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Open University research reveals shocking level of online violence experienced by women and girls in Northern Ireland

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More needs to be done to tackle online violence against women and girls, as initial research by The Open University shows one in ten (12%) women and girls in NI have experienced online violence.

The research via YouGov showed 70% of those surveyed in NI believe existing legislation is not effective at tackling online violence against women and girls and 85% support making it a criminal offence.

  • The most common form of online violence (85%) was text based e.g. abusive, tweets, Facebook posts or direct messages, while 35% were imaged based like revenge porn, emojis and violent images.
  • Of women and girls who had experienced online violence in Northern Ireland over half (58%) have experienced it in the last year.
  • Of women who experienced online violence, 14% say this progressed to offline abuse, harassment, or violence. After experiencing online violence, women and girls chose to seek support from family (28%) and friends (36%).

Chrisanne English, Policy and Public Affairs Officer for The Open University in Ireland said: “In what is the largest-ever study into societal attitudes and experiences of online violence against women and girls. The Open University surveyed over 7,500 adults across the UK with over 1,000 of those in Northern Ireland – the results speak for themselves, and we are keen to open dialogue and work with others to help address these issues which can have a grave impact on women and potentially those around them.

The ongoing impact of the online violence resulted in 64% of those who had experienced it saying it had a negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing and 25% saying it had a negative impact on their social life.

Online anonymity, ease of getting away with it and misogyny top the most commonly perceived reasons why people commit online violence against women and girls.

HERe NI, said they are looking forward to this research being launched. “Through our work, we see the impacts of women being targeted online every day. LGBTQIA+ women are often invisible when it comes to issues surrounding violence which makes them even more vulnerable.” - Cara McCann, Director, HERe NI.

Professor Olga Jurasz, Professor of Law at The Open University and Director of the Observatory on Online Violence Against Women, who led the project, said:

“Online violence against women and girls can take many forms such as trolling, threats, abuse, unwanted sexual remarks, non-consensual sharing of intimate photos and messages, among many other examples and it disproportionately effects women.  This can have a serious impact on women’s wellbeing and their behaviour, including a negative impact on mental and physical health, having to implement measures to protect themselves from abuse, and a change in willingness or ability to express views online.

“This new research - the first ever to be conducted into OVAWG at this scale across the four nations - shows just how widespread the issue of OVAWG really is and will provide policy makers with a foundation to help reduce instances of OVAWG and to improve outcomes for those affected.”

The OVAWG research project forms part of the Open University’s (OU)Open Societal Challenges Programme, which aims to tackle some of the most important societal challenges of our time through impact-driven research. The Programme’s focus on the themes of Tackling Inequalities, Living Well and Sustainability align well with the OU’s mission to be open to people, places, methods and ideas.

The Programme’s aim is to apply excellent research by OU academics to some of the most pressing challenges facing people across the UK and worldwide to transform lives and drive societal change.

With backing from the OU’s Societal Challenge Programme, in 2022, Dr Kim Barker and Dr Jurasz launched the Observatory on Online Violence Against Women.  The centre is Europe’s first to unite leading academics, non-governmental organisations, policymakers, regulators, legal practitioners, educators and social media platforms to fight digital abuse.

This first of its kind report surveyed more than 7500 adults* over the age of 16, via YouGov (with over 1,000 of those in NI).

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