TECH SAFETY TEAM, MAY 2023
We have recently had enquiries at WESNET from concerned parents about how to keep children safer on their devices and online when using tech at school, but also using school-assigned devices at home to complete their school work.
Whilst there are more general concerns for keeping children safer online, there are also more specific and unique concerns about children using their technology within the context of post-separation co-parenting arrangements where there is or has been domestic abuse.
In Australia, children and young people are highly connected. Nearly all households with children under 15 have access to the Internet. Research shows that there is no particular separation for younger generations between the online and offline worlds. According to ABS data on household use of information technology, 99% of 15-17-year-olds are online and spending up to 18 hours per week online. The age at which children are now accessing technology is as young as 2 years old on average (ABS, 2018).
The benefits of technology for children and young people are that it enables them to access support and information, form connections beyond those they would be able to make in real life, join online communities, maintain friend and family relationships and create and share content. Of course, there are also risks to children being on tech, including being targeted by perpetrators online and also engaging in risk-taking behaviours if they are not monitored adequately. What we cannot deny is the prevalence at which children and young people are using tech.
Digital literacy is becoming more important in the school curriculum and as a result, most school children are required to use some form of technology when completing their studies whether it be a desktop computer, laptop or tablet. Children are often required to take these devices home in order to complete their homework. The use of these school devices but also any personal devices owned by the children may provide an opportunity for them to experience tech abuse from a parent who has perpetrated domestic abuse against their other parent.
Children and young people who are moving between parental homes in the context of post-separation where there is or has been domestic abuse are particularly susceptible to tech abuse on their devices by the offending parent.
Research on Children and Tech Abuse
In our WESNET 2020 Second National Survey on Technology Abuse and Domestic Violence, we asked frontline practitioners working with people experiencing domestic and family violence three questions about children and other tactics of tech abuse. These are the results from the survey:
- Nearly 70% of practitioners were seeing children being deliberately given a phone or device as a way for the perpetrator to contact or monitor the survivor (most often, this is the mother) either all the time or often.
- Nearly 65% of practitioners were seeing children’s social media accounts being used in an attempt to communicate with the survivor.
- Nearly 80% of practitioners had seen examples of where court-ordered child contact via phones/email was being used as a way to continue to abuse, threaten or intimidate the survivor, with 49% of practitioners seeing this happen all the time.
The eSafety Commissioner and Griffith University completed a research report on children and technology-facilitated abuse in domestic violence situations. This study found that technology-facilitated abuse involving children occurs as one part of an overall pattern of domestic and family violence. The key findings from the report were:
- 27% of domestic violence cases involve tech abuse of children
- Children are experiencing tech abuse directly
- 45% of children experience monitoring and stalking on tech
- 38% of children experience threats and intimidation on tech
- 33% experience blocking of communications on their tech
- Children experienced tech abuse most by phone, text and social media
- Children are not just witnessing DFV but are at the centre of abusive behaviour and dynamics
- Perpetrators involve children in tech abuse directed at their mothers.
The report noted the hugely negative impact of this tech abuse on children. High percentages of children reported mental health issues, feeling fearful, feeling guilty and having a negative impact on their relationship with their non-offending parent. Therefore, if you are co-parenting with someone who is or has perpetrated domestic violence towards you or your children, then it is important to think about the tech safety of your children and implement some safety strategies if this is possible. We will discuss some of these options below.
In addition to parents and children addressing their own safety in this context on a broader level, there is a responsibility on schools to be aware of this issue and educate their staff accordingly, as well as implement policies and procedures that can help to keep children as safe on their tech as possible.
Educating school staff about domestic and family violence and, more specifically, tech abuse is necessary so that children are not placed at further risk.
When school staff have a better understanding of the possible risks associated with sending children home with technology in the context of abuse, then they will be able to assess the situation and put safeguards in place in order to mitigate risk. It would also be beneficial for schools to develop policies and procedures that are followed in these instances. Children should only be required to take devices home if they can be used securely and safely.
Safety Strategies and Resources
Safety strategies and tools that could be utilised by schools and families could include:
- Education and training for parents, teachers and children about tech abuse and tech safety in order to increase knowledge about how tech is abused and also how tech can be used more safely and securely.
- Acknowledging the abuse and talking about it with children in an age-appropriate way.
- Securing devices and accounts by using passcodes, passwords and two-factor authentication.
- Checking for any connected devices to accounts and removing any that should not be connected.
- Having separate tech for each household (if this is an affordable option).
- Reporting any tech abuse to the online platform, eSafety Commissioner or police (if the child and non-offending parent feel safe to do so).
- The use of parental controls on children’s devices.
- Blocking the offending parent’s communications (if safe to do so).
WESNET can provide training to organisations about children, young people and tech abuse. Please contact us if this is something your organisation is interested in.
Below are some useful resources and websites that may assist you in putting the suggested safety strategies in place:
- Smart Toys & Location Tracking: Privacy & Safety Concerns with Children & Pets
- Computer and Laptop Security Tips
- Smartphones and location safety strategies
- Android privacy and security guide
- iPhone privacy and security guide
- Password Safety
- Women’s Safety and Privacy Toolkit – TechSafety
- Legal Guides – TechSafety
- Training & Professional Development – TechSafety
- eSafety Guides for Parents
- Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2016-17). Household use of information technology. ABS. https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/industry/technology-and-innovation/household-use-information-technology/latest-release.
- Woodlock, D., Bentley, K., Schulze, D., Mahoney, N., Chung, D., and Pracilio, A., (2020). Second National Survey of Technology Abuse and Domestic Violence in Australia. WESNET.
- Dragiewicz, M., O’Leary, P., Ackerman, J., Bond, C., Foo, E., Young, A., Reid, C., (2020) Children and Technology-Facilitated Abuse in Domestic Violence Situations. eSafety Commissioner and Griffith University.