More than half of domestic abuse victims are ignored by social media firms when they come forward to report abuse perpetrated by an ex- or current partner, new research has found.
The study, carried out by Refuge, the UK’s largest provider of shelters for domestic abuse victims, discovered that 53 per cent of survivors polled had no reply from social media platforms after flagging abuse and harassment they endured on their platforms.
Two in five victims said they were not likely to notify platforms about the abuse again due to being overlooked last time.
So-called tech abuse has risen substantially in recent years with Refuge’s tech abuse support workers supporting 258 per cent more women in 2022 than in 2018.
Refuge defines tech abuse as a current or former partner using smartphones or their children’s iPads and games consoles to track a woman’s location, sharing so-called revenge porn on the internet or repeated phone calls and messages or harassment via social media.
The charity previously warned it had seen a rise in tech abuse cases which involve abusers using smart locks, webcams and smart heating systems to “monitor, control and gaslight” victims.
Paula*, a survivor of such abuse, said: “The threats, stalking and harassment my ex-partner carried out on social media left me fearing for my life. I had to move house as he made my address public and was threatening to harm me daily.
“It took six attempts at contacting Facebook before I even got a response – all the while my life had been turned upside down. It was disappointing that, even when they acknowledged that the posts violated their community standards, Facebook still took four months to remove them.
“Social media sites are a lifeline for so many survivors, but I feel like I can’t trust them anymore. Much more needs to be done so no more women experience what I did.”
Refuge called for the government to ensure the Online Safety Bill – waiting to get to the report stage in the House of Commons – returns to Parliament. The legislation is “at real risk of ‘timing out’”, the charity warned, which it said would signify a “huge missed opportunity”.
Researchers conducted interviews with 17 domestic abuse victims supported by Refuge about tech abuse and carried out a separate online survey of 89 survivors of domestic abuse.
Jess Eagelton, of Refuge, said: “For far too long, social media companies have been marking their own homework when it comes to online abuse. This has led to terrible outcomes for survivors, with so many women receiving no response whatsoever when they report the abusive content sent to them or made about them.
“The code of practice Refuge has drafted, alongside sector partners, would address the poor response our tech abuse team sees time and time again, giving social media companies a robust set of policies to tackle online violence against women and girls.
“We urge the government to bring back the Online Safety Bill as a matter of urgency to show their commitment to ensuring women and girls’ safety, and to include our code of practice to hold social media companies to account.”
Previous research conducted by Refuge demonstrated that more than one in three women living in the UK – which amounts to 11 million women – have been subjected to online abuse or harassment on social media or another online platform. This surged to 62 per cent of young women, researchers found.
*Paula’s name has been changed to protect her identity
Anyone who requires help or support can contact the National Domestic Abuse Helpline which is open 24/7 365 days per year on 0808 2000 247 or via their website www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/