks greater training and support should be offered to victim support services and police working on the front line of domestic abuse scenarios.

You can listen to the full interview with Lisa on Tuesday 22 March 2022.

Search for “Life Solved” from the University of Portsmouth on your podcast app of choice, and why not share this story with a friend who might be interested.

If you believe someone is in danger, call the police on 999.

If you are concerned for yourself or others, you can find further information via Refuge.

Or find out more at Enough Campaign.

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