Online communication technologies and sexual assault
Online communication and mobile phone technologies represent areas of emerging trends in social interaction, particularly for young people. Taken at their broadest, social networking services are web-based interactive communication media such as email, chat rooms, blogging and instant messaging. Social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace integrate all these communication tools. Users can create profiles featuring pictures and personal information in ways that enable users to express unique digital selves in the online world (Ybarra & Mitchell, 2008). Mobile phone technologies, such as file sharing of photographs and video recordings, are also emerging as key sites of communication used by young people. The adoption of these new communication methods by young people in Australia is almost universal (Australian Communications and Media Authority [ACMA], 2009, pp. 7-8). In the UK, more than one in two people (55%) aged between 13 and 17 have a social network profile (Livingstone & Brake, 2010).
As people increasingly use social networking services and mobile phone technologies to communicate and socialise with each other, their use as vehicles for the perpetration of sexual assault is becoming an issue of significant concern for those working in the sexual assault field (Powell, 2009) and is the subject of growing media debate. This concern relates partly to the way in which such technology multiplies avenues for sexual victimisation. It also relates to a lack of understanding among some groups about how these technologies work, what exactly the nature of the problem is and what solutions are required to address perpetration and its impacts. In addition, it relates to the nature of the online domain itself, in which anonymity, diffusion and speed make regulating it difficult.
This article provides a snapshot of what is currently known about the use of new technologies and sexual violence, and highlights some of the challenges for policing the online domain.