Experts are harnessing the power of technology to tackle online sexual abuse and harassment.
Minerva, an online platform conceived by South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL), is giving power back to victim-survivors enabling them to document, report and remove online abuse.
Over the past six years, staff at the Revenge Porn Helpline run by South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL), have ensured over ¼ million intimate images of victims are removed from the internet, and claim this is just the tip of the iceberg.
In May 2022, Ofcom reported a staggering six in 10 UK adults saw potentially harmful content online in the previous four-week period.
SWGfL recognised the need to create a solution which was both empowering, scalable and always accessible.
Sophie Mortimer, Revenge Porn Helpline manager, said: “Minerva arose out of our frustrations around the limitations of a 9 till 5 office helpline to support victims of online abuse. The online world is omnipresent in our lives, and as such, online abuse knows no boundaries or timeframes. We realised we needed to harness technology to tackle online abuse 24/7 and help improve conviction rates.”
Minerva is a secure online app which enables victims of online image-based abuse to anonymously compile a diary of online and offline abuse and signposts them to support services.
Users add time stamped screenshots, photographs, videos or other supporting evidence to their diary entries. It creates a portfolio of evidence which victims can give to the police, when they feel ready to.
Partnering with SWGfL to create the platform are Rascal Ventures, a Digital Product and Innovation agency focused on delivering projects that use technology as a force for good.
Jennie Wright, founder of Rascal Ventures, said: “We are excited to be delivering the Minerva platform and believe it will revolutionise the way in which support for victims of online harms is delivered. Working with SWGfL’s research partner, The University of Suffolk, we have focused on insight from those with lived experiences as well as practitioners in the field to co-create Minerva, ensuring the user is at the heart of the experience.”
The platform has been backed by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and is funded by the Tampon Tax Fund.
For the first time, advisors and experts including academics, the police, Crown Prosecution Service, charities, social media platforms, and tech for good experts, have collaborated to help inform the new platform.
One of the advisors on Minerva is Laura Bloomer, Founder of Backed Technologies, which creates tech tools and software for agencies to help tackle online image-based abuse on the internet.
Laura said: “Legislation is important, but success depends on the ability to enforce it. Social media platforms, police, support workers, charities, and the law are all trying to keep up with an ever-evolving and ubiquitous online world. Tech can help to facilitate response speed and scale, and support multi-agency collaboration through greater transparency, connectivity and accountability.”
She added: “I’m really excited about Minerva – watching it evolve has been very encouraging. The team have taken a user-focus and stakeholder approach in building a solution – which is what this complex issue needs. The project demonstrates the opportunity of tech to facilitate human collaboration in tackling online abuse.”
Sophie Mortimer added: “Minerva’s tech capability will spot national trends and flag any concerning results. Eventually, Minerva will gather enough data to inform best practice, and help build a clearer picture at a national level.”
Over the 15-month project, the concept has gone from design and testing to the development of the prototype. Minerva will be launched to the public in March 2023.
Click here, to download product images of Minerva.
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Notes to Editors
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 three helplines 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 for victims to 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 also 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 also provide advice, direction and signpost to appropriate and relevant support services.
Minerva will be launched in March 2023.
Minerva: Reporting Online Abuse | SWGfL
Minerva will help victims of online image-based abuse in the UK to:
Access a safe, secure private space – nothing will be shared unless the user wants it to be. Journal/diary at core of capability help build the full picture.
Independent service – wholly focused on helping to empower the user to understand what can be done and help them to reach their desired outcome as quickly as possible
Increased access to help for victims – day and night access that is scalable (not restricted by the number of practitioners or working hours)
Reduce the need to retell their story. Evidence report can be created to share with other services, which will also reduce the potential for re-traumatisation for the user.
Instant response with guidance to help the user achieve their outcome as quickly as possible.
Sign posting to other services that can help. Sign posting will be tailored based on what the user logs with Minerva, prioritising any services where there is a more immediate need.
The evidence report will also help to inform the user on the specifics of each harm and when it could be considered a crime, to help guide conversations when reporting a crime to the police.