Parents are abusing their own children online with more than a quarter of domestic violence cases involving perpetrators directly harassing kids through technology, including mobile phones, social media and gaming devices.
Often the abuse is directed at the non-offending parent.
A sobering report by the eSafety commissioner found 27 per cent of domestic abuse cases involved technology, with stalking – including using GPS tracking to monitor kids – listed as the most common form of abuse.
This abuse typically involves everyday technologies such as mobile phones (79 per cent), texting (75 per cent) and Facebook (59 per cent).
In one instance a man pretended to be his son’s friend on a computer game in a desperate bid to determine the boy’s mother’s whereabouts so he could physically assault her.
“The child assumed he was playing a game against his friend (which dad knew and made up) … dad used the gaming time as a space to ask the child questions (and) find out when mum was going to be alone in the house,” the report stated.
“Dad got the info, … he went over to her house, beat her up and left her very wounded.”
Another father set up an account in the name of his child that he used to view pornography. He then claimed the mother was allowing the child to do this as part of his custody battle.
ESafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said the research indicated just how widespread technology-facilitated abuse was.
“The perpetrating parent makes the children a pawn in the technology-facilitated abuse of the other parent, and this causes real harm to the child’s mental health, to their relationship with the non-abusive parent, and to their everyday activities,” she said.
Monitoring and stalking is the most common form of abuse, with this occurring in almost half of cases, while many young people reported receiving abusive texts and persistent harassing phone calls.
Children are threatened and intimidated in four out of 10 cases, and blocking communication is experienced in one third of incidents.
The report found lots of parents didn’t acknowledge technology-facilitated abuse as a form of violence, but it was linked to a child’s mental health in 67 per cent of cases.
Families and Social Services Minister Anne Ruston recognised how technology could be used as a platform for abuse.
“For those experiencing domestic violence and abuse it’s particularly important that they can have access to technology in order to access information and support and stay connected to family and friends,” she said.
“But unfortunately that same technology can be misused to facilitate abuse.”
The report was funded by the Department of Social Services, and eSafety surveyed more than 500 professionals who work with domestic violence victims across Australia.
Victims and perpetrators were also questioned.
Findings will be included in the eSafety training programs so staff are better equipped to tackle the issues.