When domestic violence goes online - and kids get caught in the crossfire

What experts call "technology-facilitated domestic abuse" is on the rise across Australia, with worrying impacts for children.

Nine-year-old Vanessa was on a weekend visit to her dad’s new apartment, when he surprised her with a “secret smartphone.” 

“Mum doesn’t want you to have this, so let’s just keep it between us,” he said. 

He encouraged Vanessa to use it “to tell me whatever is going on at home …” She looked a little uncertain when he said that. Mum had been sad for a long time after Dad moved out. Now that she had a new partner she seemed so much happier. But the thought of sharing that made her tummy twist.

“I just want to make sure you’re safe,” he added.

What Dad didn’t tell Vanessa was that he’d also fitted the new phone with a GPS tracker. If he couldn’t control his ex-partner’s movements anymore, he could at least monitor them through his daughter. And then, if necessary, take action …

Vanessa’s dad saw his actions as a clever way of getting information about his ex-partner.

Cyber experts and social researchers see it differently. Behaviour like this, they say, is a form of technology-facilitated domestic abuse. And it’s on the rise throughout Australia. 

Research shows that 96% of the perpetrators of this kind of abuse are male, and 93% of victims are female.

Kids are "collateral damage"

But the middlemen in such cases are often children like Vanessa, who are used as conduits to their mothers’ private lives. And recent studies show the impact on those children’s mental health, education and relationships can be devastating. 

Children are involved in tech-based abuse in over a quarter of domestic violence cases, research shows.

Fathers giving children a device in order to monitor their mothers’ movements is an increasingly common tactic, having risen by some 350% since 2015, according to a national survey by women’s network WESNET.

Sometimes kids are directly abused online. More often, they are “collateral damage” in abuse that targets mothers.

Overall, children are involved in tech-based abuse in over a quarter of domestic violence cases, according to a recent study by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, the first research of its kind to specifically investigate how children are impacted by online domestic violence.

The research found this type of abuse escalated when couples separated and co-parenting arrangements provided opportunities to recruit children, openly or otherwise, as information sources. 

How kids are harmed

The impact on children, the study found, was damaging to their mental health in 67% of cases, hurt relationships with the non-abusive parent (59%) and disrupted their everyday activities (59%). 

Understandably, kids experienced both fear and guilt when put in a position of spying or informing on a parent, leading in extreme cases to social isolation, school absenteeism, depression and suicidal thoughts. 

While no simple solution to the problem of tech-assisted domestic abuse is possible, researchers point to the need for greater community awareness and increasing knowledge among caring professionals.

Providing older children with access to technology may also help to mitigate the problem.

Notes Karen Bentley, WESTNET chief executive,  "Technology is often blamed as the reason that this is happening. But at the end of the day, it's the abusers' behaviour."




Stay on top of the latest trends in tech that affect your community, with Family Zone, Australia's leading parental control solution.

Start your free trial today!

 

 

 

Tell me more!

Topics: Cyber Bullying, Parental Controls, Screen time, Mobile Apps, Excessive Device Usage, esafety, digital parenting, technology-facilitated online abuse

    Try Family Zone for FREE

    Sign up now to try Family Zone for 1 month, totally free of charge.

    Free Trial
    Subscribe to our newsletter
    Follow us on social media
    Popular posts
    Parental Controls | Cyber Safety | Cyber Experts | parenting | roblox
    Roblox: What parents must know about this dangerous game for kids
    Parental Controls | Mobile Apps | Cyber Safety | teens on social media
    Can we talk? 100 questions your teen might actually answer
    Parental Controls | Screen time | youtube | smartphones | WhatsApp | suicide | self-harm | momo
    MOMO unmasked
    Parental Controls | Screen time | online gaming | roblox | sleep
    Family Zone: Now blocking Roblox with a single click
    Parental Controls | Screen time | teens on social media | wellbeing | dating app
    Swipe right for trouble: Six teen dating apps parents need to know about
    Cyber Bullying | Parental Controls | Screen time | Mobile Apps | Cyber Safety | online predators | tiktok | paedophile | child predator | Likee
    LIKEE: What parents need to know about this risky TikTok wannabe

    Recent posts

     
    Press the reset button on your kid’s online routine

    COVID blew up our teens’ screen-time. It’s time to get them back on track. In the wake of the COVID pandemic, our children are facing a ...

     
    Bigger families face super-sized screen-time challenges

    If you have more than one child - and statistics show 86 percent of families do - then managing screen-time can be double trouble. Or ...

     
    'Bigorexia' a growing risk for today's boys

    We’re starting to understand how social media can damage girls’ self-esteem - but what about our boys? New research finds disturbing ...

     
    The metaverse: Brave new world - or an upgrade for predators?

    Mixing kids and adult strangers in a self-moderated online environment ... What could possibly go wrong?