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Abusers increasingly using technology to attack

By EARLE GALE | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-02-05 10:19
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The number of people being abused by stalkers and other predators using the latest technology has skyrocketed as equipment, including miniature cameras and tracking devices, has become widely available, according to charities that work with victims.

Safe Lives, Refuge, and Women's Aid, three of the United Kingdom's largest charities working with domestic abuse victims, began campaigning this week for the government and technology companies to clamp down on such activities. They demanded a new offence for people who threaten to share intimate images of others; so-called revenge porn. And they urged anonymity for victims.

The Times newspaper said the charities believe most victims of such abuse are the former partners of abusers, and that three-quarters of all domestic abuse cases now involve the use of technology.

Louisa Rolfe, the National Police Chiefs' Council lead for domestic abuse, told the paper: "Like the use of technology in other crime, it's something that seems to feature in domestic violence cases to facilitate abuse."

She said the most prevalent type of abuse involving technology is the posting of "nasty comments on social media" but added that abusers are increasingly using technology to monitor, impersonate, and track their victims, in addition to harassing them.

The charities say angry former partners have used equipment, including fitness trackers and "smart" home devices that control lighting and heating systems, to monitor the lives of others. They also use video doorbells to stalk and control. And the charities say they fear technology-savvy abusers may even be able to hack into AI virtual assistants in order to listen to people in their homes.

Refuge said technology played a part in 72 percent of the domestic abuse cases it handled in 2018, prompting Sandra Horley, its chief executive, to call for more collaboration between tech giants and the government to mitigate risks.

A report by the UK's Office of Communications, meanwhile, says 50 percent of the UK's 10-year-olds now own a smartphone, with many of them suffering abuse as a result. The UK government-approved regulatory authority, known as Ofcom, warns that many children have seen hateful content online. It says the risks have prompted 87 percent of the parents of children aged between 5 and 15 to seek advice on how to protect their offspring.

Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom's director of strategy and research, told the BBC: "We are seeing around half of 12-to 15-year-olds saying they have seen hateful content online, and an increase in parents who are concerned about it. The good news is, more conversations about staying safe online are also happening across the country."

Children's charity the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children called on technology giants to protect their users and "ensure they are a force for good not bad".

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