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Action urged as one in ten NI women have experienced online violence, largest UK report uncovers.

·        The Open University launches major new report unveiling trends around Online Violence Against Women and Girls in Northern Ireland.

·        Online violence against women and girls in Northern Ireland is most rife on Twitter/X, followed by Facebook and Instagram.

·        Public sentiment supports new legislation of OVAWG, with women more supportive than men.

The full report of the largest-ever UK study into online violence against women and girls, was designed and led by Professor Olga Jurasz at The Open University. The report will be launched and discussed today at an official event in Northern Ireland (Thursday 21st March 2024 from 19.00 to 20.00) at the Imagine Festival.

According to the report, titled ‘Online Violence Against Women: A Four Nations Study’, over one in ten (12%) Northern Irish women and girls have experienced online violence, but young women are bearing the brunt of online violence with 25% of those aged 25-34 and 18% of those aged 16-24 saying that they experienced online violence at least once in their lives.

Most incidents of online violence in Northern Ireland were text based such as online messages or comments and were committed by someone the woman did not know.

The report examines which platforms women in Northern Ireland are experiencing the most online violence, with Twitter/X emerging on top, followed by Facebook/Meta and Instagram. Young people in Northern Ireland are significantly less likely to report OVAWG when it happens than older generations and say they do not know how to report it.

The impact of OVAWG extends far beyond the digital realm, infiltrating many aspects of the victims’ lives. Women in Northern Ireland note changing the way they act on social media, as well as enduring detrimental effects to their mental and physical health.

Professor Olga Jurasz, Professor of Law at The Open University and Director of the new Centre for Protecting Women Online, who designed and led the study, said: “This study gives a unique insight into women’s experiences of online violence, its scale and impact across the UK. It provides previously unavailable data which hopefully will lead the way to evidence-based law and policy interventions tackling the modern phenomenon of online violence against women and improving women’s safety online.”

The findings suggest there is an urgent need for more to be done to protect women from harm online. Most women who experienced online violence in Northern Ireland reported it to the platform where the incident happened, but four in five were not satisfied with the outcomes of their report.

The report goes on to reveal that, despite the vast majority of respondents recognising the following as forms of OVAWG: image-based sexual abuse, text-based sexual abuse, cyberbullying, not all of these behaviours are captured within the law.

Support for new legislations to tackle OVAWG is significant amongst Northern Ireland, but women and older people are more supportive of this than men. Men are also more likely to think that OVAWG legislation would limit their freedom of expression.

The OU is also set to open a new centre protecting women and girls against online violence later this year. Based in Milton Keynes, England the centre will be led by Professor Olga Jurasz to develop research to inform law, policy, technology development and practice to prevent and reduce harms suffered by women and girls online.

The full report can be found here: 

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