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Journal article

Cyber-violence: digital abuse in the context of domestic violence

24 Nov 2017

While considerable attention has been given to various cybercrimes, such as hacking, identity theft, and online fraud, less focus has been given to the issue of technology-facilitated abuse between current and former intimate partners (‘cyber-violence’). The term cyber-violence refers to repeated abuse committed by one person (the abuser) against a current or former intimate partner through the use of digital technology. It includes a range of controlling and coercive behaviours, such as threatening phone calls, cyber-stalking, location tracking via smartphones, harassment on social media sites, and the dissemination of intimate images of partners without consent (‘revenge porn’).

The literature on non-physical forms of domestic violence committed through the use of technology has slowly been emerging and there are now a few studies investigating such abuse. These studies, while limited and largely anecdotal, provide insight on the experiences of victims and domestic violence practitioners dealing with cyber-violence. What is missing in the literature, however, is an examination of the case law involving technology-facilitated domestic violence. This article contributes to the literature by reviewing cases heard in Australian courts of law involving allegations of cyber-violence to shed light on the limitations of the existing legislation in addressing such abuse. Although in a few of the cases identified the alleged cyber-violence perpetrator was female, the vast majority of perpetrators were male. It is acknowledged that men do in fact experience technology-facilitated abuse committed by women and this article concludes that all individuals deserve protection from such abuse. Nevertheless, as it is well established that females are far more likely to be victims of domestic violence than males, the focus of this article is on cyberviolence committed against females by their current or former intimate male partner.

Part II of this article provides a general overview of domestic violence, which is followed by a discussion specifically on technology-facilitated domestic violence. It then synthesises the literature, empirical research, and case law involving cyber-violence. The article proceeds by discussing the adequacy of the existing legal remedies available to victims and concludes with suggestions for ways forward in combating cyber-violence. While the focus is on Australia, the article draws upon the international literature exploring digital forms of abuse.

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