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.