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Nicholson Project

Exploring new ways of disrupting digital abuse

Wayss has increasingly heard from family violence victims referred to our service that they believed they are being tracked, stalked and controlled by their abuser using technology. 

Others referred to us were unaware this often hidden form of abuse was happening to them and their children, leaving them vulnerable to further abuse.

Intervening as early as possible to disrupt and prevent perpetrators from using technology to continue their abuse is not always part of the immediate response that family violence services provide to keep women and children safe. Moreover, the ever-increasing sophistication of technology and the internet is often beyond the capacity of family violence workers to address to keep their clients safe from technology-facilitated abuse.

We needed a way to provide a skilled, targeted early intervention that assessed the digital vulnerability of family violence victims, removing the threat of technology-facilitated abuse and enabling their ongoing safety. 

of family violence workers have clients who had experienced technology facilitated stalking and abuse.*
0 %

The Nicholson pilot project sought to innovate through both the remote delivery and timing of the assessment service.

Piloting an innovative solution

While the number of people escaping family violence receiving an assessment for technology facilitated abuse in Victoria slowly increases, this type of service has traditionally been delivered face to face. The Nicholson Project took a different approach.

A remote assessment was provided that screened for the presence of, or vulnerability to, technology facilitated abuse: intervening to disrupt and implement measures to keep devices and online use safer and out of reach of the abuser.

A timely response with which the participants received an assessment in the Nicholson Project was also important. Intervening as early as practicable to disrupt tech abuse and eliminate vulnerabilities in technology use would be a key protective factor for women and children. This would provide them with increased safety and protection from abuse, as well as the confidence to manage the safety of their technology use.

*Woodlock, D., Bentley, K., Schulze, D., Mahoney, N., Chung, D., and Pracilio, A., (2020). Second National Survey of Technology Abuse and Domestic Violence in Australia. WESNET.

Project partners

The Nicholson Project pilot was generously funded with support from Dr Fleur Nicholson.

With input from Wayss, service partners Protective Group  built on their experience as providers of in-person risk and safety assessments for family violence victims to pioneer a remote assessment for technology facilitated abuse that can be delivered flexibly, when and wherever it suits the victim and their family.

The Nicholson Project pilot was the first trial of this service.

What we learned

Intervening early to disrupt tech abuse and eliminate vulnerabilities in technology can be a key protective factor for women and children. This provides them with increased safety and protection from abuse, as well as the confidence to manage the safety of their technology use.

Other learnings

❶ Cultural implications

Cultural implications including language barriers, can create difficulties in facilitating remote tech checks so interpreters and information in language for use during the assessment need to be made available.

❷ Practical implications

Initially we found that some victims did not have their devices to be checked fully charged or any information at hand about the accounts that were being used. On occasions the sheer number of devices to be checked during the assessment was only discovered at the time of the assessment.

❸ Lack of awareness

Victims who did not believe they were experiencing technology facilitated-abuse were less inclined to participate in the project. We need to encourage all victims of family violence, even those who do not believe they are impacted by technology facilitated abuse, to take the assessment, as many victims are unaware it is happening.

❹ Young people are victims too

Accompanying children and young people are victims too and may be used as proxy abusers by the perpetrator, so we need to include the devices and (where possible) social media use and settings used by the victim’s children as part of the remote assessment.

Outcomes: pre and post assessment survey results

Participants felt more confident that they were not being tracked and abused via technology as well as in their knowledge and ability to manage their use of technology and online platforms.

Safety

felt safer
0 %
felt the same level of safety
0 %
felt less safe
0 %

Confidence

felt more confident
0 %
felt the same level of confidence
0 %
felt less confidence
0 %

Participant stories

Sienna

A Family Violence Report (L17) was received by Wayss for an Affected Family Member Sienna (de-identified) who was experiencing family violence. She had been in a relationship with the person who uses violence, John (de-identified), for the past two weeks after speaking online, and they had met in person on one occasion.

Since then, John had been stalking, persistently calling and texting Sienna, and threatening to self-harm if she did not come outside of her home to speak with him. In the most recent incident, John had sent Sienna 80-100 text messages and called her every 20 minutes in a 24-hour period. John had also tried to contact Sienna via social media.

Sienna was referred to Protective Group by Wayss for the Nicholson project after it was identified that she was experiencing technology-facilitated abuse. A remote assessment was carried out and whilst no spyware was found on her device, Sienna reported that the referral was ‘really good’ and that it was helpful to have the support of a Protective Group assessor to locate different sections in her phone and provide her with education in how to change passwords and identify potential spyware.

She expressed feeling more confident in managing her safety using technology and was supported by a Wayss family violence case worker to assist with her recovery and ongoing safety planning.

Amara

A Family Violence Report (L17) was received by Wayss for an Affected Family Member Amara (de-identified) who was experiencing family violence. Amara’s ex-partner, Lucas (de-identified), was identified as the person who used violence towards her and her children.

Amara expressed having experienced multiple forms of abuse, including physical, sexual, technological, coercive control and stalking behaviours. Amara advised that Lucas had previously attended her property whilst she was at work and she was concerned that he had hacked into her social media account without her knowledge or consent. 

Amara was referred to Protective Group by Wayss as part of the Nicholson project after it was identified that she was experiencing technology-facilitated abuse. She was concerned that Lucas may have also had access to her son Charlie’s phone as well. Protective Group completed remote tech checks of both Amara and Charlie’s devices to ensure passwords had been changed and no spyware had been installed, to support their ongoing safety and disrupt technology-facilitated abuse.

Amara and her children have since been assist by Wayss to support their ongoing safety and recovery from family violence.

Next steps

Wayss intends to expand upon the learnings from this pilot project to provide early access to remote digital assessment for more victims impacted by family violence in partnership with Protective Group. The ability to deliver the service remotely in the first instance provides huge potential to scale this up to make this kind of support available to more victims of family violence across Victoria and Australia.

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Wayss in the 1990s

Then in September 1997 the organisation became WAYSS Limited with a Board of Directors and day to day management by the Chief Executive Officer.

Wayss underwent further transformation with the restructure of community housing and the funding of the Transitional Housing Management (THM) program. The Regional Housing Council ceased operation and transferred direct service operations to Wayss in 1997.

During this decade Wayss became responsible for the then South East Women’s Domestic Violence Outreach Service. Funding was also received to establish a Children’s Services Worker within the outreach service. SAAP funded Women’s Outreach Program was also transferred to Wayss in 1999.