Cyber-Abuse: A Very Real Threat to Our Health

The effect cyber-abuse has on our society is something that is emerging more and more, but is not yet fully seen for the immense damage it is creating amongst young people and adults alike. A recent global survey conducted by ‘All Rise: Say No to Cyber Abuse’ of over 12000 people showed that 3 in 10 people had images or media published about them without their consent on the internet, and just under ¾ of participants expressed they had witnessed or were aware of cyber abuse happening. See more about these survey results here.

With an estimated 3 billion internet users, you can imagine how many people over the globe are actually affected by cyber-abuse.

So what effect does cyber-abuse have?

As someone who has experienced cyber-abuse first hand I know my own feelings and reactions to being written about maliciously on the internet. I felt contracted, powerless and like I had in some way done something wrong to deserve this. It highlighted how I needed some support to address this abuse, and not allow it to dictate or suppress how I very naturally and lovingly live my life.

 When lies are created about you, that are in fact the opposite to everything you stand for and operate under – and are apparently powerless to remove them, it certainly can have an effect.

So why am I apparently powerless to remove the harmful lies that have been written about me on the internet?

When someone writes false claims about you, there is currently little that can be done to correct them or have them removed. Essentially, people are still able to choose to use the internet environment to attack, demean and belittle the work someone does and who they are, and not be called to account under the proviso they are deemed to have ‘freedom of speech’.

So what about my right, and that of every other person living on this planet to live a life free of abuse?

We have come to a point in society whereby those that abuse on the internet are given equal right to those they seek to harm in many situations – unless of course they are making direct death threats or similar. We know that much harm can occur from abuse well before physical violence or death threats are manifest, yet there is currently little able to be done about abuse in the setting of the world wide web.

Currently, law enforcement in Australia is lagging in what it is able to do regarding people who choose to abuse in the online environment. There are initiatives and systems set in place via the Australian Police such as ACORN (Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network), but these have been unable to assist all those abused online thus far. This inability to assist is multifactorial and involves the way that the laws surrounding cyber-crime are specifically worded and set out, meaning very specific criteria have to be met before someone can be prosecuted as having committed a criminal offence of cyber-abuse.

These criteria do not encompass the spectrum of abuse that is possible, and happening on a daily basis.

It’s not surprising to me that crimes on the internet aren’t given the same importance as those played out in the street every day as the amount of practical workforce required to deal with this would be huge, and costly – in a seemingly already overstretched system.

At some level we do need to get serious about addressing this, and not wait for our systems to catch up.

Already every day I see the effect abuse has on people. From childhood to adult relationships, abuse contributes to all manner of serious emotional and physical problems that we try to assist in managing. Sometimes we are successful, but for many the damage that has been done is unable to be healed in full by our current means. This can have disastrous consequences – including self-harm and suicide. Cyber-abuse is no different in this regard, and is proving a very real threat to the wellbeing of a whole generation, with increasing use of technology as a means of social interaction.

So what can we do? Slowly over time our systems need to change, and this can only happen if we unite and call for it. Initiatives such as All Rise – Say No are key in this process, and show what is possible by a group of people dedicated to ensuring the abuse happening everyday – likely from a keyboard near you – has an end point.

We can support our young people especially to recognise abuse, and to know how to deal with it appropriately.

As adults, we need to know that cyber abuse can equally affect us. More cyber-abuse occurs towards adults than many realise, and so we also need to know what avenues are available to us in reporting and seeking support if it does affect us in any way.

Individually, we can each choose to be more aware of our behaviours, patterns and reactions. If we are speaking to someone in a way that is not loving or supporting of them, then why is that? Ultimately when we allow ourselves to move away from a loving way of being with everyone, abuse is possible and happens more than we realise. We also have a responsibility to support those around us to not interact in an abusive way – whether this be our parents, children or partners. Abuse starts well before a voice or hand is raised, and we definitely need to be more aware of this in our day-to-day lives.

Ultimately, we by the series of our choices can create a world that is free of abuse. So what will our next choice be, in the quality of our every thought, word and action?

If you or someone you know is experiencing cyber-abuse be sure so speak up and get assistance. Your local GP is a great place to start if you need psychological support or any of the support organisations listed below. If you are being abused it is also important to report it through the appropriate avenues. See the ACORN website for more information about this, or investigate the processes at your workplace or school for reporting abuse. The more abuse is reported, the more that can be done about it.

au.reachout.com/cyberbullying

www.eheadspace.org.au

www.lifeline.org.au

 

 

 

 

 

 

16 comments

  1. “So what about my right, and that of every other person living on this planet to live a life free of abuse?” This is such an important point Amelia. It is shocking that if the same abuses were made on the high street, the law would take action. Currently governments world-wide and self-regulation of social media are sorely lacking in taking this abuse seriously. Yet as you say there is untold psychological damage – and some have suicide – real tragedies. It is time for us all to wake up and stand together.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I agree Amelia. Cyber Abuse is a huge health issue and of public health status. People are seriously affected by abuse, in particular mental health and as we know already from the global burden of disease study published in the Lancet mental health issues are already in the top 5 conditions causing serious harm and cost to society. If we do not take steps to address social policies and legislations that support people to stay safe and respect their human rights in their daily lives in our countries, then we are headed for increasing health catastrophes that are going to not only burden/cripple the health care system, but take a huge toll on people, and our economy.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. Thank you Dr Amelia – a great article on a very important subject, Cyber Abuse. The damaging consequenses of Cyber Abuse are far beyond what we can comprehend and I agree, we do need to get serious about addressing this, we cannot sit back and wait for our systems to catch up.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The All Rise – Say No group are inspiring and brilliant at showing how we can support people of all ages and I agree, Amelia, we can make sure we are not part of the problem by taking care with other people – do we treat everybody with absolute respect, even in our thoughts?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Your article reveals that we have a very narrow definition for what constitutes abuse Amelia. The extremes, like physical battery, or verbal threats made directly to a person are given that label readily. But the authorities and most of society are not willing to see that cyberabuse is equal to both of these. The effects of cyberabuse on a person are just as extreme as abuse of the fact-to-face kind.
    What we forget or ignore is that cyberabuse is on a 24/7, inescapable cycle and it is global in its reach.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would say Dr Rache, l that cyberabuse can in fact be more extreme than the punch or ugly verbal discharge. Cyberabuse can occur anonymously and over an extended period of time, corroding confidence and self esteem on a daily basis. Imagine an invisible voice speaking from the hedge in your front garden every single time you stepped outside? You know it is there but you cannot trace it or put a stop to it. You call the police and they can’t find it either and are called away to the punch up across the road where they can arrest someone. You are left – in the ‘too hard basket’. Cyberabuse is a most cowardly and cruel act – akin to torture.

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    2. The scary reality of the internet being Unmonitored. I agree both Rachel and Amelia, at present it is free for people to be as reckless as they like, hiding behind Sudo names or just blatantly bullying and harassing from behind computers. It is so incredibly damaging..

      Like

  6. Cyber Abuse is an explosive result of putting up with, tolerating and turning a blind eye to the smaller abuses that go in in everyday life. We can all start to make a difference by choosing how we speak to each other and actually noticing when someone we know is on the giving or receiving end of abuse. If we don’t say stop enough – who will?

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  7. Thank you Amelia for presenting the facts of the very real health issues faced by people, young and old, who have been abused online. It is time that the authorities started to very seriously look at the problem and set standards and controls that stop people being attacked like this.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “When someone writes false claims about you, there is currently little that can be done to correct them or have them removed. Essentially, people are still able to choose to use the internet environment to attack, demean and belittle the work someone does and who they are, and not be called to account under the proviso they are deemed to have ‘freedom of speech’.” Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to abuse. The powers that be seem to have no interest in curtailing the devastation that can occur when people are trolled online.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Well said Amelia – a much needed conversation about the true impact of cyber abuse and where we can start to turn the tide. It feels a little like a silent creeping epidemic of gargantuan proportions – as someone knows someone who has been affected by cyber abuse if they havent themselves, and likely someone they know is a cyber abuser – or abuses freedom of speech or takes out their rants and raves on someone on a conversation thread on social media. We havent even begun to look at the impact on our mental health services as this increases – we dont have enough capacity nowadays to deal with the many societal and mental health and wellbeing issues – let alone with this rising tide of cyber abuse health issues that are creeping up behind us.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Thank you Amelia for writing about this topic. I agree that this is a huge topic that we should all be aware of. I learnt a lot reading this about how we respond to CyberAbuse in Australia, and how much work we have to go before we have systems in place that do not allow abuse online. I will certainly be sharing this blog.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I also wanted to highlight how important it is that we understand the effects as you say this abuse can have on people. I am familiar with All Rise, and have been watching the recent film competition they have had running for young people. It is incredible what some youth have produced and really shows how even our teens are aware of the harmful effects this can have on people, at worse leading to suicide.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Hey Amelia, I got to really feel the damage that cyber bullying does through this blog. The words and comments and Internet sites that permenately are displayed for people to stumble across, read and make judgment over. This is cruel in the way it’s currently set up.

    Like

  13. It beggars belief that the law is impotent when it comes to cyber abuse. I have witnessed the utter lies and filth that can be directed towards another without legal consequence. Abuse is abuse whether it be in person or via social media. Freedom of speech requires & implies an equal responsibility to interact respectfully with others. Should cyberspace remain a lawless state, one that we allow our children to wander unaccompanied each and every day? I certainly would not allow them to enter a ‘dangerous neighbourhood’ but it’s nigh impossible to ban social media contact, so we must find ways to regulate disrespectful and harmful behaviour on it.

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  14. The public health concern that cyber abuse poses cannot be underestimated. We now have 3 billion Internet users which means that a large number of the population can potentially be affected by cyber abuse. We cannot afford to not address this issue.

    Like

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