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Abusers 'weaponising' tech against women and children, summit told


A national summit on women’s safety has been told about how abusers are weaponising technology against victims during the coronavirus pandemic.

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The summit heard how sexual predators were using lockdowns to seek out child victims spending more time online, as coronavirus restrictions also meant fewer women seek help for forced marriage and slavery.

While technology can provide a lifeline for women and children, particularly during the pandemic, it is also increasingly being weaponised against them.

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw has urged parents not to avoid the horrifying reality of child abuse, as predators use lockdowns to seek out kids spending more time online.

“Perpetrators want to keep discussions about child sexual abuse taboo. That, coupled with secrets and the perceptions of shame, enables predators to keep offending,” he told the second day of a national summit on women’s safety.

“If victims of abuse are brave enough to speak up, then as a community we need to be brave enough to listen and act.”

The AFP believes school closures and restrictions on community services have contributed to fewer police reports about forced marriage, sexual servitude and slavery.

In the first six months of the pandemic, there was a 62 per cent drop in reports of forced marriage compared with the year prior.

At least two-in-five assaults recorded nationally last year related to domestic and family violence, ranging from 43 per cent in the ACT to 65 per cent in Western Australia.

Meanwhile, four-in-five Australian women have experienced some form of abuse facilitated by technology.

This can include abusive messages and calls, perpetrators compromising and locking victims out of their online accounts, and sharing or threatening to share intimate images without consent.

Women with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to having electronic aids tracked or tampered with.

The sharing of devices, phone plans and passwords in Indigenous communities also make Aboriginal women vulnerable.

eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said tracking devices, recorders and cameras were planted in children’s toys such as dolls or attached to the underside of prams so abusers could track their ex-partners.

Children were also increasingly being threatened, intimidated or coerced by perpetrators to act as pawns against their mothers.

“We can no longer treat the online world as separate to the offline world when it comes to sexual harassment and abuse,” Inman Grant told the summit.

“We need broader societal change to grow a culture where girls and women are respected and their voices are not silenced.”

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