Online Harassment and Abuse

Those who choose to cause harm will use anything within their reach, including technology, to further isolate, harass, control and abuse their victims. The pervasive issue of domestic violence, and the fact that technology continues to become a larger part of our daily life and activities, means that abusive partners are going to misuse technology to cause harm (technology enabled abuse). Online harassment and abuse are just as serious as abuse happening “in real life” (IRL), but those experiencing online abuse and harassment may not recognize the severity of these types of harms or know where to turn for help or support.

The Hotline began a survey research project, through funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Family Violence Prevention Services Program, to hear directly from survivors on their experiences with online harassment and abuse.  Love is respect recently conducted a survey to learn more about online harassment and abuse in romantic relationships, including what it looks like, how prevalent it is, and what impact it has on survivors. The Hotline conducted the survey from March 8 – May 1, 2022, on The Hotline and love is respect digital chat lines and and 960 individuals completed the survey and shared their experiences.

The survey found that online harassment and abuse is, in fact, a widespread issue. Each of our respondents (100%) stated that they had experienced at least one type of online harassment or abuse. The most common types of online abuse reported were:

  • Offensive name calling
  • Bullying
  • Purposeful humiliation
  • Cyber stalking
  • Body shaming
  • Sexual harassment
  • Threatened with the posting of intimate/sexual pictures without permission, also known as revenge porn
  • Having intimate/sexual pictures shared without permission
  • Sextortion
  • Doxing (searching and posting of personal/private information online)

The most commonly reported setting in which online harassment and abuse occurred was via text message or other messaging apps (78%) and/or on social media (70%). The survey results also demonstrated that many survivors aren’t seeking support after they experience online harassment or abuse— 33% of the respondents stated that they did not seek help or support of any kind. Of those who did seek support, most turned to friends and family — 50% talked with friends, family, or a trusted adult.

Recognizing online abuse and harassment and holding those who choose to cause harm in this manner accountable is critical to the safety of survivors. For some respondents, even when they tried to report the abuse there wasn’t much help. One survivor shared “I didn’t make a police report because there was ‘no point’ they said. Hard to trace and no resources. Currently there are pictures of me [online], and I can’t stop them.” The stigma and shame associated with experiencing online harassment and abuse caused some respondents to fear not being believed. It is important to validate the experiences of survivors in our lives and believe what they are going through and the harm they are experiencing regardless of whether it is happening online or IRL. By sharing validating information, ideas for internet safety and privacy, and other resources, we can make sure people who experience online harassment and abuse are supported in the best ways possible.

If you or someone you know is experiencing online harassment and abuse from a current or ex romantic partner, do know that support and resources are available. Our advocates are here 24/7 to offer support, education, and help with creating a safety plan if needed.

Review our full Online Harassment and Abuse summary to learn more about the data and key takeaways from the survey.