By Suzie Dunn

As a member of The eQuality Project research team I attended a conference on the Intersection of Intimate Partner Violence and Cyber Abuse organized by the New York Cyber Sexual Abuse Task Force. It was hosted at the Brooklyn Law school on October 24th, 2019. The event was co-sponsored by the Kings County District Attorney’s Office, Legal Momentum, and the New York Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence.

The conference panels included an array of organizations and individuals tackling the issue of technology-facilitated violence in the American context. There were representatives from Operation Safe Escape, the New York Police Department, Sanctuary for Families, and EndTAB, as well as academics from CUNY and Cornell University, among others, who shared their research and expertise with participants.

It was encouraging to see the diversity of groups collaborating on projects and initiatives ranging from legislative reform to survivor focused technical and social responses. The conference was timely as New York had recently passed a law that made the unlawful dissemination or publication of an intimate image with the intent to cause harm a misdemeanor. If found guilty, violators could face up to one year in prison and/or a $1,000 fine. The law also empowered victims to seek court orders to have the unlawfully posted images removed from websites. This law came into effect in no small part due to the advocacy work of many of the individuals presenting at the conference.

Two of the highlights of the conference were the work done with youth from safeBAE, and a newly established cyber-security clinic that provides technical support for individuals who may be experiencing digital stalking or harassment.

Youth Ambassador and Campaigns Director at safeBAE, Aela Masmann, discussed the importance of using accurate language when working with young people. She highlighted how adults often use the term “sexting” interchangeably with sharing nude images, however, youth see sexting as digital communication that may include sharing nude images, but is often limited to sexually flirtatious or explicit text. Simply sharing nude images, particularly without consent, was seen as a separate type of behaviour, distinct from sexting. When discussing safe digital practices with young people, Masmaan noted that it is important to use accurate and youth friendly language. Masmaan shared examples of several youth-based campaigns safeBAE developed that use youth appropriate language. These campaigns encourage youth to treat each other with respect in digital spaces and to learn about sharing digital sexual information. One of the campaigns included the creations of GIFs that young people could share with others when speaking to these issues.

A PhD student in Computer and Information Science and Digital Life Doctoral Fellow at Cornell Tech, Diana Freed, presented information on Cornell Tech’s Computer Security Clinic for Victims of Intimate Partner Violence, that was recently established by academics from Cornell University and New York University. The clinic’s researchers are documenting how abusive partners are using technology to stalk and harass their partners, such as through the use of spyware apps. This clinic also helps survivors figure out if their intimate partners are using technology to abuse them. It does so by creating software tools that survivors can use to determine if their devices are being misused by their intimate partners and providing survivors with assessment questionnaires and privacy check-up guides that they can use to assess their digital safety. The software and safety tools the clinic developed are publicly available on their website.

As many of these issues are cross-jurisdictional, these safety strategies, toolkits, and youth campaigns can provide both American and Canadian survivors with supports for addressing technology facilitated violence. The eQuality Project team appreciated the opportunity to learn from this group of thoughtful and engaged people working on technology facilitated violence.