Digital technologies and gender-based violence – mechanisms for oppression, activism and recovery

Barter, Christine Anne orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-5682-5333 and Koulu, Sanna (2021) Digital technologies and gender-based violence – mechanisms for oppression, activism and recovery. Journal of Gender-Based Violence, 5 (3). pp. 367-375. ISSN 2398-6808

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The links between gender-based violence (GBV) and technology are nothing new. The 1938 play Gas Light presented a vivid illustration of a Victorian husband’s technologically-facilitated abuse through his manipulation of household gaslights, to flicker and dim at unexpected times, with the aim of making his wife doubt her own sanity. The term ‘gaslighting’ is now widely used to refer to psychological abuse where the abuser uses false or distorted information to make their victim doubt their own memories and judgements. In comparison, it is only relatively recently that the complexities of GBV and digital forms of technologies as mechanisms for oppression, activism and recovery have been recognised.
In 2019 over 8,000 researchers, practitioners and policymakers from 41 countries gathered in Oslo, Norway, for the third European Conference on Domestic Violence(ECDV). The ECDV raises awareness of domestic violence and wider forms of GBV across disciplinary and topic boundaries, and the presentations in 2019 addressed a diverse range of issues from analyses of case law to GBV help seeking in migration contexts, to the impact of adverse childhood experiences on re-victimisation. An emerging theme was the need to understand how digital technology can be used by perpetrators to exert control over their victims. However, debates also recognised digital technology as a powerful tool for GBV global resistance, providing a platform for survivor-led transformative campaigns as well as a mechanism to provide support for survivors. These debates were the catalyst for this special issue on digital technologies and GBV.
In the two years since the 2019 ECDV conference, we have seen the world change in unprecedented ways. Millions of people across the world have faced isolation, loneliness and fear due to the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on everyday life. For GBV victims, this isolation and fear has been intensified by perpetrators’ use of abuse, including through digital technologies, to further increase their control and surveillance, inadvertently aided by stay-at-home directives (Sharlini and Tushar, 2020;
World Health Organization, 2020; Gregory et al, 2021). At the same time national lockdowns have made it even harder for victims and survivors of GBV to escape and receive support (Davidge, 2020; World Health Organization, 2020), with black and
minoritised women and girls experiencing the disproportionate effects of the dual pandemics – COVID-19 alongside GBV (Imkaan, 2020). However, the unparalleled scale of change has also accelerated progress on developing and implementing
innovative service responses to support GBV survivors and their families (Barter et al, 2020).

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