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Vital funding first step to stamp out tech-facilitated abuse


A Newcastle-based organisation is determined to stamp out a worrying domestic and family violence (DFV) trend, tech-facilitated abuse.

And, backed by some much-needed funding, the Hunter DFV Consortium will take the first steps to combat the growing problem within the community.

Tech-facilitated abuse is a type of controlling behaviour that involves the use of technology to coerce, stalk or harass another person.

For example, it can take the form of sextortion (blackmail by threatening to publish sexual information, photos or videos); image-based exploitation (sharing intimate photos without consent); doxxing (publishing private personal information) and cyberbullying.

But, now, thanks to a $61,000 grant from the Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation, the Hunter DFV Consortium – a collaboration of non-government services in the region, including Warlga Ngurra Aboriginal Women and Children Domestic Violence and Homelessness Service, Upper Hunter Homeless Support, Carries Place Domestic Violence and Homelessness Service, Port Stephens Family and Neighbourhood Services, Got Your Back Sista, Family Support Newcastle, Jenny’s Place Domestic Violence and Homelessness Service, Newcastle Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service, Nova for Women and Children Domestic Violence and Homelessness Service – has joined forces with WorkVentures, Australia’s leading IT social enterprise.

Together, they’ll upskill frontline workers in the field of domestic and family violence perpetrated through technology.

It’s an important measure moving forward, according to regional collaborations coordinator Lisa Ronneberg.

“Technology is evolving so fast and gives perpetrators of domestic and family violence even more ways to intimidate, harass and control victim-survivors even after they have fled their abuse,” the Hunter DFV Consortium spokesperson said.

“It’s not just critical that frontline workers are equipped to help those who are experiencing tech-facilitated abuse, it could be life-saving.

“So, we’re really grateful to the Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation and equally excited about partnering with WorkVentures.”

Ms Ronneberg said the project comprised of three stages.

“With WorkVentures, we’ll produce a resource that will be an educational tool, explaining tech-facilitated abuse that’ll be available to workers and those who work in the domestic violence sector,” she told the Newcastle Weekly.

“We’ll also develop face-to-face workshops, with five of them taking place in the Hunter.

It could be something like receiving abusive text messages repeatedly or being constantly scrutinised, such as ‘where are you, what you’re doing or who are you with? You must check in with me’.

Lisa Ronneberg

“They’ll be for people who work in that domain, too… to build their capacity and understanding of tech-facilitated abuse and how to respond and support clients.

“The third part will see WorkVentures provide a hotline for three months.

“So, after workers have received their training, they can still talk to experts who specialise in IT and cybersecurity.

“It might involve a follow-up call or there may be some new form of tech-facilitated abuse we hadn’t covered… because, again, it changes really quickly.”

Ms Ronneberg admitted she was stunned by how common the issue had become these days.

“We’ve been aware of it for a few years and how prevalent it is; but it evolves all the time,” she said.

“There was a survey in 2020 and 99% of employees, who work in our sector, explained their clients were experiencing some form of tech-facilitated abuse.

“So, most people who are going through domestic and family violence are likely to suffer tech-facilitated abuse as well.

“It could be something like receiving abusive text messages repeatedly or being constantly scrutinised, such as ‘where are you, what you’re doing or who are you with? You must check in with me’.

“Or, someone’s monitoring your phone or having access to your passwords to your emails and reading them.

“It’s frightening.

“Then there’s cyberstalking, using cameras or putting apps on mobiles.

“Any kind of digital technology that is being used to harm, harass, control or coerce someone is considered tech-facilitated abuse.

“If we increase workers’ knowledge, so they can work with clients to identify what’s happening, that’s a huge positive.

“They’ll be able to put some strategies in place to prevent it from happening or even how to respond in a safe manner.

“That’s also the challenge.

“We want people to be as safe as possible because some might still be with their partner, who’s abusive.

“So, we need to counter any situation without putting anyone at higher risk.

“It’s crucial to adopt strategies around safety planning.

“More often than not, violent perpetrators will try and find ways to continue the abuse (even after someone’s left) – and they will use all means possible.

“There are so many things available to them through technology now; it doesn’t necessarily have to be in person or physical.

“However, if we can lessen the impact or the trauma, by training workers in the domestic and family violence sector, that’s the main goal.”

The Hunter DFV Consortium was one of six groups to benefit from the Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation, alongside the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors ($20,000), The Warrior Woman Foundation ($150,000), CareFlight ($35,000), KIDS Foundation ($50,000) and Warm Blankets for Everyone ($20,000).

It brought the total amount invested in regional NSW to more than $27 million since 2003.

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