6 Critical Takeaways to Reduce Digital Abuse in Higher Education

We recently held a Sexual Assault Awareness Month webinar with Michelle Issadore, a sexual violence prevention expert, on “Decoding Digital Abuse: Prevention Strategies for 2020 and Beyond + Insights on Pending Title IX Regulations.” If you were unable to attend, please feel free to watch our recorded webinar.

Sexual exploitation was not included in most campus sexual misconduct policies until recently, if at all. Much of the commentary on the topic is based in victim-blaming for the new age: “why did you put yourself in that position?” is the updated “what were you wearing?” In a continually evolving landscape of social media platforms, apps, video and photo sharing services, surveillance technology, and more, how can outreach efforts best target effective risk reduction, primary prevention, and changing social norms?

Here's what we learned:

SAAM Hand Graphic (1)

Digital Abuse Defined

Digital abuse is the use of technologies such as texting and social networking to bully, harass, stalk, or intimidate a partner. Often this behavior is a form of verbal or emotional abuse perpetrated online. (Definition provided by LoveisRespect.org.)

The latest research shows digital abuse is widespread:

  • Prevalence as high as 1 in 12 individuals.
  • Rates may jump as high as 1 in 2 or 1 in 3 for marginalized groups, including LGBTQI individuals or those living with disabilities.
  • 1 in 20 Americans perpetrate.

Types of Digital Abuse & Associated Technologies

Here are some of the types of digital abuse that can impact students in higher education:

  • Revenge Porn – intimate photos leaked/published without consent.
  • Non-Consensual Pornography – photos taken for a partner’s eyes, only to be eventually disseminated to others.
  • Upskirting – snapping sexually intrusive photos, often of someone’s genitals, without their knowledge.
  • Sextortion – a form of blackmail in which sexual information or images are used to extort.
Real Life

As technology continues to evolve, its role in digital abuse is significant. Here are some of the different technologies used to commit or facilitate digital abuse:

  • Calls / Texts
  • Apps
  • Photos / Videos
  • GPS / Geotagging
  • Spyware
  • Keystroke Logging
  • Social Media
  • Anonymizers (Or, use of an anonymous identity)
  • Spoofing
  • Online Forums

Differences Between Digital Abuse and Other Forms of Violence

Some of the differences between digital abuse and other forms of violence are as follows:

  • Digital abuse is often misunderstood and more tolerated.
  • Photos and videos can be altered through different technologies.
  • Research is limited and relatively new.
  • There’s a possibility of increased vulnerability as technology’s role in daily life continues to grow and our digital histories expand.
  • Content can be posted with the victim’s contact information (Also, commonly referred to as “Doxxing”).
  • Since most images are authored by victims, they retain ownership rights.

6 Critical Takeaways to Reduce Digital Abuse

Since digital abuse is relatively a new form of sexual violence and research is continuing to come to light, here are six critical takeaways to help create positive change within your community:

  • Follow best practice state laws, such as Illinois.
  • Better understand what makes content harder to disseminate.
  • Provide options for victims to report images for removal.
  • Address technology hygiene through best practice cybersecurity guidelines.
  • Increase awareness and understanding of digital abuse through prevention.
    • Include forms of digital abuse in annual training.
    • Educate all populations.
  • Use policy as prevention.

If you were unable to participate in our Sexual Assault Awareness Month webinar with Michelle Issadore or interested in learning even more about digital abuse, please be sure to watch our free webinar recording.

MAKE YOUR CAMPUS EVEN SAFER