Research shows one in four women in the UK do not speak of or report experiences of online abuse.
South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL) commissioned research into online harms to inform the development of a new 24/7 secure reporting platform.
This new platform, Minerva, is being developed to ease the reporting of online abuse, report crimes and help victims of online abuse re-build their lives.
The University of Suffolk, who conducted the research, found one in four women in the UK do not speak of, or report experiences of online abuse, which suggests a significant ‘dark figure’ of undetected victim-survivors.
Minerva is being developed by SWGfL 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 tech intelligence and is due to be launched in March 2023.
Online abuse and impacts
The interim report, Project Minerva, published this month, summarises six-months of research, focusing on the forms of online abuse and how that abuse affected women.
A 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.
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%).
Research fellow Megan Hermolle and Dr Katherine Allen, who work collaboratively as part of the Trauma, Injustice, Violence and Abuse (TIVA) research theme at the Institute of Social Justice and Crime, led the study.
Dr Katherine Allen said: “We know online and technology-facilitated abuse of women is widespread in the UK, yet we found a dearth of technical interventions to tackle it.”
The findings from the University of Suffolk also found that online harm often correlate to offline harm.
Dr Allen added: “Understanding the prevalence and range of behaviours which endanger women led to our recommendations for Minerva. Ultimately, the hope is this “tech for good” platform can flag to patterns of abuse, and offer signposting to specialist services, supporting women regain control and move forward with their lives.”
Minerva – Reporting Online Abuse
The concept for Minerva originates from SWGfL’s Revenge Porn Helpline and Report Harmful Content services, which supports victims of intimate image abuse.
Sophie Mortimer, Revenge Porn Helpline manager at SWGfL said: “The idea came from wanting to provide a one-stop platform for getting information and advice, reporting content and collecting evidence that would be available 24 hours a day. Given that the internet crosses borders and time zones, we needed something as flexible, accessible and responsive as this tool.”
Reports of intimate image abuse to the Revenge Porn Helpline doubled in 2020 and continue to rise with the onset of deep fake software.
Sophie said: “It’s about using tech positively as one of the solutions to the complexity of abusive behaviours. A digital platform can help remove barriers. It offers a safe digital space, which can help combat shame, the fear of being disbelieved, or judged, and other potential human biases.”
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.
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