Social abuse


  • Anastasia Powell, Nicola Henry, Asher Flynn and Adrian Scott, ‘Image-based sexual abuse: The extent, nature, and predictors of perpetration in a community sample of Australian residents’ (2019) 92 Computers in Human Behavior 393-402.
    Image-Based Sexual Abuse (IBSA) is defined as the non-consensual taking, distributing and/or making of threats to distribute nude or sexual images. IBSA is becoming increasingly criminalised in various jurisdictions worldwide. This article reports on a national online survey that examined the extent, nature and indicators of self-reported IBSA perpetration among a community sample of Australians aged between 16 and 49 years old. 56.7% of the participants were female, whilst 97.5% were non-Aboriginal and 88.3% were heterosexual. Results showed that 11.1% of participants reported having engaged in some form of IBSA perpetration during their lifetime, with men more likely to report IBSA perpetration than women. Participants reported targeting men and women at similar rates and were more likely to report perpetrating against intimate partners or ex-partners, family members and friends than strangers or acquaintances. Participants who were male, lesbian, gay or bi-sexual, disabled, or accepted sexual image-based abuse myths were more likely to engage in IBSA perpetration.
  • Australian Government Office of the eSafety Commissioner, Collecting evidence.
    This website by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner provides information about technology abuse and the importance of collecting evidence when reporting the abuse or threatening behaviour. It emphasises that evidence should only be collected if it is safe to do so. Evidence may be collected by taking screen shots of abusive posts, texts or emails or by saving or copying voicemail messages. The website directs the reader to additional links on how to record stalking and how a person under 18 years of age must follow certain steps for reporting offensive or illegal content.
  • Bagshaw, Dale, et al, ‘Reshaping Responses to Domestic Violence’ (Final Report, University of South Australia and Partnerships Against Domestic Violence, April 2000).
    This Australian research used a variety of methods including an anonymous ‘phone-in’ and focus groups. 102 women who were victims/survivors of domestic violence participated in the phone-in. ‘Social abuse’ was reported by 67 per cent of callers. Social abuse included ‘systematic isolation of women from family and friends’. Techniques included perpetrators’ ongoing rudeness to family and friends that gradually resulted in reluctance by family and friends to make contact due to concerns that contact would trigger abuse from the perpetrator. Other means by which women were socially isolated included moving to new towns or to the country where they knew nobody and were not allowed to go out and meet people. In some cases women were physically prevented from leaving the home and were kept ‘prisoners’ in their own homes’ (p22-23).
  • Heather Douglas, Bridget Harris and Molly Dragiewicz, ‘Technology-Facilitated Domestic and Family Violence: Women’s Experiences’ (2018) British Journal of Criminology.
    The development of technology in recent years has significantly affected women’s experiences of, and responses to, domestic violence. Devices and software, such as smartphones, cameras, Internet-connected devices, computers and platforms such as Facebook, may be used not only by perpetrators to facilitate domestic and family violence (DFV), but also by survivors and their allies to attain empowerment, and seek and share information and support. The article analyses qualitative research that outlined survivors’ experiences of technology-facilitated DFV. It draws on interviews with 65 women on up to three occasions between 2014 and 2017. At the first interview, 55 participants identified technology-facilitated abuse as part of the DFV they experienced. This result was echoed in the following two interviews. Many participants provided examples of technology being used by perpetrators to isolate, stalk and emotionally abuse them. The frequency and nature of abusive behaviours described by the women provided important contextual data to inform future research into technology-facilitated violence and abuse.
  • Henry, Nicola, Asher Flynn and Anastasia Powell, Image-based sexual abuse: Victims and perpetrators (Australian Institute of Criminology Report No. 572 March 2019).

    Report abstract:

    Image-based sexual abuse (IBSA) refers to the non-consensual creation, distribution or threatened distribution of nude or sexual images. This research examines the prevalence, nature and impacts of IBSA victimisation and perpetration in Australia. This form of abuse was found to be relatively common among respondents surveyed and to disproportionately affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with a disability, homosexual and bisexual people and young people. The nature of victimisation and perpetration was found to differ by gender, with males more likely to perpetrate IBSA, and females more likely to be victimised by a partner or ex-partner.
  • Kristin Natalier, ‘State Facilitated Economic Abuse: A Structural Analysis of Men Deliberately Withholding Child Support’ (2018) 26 Feminist Legal Studies 121-140.
    Economic abuse is a widespread and damaging aspect of intimate partner violence (IPV). Although research has mainly addressed cohabiting couples, women’s long-term experiences after separation are seldom explored, and researchers have not developed a gendered analysis of child support-related economic abuse. Interviews with 37 single mothers were conducted to determine how men’s deliberate withholding of child support can constitute economic abuse, which may be facilitated through gendered State processes and institutions that order child support transfers. The author argues that the State may facilitate gendered abuse through the design and implementation of the Australian Child Support Program (CSP). Child support-related economic abuse is not the result of a failed system. Instead, it reflects the role of the CSP as regulating, rather than preventing, economic abuse. Findings showed that women participants understood that the withholding of child support by their former partners was a means to control their acquisition and use of money, and undermined their economic security and autonomy. On this basis, women experienced their former partner’s behaviours as post-separation economic abuse which, in turn, was normalised and intensified through the CSP policy.
  • Rees, Susan, and Bob Pease, Refugee Settlement, Safety and Well-being: Exploring Domestic and Family Violence in Refugee Communities (Paper 4 of the Violence Against Women Community Attitudes Project, Immigrant Women’s Domestic Violence Service, 2006).
    The researchers undertook focus groups with 78 participants (men and women) from refugee communities in Victoria. Social isolation was identified as a form of domestic and family violence with participants identifying that abusive partners may intentionally keep victims from social and community contact. Significantly, the study found that the experience of being a refugee is frequently isolating because of unemployment, limited finances and inadequate English language skills. This isolation places refugee women at an increased high risk of domestic and family violence (pp28-29).


  • Harrington Conner, Dana, ‘Financial Freedom: Women, Money and Domestic Abuse’ (2013-2014) 20 William and Mary Journal of Women and the Law 339.
    This article is mainly focussed on domestic and family violence and economic abuse in the USA however the author presents a useful literature review explaining how socially abusive behaviours may contribute to the isolation of the victim (pp366-369). The author identifies that a woman’s strong community and family ties may help to ensure her safety if she is abused while weak community and family ties promote risk. Community ties may include family, friends, neighbours and co-workers and these ties may be called ‘social capital’. The perpetrator of abuse may actively work to destroy an abused person’s social capital through restricting contact with neighbours, friends and co-workers, resulting in loss of support for the abused person and increased levels of control by the abuser. The author notes that isolation prevents “would-be” witnesses from observing injuries or acts of abuse, the procurement of photographic evidence, calls to law enforcement, and intervention by third parties. The author also observes that the abuser may restrict the victim’s use of a car or telephone, having the effect of preventing her from calling for help and maintaining or increasing her social isolation.
  • Johnson, Margaret E, ‘Redefining Harm, Reimagining Remedies and Reclaiming Domestic Violence Law ’ (2009) 42 University of California Davis Law Review 1107.
    This article criticises the USA focus on physical abuse in the context of domestic and family violence. At pp 1119, 1121-1122 the article discusses how abusers use isolating behaviours (including socially, economically and tangibly – i.e. no access to a car) in an effort to control the victim.
  • Outlaw, Maureen, ‘No One Type of Intimate Partner Abuse: Exploring Physical and Non-Physical Abuse Among Intimate Partners’ (2009) 24 Journal of Family Violence 263.
    This article reports on a survey of 8,000 women and 8000 men conducted in the USA in 1994-1996. A sub-sample of 11,291 people who responded that they had current partners is examined. Respondents were asked about the experience of abuse within their relationships. In this article the author describes social abuse as generally involving an imposed isolation—victims are cut-off from family and friends, whether by threat, force, or persuasion. Social abuse includes circumstances in which a current partner limits contact with family and friends, insists on knowing where the victim is at all times, or insists on changing residences, even if s/he doesn’t want or need to. The article identifies a strong correlation between social abuse and physical abuse.
  • Stark, Evan, Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life (Oxford University Press, 2007).
    This book is a key text on domestic and family violence. Although Stark is based in the United States his work has been highly influential in Australia. In this book Stark explains that domestic and family violence is a pattern of controlling behaviours akin to terrorism and hostage-taking. Drawing on court records, interviews, and FBI statistics, Stark details coercive strategies that men use to deny women their very personhood, from food logs to micromanaging dress, speech, sexual activity, and work. Stark urges us to move beyond the injury model and focus on this form of victimization. Stark reframes abuse as a liberty crime rather than a crime of assault. He explains how the perpetrator is able to control the victim through a variety of techniques which essentially lead to deprivation of liberty (pp 373-374). He identifies that isolation from friends, family, work and help (i.e. doctors and services) is part of domestic and family violence (pp 373-374; 469-471; 474-476; 478-486). See this You Tube video of Evan Stark, discussing the central thesis of his book Coercive Control: The Entrapment of Women in Personal Life.