Sex and The Cyber City: Addressing domestic violence online

The brutal 2016 attack of Angela Jay who was stalked and then stabbed 11 times by a man she met on Tinder was no anomaly. A phenomenon that is globally on the rise, cyber harassment has been described by one leading UK researcher as ‘the ailment of our times’, yet the NSW government’s domestic violence laws are failing to adequately address it, argues the state’s peak women’s safety body.

Hayley Foster, Director of Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service NSW, has said Dr Jay’s assault points to the need to reform domestic violence definitions to encompass the more coercive control exhibited through online communications rather than its threatening or intimidating content:

 “Without a provision targeted more at the attempts to control or dominate the person through emotional or psychological abuse, technology-facilitated abuse provisions will not assist women like Dr Jay in obtaining the protections that they need.”

 “We would like to see more explicit reference to psychological and emotional abuse and a provision similar to that which is included in the Victorian Family Violence Protection Act 2008, which refers to behaviour which in any way controls or dominates a person or causes them to fear the safety or wellbeing of themselves or another person,” says Hayley Foster, Director of WDVCAS NSW.

Although Tinder might be the platform making the most headlines, cyber harassment is prevalent across all forms of online communication – not just dating apps.

On this point, UK PhD researcher, lecturer and social media consultant Carolina Are agrees not only with Foster’s case for greater clarity around what constitutes violent behaviour, but also argues for governments to consider what’s happening to society as a whole that's resulting in cyber-harassment.

“The ease in which we can access the means to harass people is one explanation. We all have the technology, we haven't seen ground-breaking examples of serious punishment and we feel we have impunity because we can have an anonymous profile. 

“There is also a general sense of disillusionment in our day and age. Social media blew up shortly after the 2008 crisis, and was a huge opportunity for democracy and equality, giving everyone a voice.

“Now that everyone has a voice, however, we have realised inequality and poverty are still there.”

If you need help, there is confidential support and toll free domestic violence services available 24/7, and further details can be found via the WDVCAS NSW website. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.