This project explored how computer misuse act (CMA) offences facilitate domestic abuse and the relationship between technology and abuse to assess how the link between CMA and domestic abuse can be formally evaluated. The study involved the following methods: media case analysis, a technology review, and interviews with domestic service providers.
Technology-facilitated domestic abuse (TFDA) very rarely occurs in isolation, it is usually part of a wider continuum of abuse, which is not separate from other coercive and controlling behaviours. Offline and online abuse is interconnected and within the context of domestic abuse, often co-occurring. Therefore, TFDA might be better understood as different tactics of patterns of perpetrator behaviour rather than distinct types of harm. However, it is necessary to highlight the specific instances and tactics of TFDA in order to ensure that policy, legislative and support responses appropriately consider these rapidly developing practices of abuse.
Computer misuse offences, especially unauthorised access, feature within domestic abuse contexts, however, these only account for part of the issue. Domestic abuse perpetrators are engaging in a broad range of behaviours involving the use of technology – including use of spyware, creating fake accounts, online harassment, stalking and installing trackers, and image-based sexual abuse, some of which encompass and combine offences within legislation.
The problem of TFDA is normalised and often considered unremarkable due to societal challenges towards privacy and the right to keep aspects of (digital) life separate. Context is therefore significant in recognising unhealthy behaviours; therefore, relationship-based understandings of domestic abuse and technology use are critical.
The information available to perpetrators on the web enables individuals to find, source and apply such technologies to harm others in their domestic environment. In particular, stalkerware apps are marketed to information seekers who want to abuse or control their victims via technology.
Devices used to monitor physical identity of individuals such as location, image or sound are also accessible via websites. Covert cameras and microphones or GPS trackers are easily obtainable from popular online retailers such as Ebay and Amazon.
Within coercive and controlling relationships, the use of technology to further that abuse is likely.
For many victims, there is not domestic abuse and then technology-facilitated domestic abuse; rather, in varying degrees, in different ways, and with very real impacts – digital technologies simply feature in a constellation of violations by an abusive partner or ex-partner. The harms from TFDA, therefore, are no less serious than those arising from other forms of coercive and controlling behaviours and physical violence.
Children are increasingly being involved in technology-facilitated domestic abuse contexts, especially as a means for perpetrators to exert control in post-separation shared parental situations.
An Intersectional approach appreciating the converging lived experiences, causes and realities of TFDA is necessary, particularly as the experiences of those suffering TFDA who are not cisgender heterosexual, from the UK, or able-bodied are often missing from the public discussions, rendering the invisibility of these marginalised groups.
Solutions to TFDA often involve advising victims to disengage from technology, which is not only unfair to victims, but often infeasible given our increasing reliance on digital technologies.
Perpetrators who are committing computer misuse offences as part of their pattern of abusive behaviour are rarely being charged with these crimes. These offences are often being overlooked in the context of stalking and harassment or control and coercion.
The ongoing use of technology increases the long term traumatic and psychological impacts on the victim, perpetuating feelings of being trapped and unable to escape the abuse. The use of technology to facilitate abuse should be recognised as an aggravating feature and result in an increased sentence.