Tech vs Abuse: Research Findings

Authors: Chayn Snook and SafeLives

techDomestic abuse takes many forms: psychological, physical, sexual, financial, and emotional, with control and coercion at its heart. Its impact on individuals and families is profound and long-lasting.

Every year, over two million people experience domestic abuse. This includes 100,000 people who are at high risk of murder and serious harm; 95,000 of those are women. There are 130,000 children living in these homes (SafeLives 2016). Domestic abuse takes many forms: psychological, physical, sexual, financial, and emotional, with control and coercion at its heart. Its impact on individuals and families is profound and longlasting. Homes are meant to be places of love and safety, yet in every community in the country – there are homes that have become places of fear. Similarly, we are increasingly living our lives online as technology has revolutionised how we communicate, keep in touch with friends and family and manage our lives. Yet these online spaces are also subject to abusive control and coercion.

We know that many people experiencing abuse may not recognise it as such. Others may be fearful of disclosing any information or unsure of what support is available. Some have left the abusive relationship but want to protect themselves from further harm. As a result, they often suffer from isolation and are cut-off from friends and family. Technology and online communications have the potential to tackle this: enabling survivors to make connections and ensuring they have the information they need to make their own choices and rebuild their independence safely and sustainably.

Comic Relief commissioned this research, ‘Tech vs Abuse’ to better understand the potential opportunities for technology to play a supportive role in the context of domestic abuse and how to minimise the associated risks. This research, undertaken by SafeLives, Snook and Chayn, gathered insights from over 200 survivors of domestic abuse and 350 practitioners who support them. From both, there was a distinct feeling that perpetrators are currently one step ahead. Yet despite the risks, survivors continued to maintain social media profiles, look up the information they needed and resented being advised to live their lives offline. Understandably, there are concerns amongst survivors and practitioners about how perpetrators can use technology to inflict further harm; but by ignoring technology, or asking survivors to remove themselves from social media due to nervousness or lack of understanding, we risk perpetrators staying in control. Every person’s experience of domestic abuse and getting support is unique. However, this research found we are missing opportunities to use online tools to better protect and support them at key moments in their journey. The overwhelming finding from this research was the responsibility we all have to ensure victims, survivors and the services supporting them can use technology to their advantage.

You may access the full report here.