Statistics from Refuge indicate that violence against women is very prevalent in the UK with 1 in 4 women facing domestic abuse in their lifetime.

Every 30 seconds the police receive a call for help relating to domestic abuse and every two minutes someone looks to Refuge for help.

At Westminster Insight, we are committed to addressing critical issues affecting society. As we approach our upcoming Violence Against Women and Girls Conference, we had the opportunity to speak with Francesca Ferrier, Economic Lead at Refuge,  the largest domestic abuse organisation in England and her team. Francesca shared her insights on the emerging trends in violence against women, particularly in the context of technology-enabled abuse and economic abuse.

Pink and white image outline of different women

What significant trends are emerging when it comes to violence against women and girls, particularly in the context of technology-enabled abuse?

One of the most alarming trends we’re observing is the increased use of technology to perpetrate abuse. Intimate images continue to be a significant threat, whether through the actual sharing, threats to share, or the creation of intimate image generation or ‘deepfakes’. While it’s tempting to focus on new technologies, it’s crucial to remember that low-tech methods of abuse are still prevalent. Perpetrators often use technology to harass and stalk survivors online, through calls, texts, or social media. They manipulate digital tools to make it harder for survivors to gather evidence.

Additionally, we see the misuse of home security systems. These devices, initially installed to help, can leave survivors feeling watched and controlled even in their own homes. When it comes to economic abuse, technology plays a key role in controlling, manipulating, isolating, and abusing survivors. We see monitoring of online banking and apps to track spending and location. There’s also an increase in debts being taken out fraudulently using the survivors’ online accounts and devices. Even online benefits applications and accounts are misused to exert power and control over a survivor’s life.

What key actions should the next government prioritise to effectively combat violence against women and girls (VAWG)? Are there specific policies or legislative changes you believe are crucial?

The rapid development of technology presents a unique challenge for legislation, but this should not deter the government. We need legislation and policies that specifically reference VAWG, which are currently missing. Protective orders and injunctions should address online harms and tech-facilitated abuse directly.

Refuge UK recommend:

– Extending the statutory definition of domestic abuse under the Domestic Abuse Act to include tech abuse.

– Implementing mandatory record-keeping for police forces to record how domestic abuse is perpetrated, whether via technology or financial accounts.

– Mandatory training for police on tech-facilitated abuse and economic abuse, led by specialists in the VAWG sector and rolled out to the wider criminal justice system.

– Developing statutory guidance for the police and criminal justice system on tech-facilitated abuse.

– Upgrading VAWG Guidance in the Online Safety Act to a VAWG Code of Practice if uptake is low or compliance is poor.

– Publishing annual reports on the impact of AI on women and girls by the Home Office and the Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology, including investment in AI technologies and emerging harms.

How can technology be harnessed to both prevent and respond to VAWG more effectively? What innovative solutions or tools do you foresee playing a significant role in the future?

Technology can indeed be a double-edged sword. AI and machine learning are being applied to identify harmful behaviours or at-risk individuals. However, it’s important to respect the limitations of these technologies and ensure they complement rather than replace human expertise. Many devices and platforms come with a suite of privacy and safety options that, when correctly deployed, can prevent abuses. We want these options to be accessible, understandable, and have safety as a default setting.

Stop Violence against women with a cartoon character of a woman

What are the biggest challenges currently facing professionals working to combat economic and tech-facilitated abuse? How can these challenges be addressed through policy, education, and engagement?

The scale of technology-facilitated abuse and economic abuse is ever-increasing. Raising public awareness and educating professionals are key to ensuring people can reach out for support. Technology advances rapidly, making it difficult to stay updated. We need continuous support from organisations to get hands-on with new technology and provide up-to-date advice to survivors.

The long-term consequences of economic abuse can be devastating, often leaving survivors financially unstable even post-separation. Tackling issues like fraud and coerced debt takes time, and responses across the financial sector are inconsistent. We need banks and financial institutions to believe and support survivors, but there is still a lot of advocacy needed from the VAWG sector to push for better outcomes.

In the criminal justice system, women who experience tech-facilitated abuse often report not being believed when they disclose their experiences to agencies. This can deter them from engaging with the police. We need a more consistent approach to gathering digital evidence and more cases making it to court.

With the rise of artificial intelligence, what are the implications for technology-enabled abuse of women and girls?

AI and generative AI are powerful tools, but like all technology, they can be misused. Deepfakes, for example, are a significant concern. The creation of non-existent intimate images or videos is a real threat to survivors, making it difficult for them to protect themselves or have such content removed. AI also tends to reinforce societal biases. For instance, AI-generated images often perpetuate gender stereotypes. This can further entrench the power imbalances central to abusive relationships.

As our discussion with Francesca Ferrier highlights, combating violence against women and girls, especially in the context of technology and economic abuse, requires a multifaceted approach involving legislation, education, and innovative technological solutions. At Westminster Insight, we’re dedicated to fostering dialogue and action on these pressing issues. Our upcoming Violence Against Women Conference is an excellent opportunity for professionals to come together, learn, and develop strategies to create safer environments for all women.

To further support our mission, we host a variety of events and training focused on diversity and women’s issues, including empowerment, leadership, and workplace safety.

Violence Against Women and Girls

Domestic Abuse in the Workplace Support Training

Women in Police 

Menopause in the Workplace

These events provide valuable platforms for networking, learning from experts, and discussing best practices. For more information on our upcoming events and to register, visit our website.

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