We are undoubtedly a culture dependent upon technology. It brings us a myriad of positive experiences and outcomes, from encyclopedias of knowledge at our fingertips, endless streaming of music or film to instant access to social connection. We entrust much of our lives and relationships to devices – refreshing our media feeds and apps can become an addictive and enticing binge! Despite these conveniences and pleasures there is a darkness and danger to technology and social media and the rise in online perpetration of intimate partner violence (IPV).
IPV is a huge health crisis in Australia and internationally, resulting in a wide range of mental health issues, physical health issues and social impacts. In a recent report it was stated that over 7% of women and over 6% of men will experience some form of IPV. Similarly worrying is the early age of these incidents, with victims often first being impacted between the ages of 15-18 (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2019). Cyber IPV appears as alarmingly common yet can remain disguised and hidden in plain sight.
Cyber IPV involves behaviours of controlling, stalking, abuse and intimidation through technology. It is not reliant upon physical proximity, is instantaneous, and reaches a wide social influence.
Cyber IPV is an invisible beast with real-world impacts on individuals and communities. These include anxiety, depression, trauma and social isolation (Campbell, 2002). Cyber IPV is still a relatively new phenomenon and so does not have wide awareness in the community. As it exists on personal devices, it can remain hidden and unnoticed by others for lengthy periods of time. This is an important consideration, especially in our current environment of lockdowns. We live increasing portions of our lives online, with zoom work meetings, school and friend catch-ups, and online transactions. We trust our devices and rely on them for daily interactions and our innermost personal details, but technology can quickly be turned against us.
There is much to be gained from interaction with technology as it can increase social connection, allow for minority groups to easily form communities, and provide comfort. Yet there is an apparent risk and danger in the online space.
I will discuss and explore the risk factors in future writing. I think for now it’s timely to examine and unpack our relationship to and awareness of online behaviour and interaction. It is important that we define what our expectations are of online behaviour and healthy online relationships. Through this we can better implement healthy boundaries and practices in our relationships. If you or anyone you know is impacted by intimate partner violence online or in person, please contact the following emergency services or reach out to a trained mental health clinician.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2019). Family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia: continuing the national story 2019. Cat. no. FDV 3. Canberra: AIHW.
Campbell, J. (2002). Health Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence. Lancet, 13, 1331-1336.
Photo by Štefan Štefančík on Unsplash