Tech savvy key to safety, WESNET program teaches

TECH SAVVY: WESNET SafetyNet Australia national director Karen Bentley with a safe phone, which will help protect women from technology abuse. Picture: EMMA D'AGOSTINO

TECH SAVVY: WESNET SafetyNet Australia national director Karen Bentley with a safe phone, which will help protect women from technology abuse. Picture: EMMA D'AGOSTINO

A smartphone has become a basic tool people need to navigate modern life. 

But, for women experiencing domestic and family violence, a phone can be a source of sustained abuse. 

Women’s Services Network national chairperson Julie Oberin said there was almost a complete overlap between technology abuse and domestic and family violence.

“Women are increasingly being stalked, threatened, abused through the misuse of technology,” she said.

About 98 per cent of domestic violence practitioners have clients who have experienced technology abuse, a study by the Recharge Project found. 

Text messaging, Facebook and GPS tracking are the three most common forms of technological abuse in Australia. 

But WESNET SafetyNet Australia national director Karen Bentley said women and girls shouldn’t have to disconnect to avoid abuse. 

“Tech-savvy women are safer online,” she said. 

WESNET has partnered with Telstra to enable women impacted by domestic and family violence to safely stay connected to services, support and information by providing a smart phone.

“Many front line services can’t afford to do that,” Ms Bentley said.

Telstra has donated 20,000 devices to the initiative, which is also backed by $2.5 million in federal funding. 

Both the recipients and frontline services distributing the phones receive tips about how to keep safe from technological abuse, and ways technology can be used to the victim’s advantage. 

Ms Bentley said not all phone recipients used the new device to replace their existing phones. 

“Women can use these phones in a whole range of different ways,” she said. 

“It’s quite often important to have another phone.”

Last week, the WESNET Telstra Safe Connections project received a bronze award in the community category of the 2016 Australian Crime and Violence Prevention Awards.

Acting Australian Institute of Criminology director Chris Dawson said the project was recognised for its innovative approach to dealing with the harms of family and domestic violence.  

The award follows the bronze WESNET received in 2014 for its techsafety project. 

“We’re thrilled this vital and effective program has been recognised by the ACVPAs, assisting us to build awareness of the program among services that support women and children impacted by domestic or family violence,” Ms Oberin said.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.

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