A leading online safety charity is working with law enforcement, support services, and social media platforms to help support women subjected to online abuse. The online safety charity, South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL), is developing a new online platform called Minerva, which is intended to equip women with the knowledge and resources they need to find safety and regain control.
Minerva is drawing on expertise from SWGfL’s 20 years of experience in the field of online safety, as well as consulting with the police, charities, the Crown Prosecution Service, and social media platforms to inform the new platform.
SWGfL runs a Revenge Porn Helpline which has seen caseloads increase year-on-year. Since 2015, the charity has removed over 270,000 images of intimate image abuse.
Sophie Mortimer, Revenge Porn Helpline manager at SWGfL said: “We’ve been looking at ways at how this new platform Minerva can help address some key issues around reporting online abuse. The subject matter itself is intrinsically difficult, with victims often worried about being judged or worse, not believed. This initiative aims to break down the barriers that stop women coming forward for help.”
SWGfL commissioned research from the University of Suffolk that identified a number of barriers around the issue, to help inform the development of the new online platform.
The survey of 148 women with lived experience of online abuse found one in four felt traumatised by it, with one in five reporting panic attacks.
44% of those who reported their abuse spoke to family or friends, 29% to social media admins or moderators, 25% reported it to the police, and one in four women never told anyone.
Survey respondents reported being subject to a range of forms of abuse, most commonly experiencing unwanted sexual messages (61%), cyberstalking or harassment (44%) or receiving unwanted violent or pornographic content (36.4%).
It found that support for victims is ‘fragmented’; just 48% of professionals who work in support services, including mental health, social work and law enforcement reported that they had received training on online abuse.
Sophie said: “The nature of online abuse means it isn’t limited by time or space; there are no borders online. For victims, it can often feel omnipresent as our lives are increasingly embedded in the digital world. Those working in law, safeguarding or support services have the evolving challenge of keeping up with this ‘tech race’, as social media and digital tools continue to outpace the slower, real-world support and legal services.”
Minerva aims to provide support 24/7 and ease the reporting of abuse by providing an online accessible platform, with tools to assist in the gathering and submitting of evidence of abuse.
Sophie added: “Just one in four are reporting online abuse. Everyone who works in this field wants to change that stat. Helping to inform this new platform and with the ambition to drastically improve support for victims, we are working with experts, from police to leading tech developers, to offer combined support and resources to counter online abuse.”
SWGfL already advises schools, public bodies and industry on online safety. Minerva is being developed by the charity in partnership with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and funded by the Tampon Tax Fund.
SWGfL is working with a team of experts, including partners in tech and academia, to develop the pioneering platform. It will incorporate leading AI and is due to be launched in March 2023.
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CASE STUDY – ANONYMOUS
Stacy came through to the Revenge Porn Helpline (RPH) when she was informed by a friend (a year after her breakup) that intimate images of herself had been shared online by an ex-partner she met on social media. Throughout their online relationship, Stacy had sent numerous amounts of intimate and non-intimate images to this person, and she claimed that they had been talking online for a while.
Stacy would put her real name into Google search, followed by the word nude, and this is where she located her intimate images online. When we conducted a pimeyes and Google reverse image search for Stacy it transpired that thousands of images had been uploaded across the internet. We started the reporting and removing of Stacy’s images and as expected some websites were less cooperative than others. We encouraged Stacy in the meantime to reach out for some further emotional support and to try and avoid searching for her own content now that we were handling the reporting of these images. We also advised Stacy to fill out Google’s ‘personal information removal request’ as her real name was connected to a lot of the content.
As always, we encouraged Stacy to contact the police and explained the law. Stacy was reluctant at first as she believed that this was her fault, and she could not prove who was sharing these images. As time went on it became apparent that a lot of Stacy’s content online was so widespread that on certain websites people were discussing the buying and trading of her content.
About 6 months later, although we were making great progress in removing the intimate images, Stacy came back into RPH and explained that she had found multiple Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, creating profiles in her name and posting her less intimate images and pretending to be her. We soon discovered that on these accounts would be a Snapchat account in the bio advertising the selling of her intimate content.
Fortunately, all social media platforms have been working quickly with our reports of these accounts and have been removing them within a few days of reporting. However, these social media accounts including the Snapchat accounts that are selling Stacy’s intimate content are appearing weekly, and the police have not got back to Stacy regarding her case. At present we are reporting the social media accounts through the Report Harmful Content (RHC) (due to it not being of intimate nature), and Stacy’s intimate images through RPH.
About South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL)
SWGfL is a charitable trust (charity number 1120354), with an international reputation working to ensure that everyone can benefit from technology, free from harm. Over 21 years old, the charity is responsible for award winning services, resources and campaigns as well as operating helplines and support services that each support victims of differing online harms. It works with various Government Departments both at home and abroad and has addressed conferences across Europe, America and Africa.
SWGfL, alongside partners Childnet and Internet Watch Foundation, lead the UK Safer Internet Centre. The Centre is the national awareness centre and is responsible for raising the nation’s attention to online safety issues as well as managing online criminal content and supporting professionals and the public via its unique helpline and reporting platform.
Minerva is a secure platform available for adults 18+ who have experienced offline and online abuse to regain control, report and remove harmful or inappropriate online content.
The project is led by the South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL) in partnership with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), funded by the Tampon Tax Fund.
The platform is being developed with law enforcement in mind as it will create a timeline of events, log reporting activity and time and date of incidents of abuse, both online and offline.
It will provide advice, direction and signpost to appropriate and relevant support services. Minerva will be launched in March 2023.