School of Computing

Technology Facilitated Intimate Partner Violence surged during Covid-19 pandemic

29 June 2022

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Picture: gilles-lambert-8649-e1509979095207-1920x1280 by Gilles Lambert on Unsplash.

There was a 420% increase in reports of Technology Facilitated Intimate Partner Violence (TFIPV) during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new Home Office report led by researchers at the University's Institute of Cyber Security for Society (iCSS).

Research carried out in partnership with The Cyber Helpline, the only UK not-for-profit helpline directly supporting victims of cyber-crime, found that methods of TFIPV differed to those pre pandemic. Perpetrators were found to take advantage of an increased use of video calls and social media (particularly Facebook) and were more likely to engage in extortion.

Across the study period unwanted contact/communication and extortion were the most common types of TFIPV reported, with extortion most common in brief relationships. Whereas in long term partnerships, unwanted contact/communication and unauthorised access to smart devices and accounts were more common.

Perpetrators accessed accounts and smart devices via easily guessed or known passwords, with a lack of ID verification by online platforms flagged as a concern in the report.

Perpetrators were found to use simple methods and technologies to abuse, often using their knowledge of the victim's online habits and activities (e.g., email, social media, GPS- enabled trackers, family sharing accounts, known passwords).

Shared spaces or physical proximity to victims allowed TFIPV perpetrators to manipulate devices, create fake accounts, install bugs and track locations. They used their knowledge of the victim's online habits and activities to abuse.

The researchers utilised case data and conducted in depth interviews with front-line responders of The Cyber Helpline, identifying the specific technologies used by perpetrators and establishing the requirements for high quality victim assistance from a cyber security perspective. This has helped to produce necessary data for government, law enforcement, practitioners, front-line responders and stakeholders to inform on appropriate interventions with perpetrators and victims of TFIPV, as well as the most suitable technical support.

Dr Afroditi Pina, a forensic psychologist at Kent who co-led the project, said: 'Online service providers need to make it easier to identify and sanction perpetrators, while improving accessibility to talk to personnel via customer service helpdesks. TFIPV is a serious form of domestic abuse, but currently it is not considered as part of the Domestic Violence Act. It needs to be adequately represented in legislation as part of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and coercive control, with more action taken. There also needs to be further investment in police, IPV practitioner and responder training on cyber security and the recognition of TFIPV.'

Dr Jennifer Storey, a forensic psychologist and the other co-lead of the project added: 'While specialist support for victims is available, synergy between safeguarding agencies is urgently required, along with consistent funding. This would better support victims by allowing a single view of cases while improving perpetrator accountability.'

The Home Office report titled 'Technology-Facilitated Intimate Partner Violence: A multidisciplinary examination of prevalence, methods used by perpetrators and the impact of COVID-19' can be accessed on the researchers' Technology-Facilitated Intimate Partner Violence website.

The project was led by psychologists Dr Afroditi Pina and Dr Jennifer Storey (from Kent's School of Psychology's Centre of Research and Education in Forensic Psychology [CORE-FP]), alongside Dr Marian Duggan (Kent's School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research [SSPSSR]) and Dr Virginia Franqueira (Kent's School of Computing), all members of iCSS with extensive experience in domestic abuse, online abuse and cyber security.

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Last Updated: 12/09/2013