In the wake of the high profile death of media personality Charlotte Dawson, whose fight against trolling and cyberbullying was well documented, we are now seeing more calls for a change to the culture of online abuse. But are we yet realising the extent of the damage that has been happening right before our eyes?

It is hard to imagine that as recently as the 60s and 70s it was socially acceptable that a man might ‘rough up’ his wife— on the Internet abuse occurs daily that we are similarly accepting of and sometimes completely blind to. Perhaps in twenty years time we will look at the kinds of crimes carried out against people anonymously on the Internet and see much more clearly the nature of the violence and the wide spread abuse that can be harnessed with communication technology, blackmail and the self-appointed broadcast culture that new media and the internet has given rise to. There are no bruises, no bats and knives and yet the damage is very real, and all-pervasive, through stalking, psychological abuse and targeted online harassment. This is having a sociological effect we are yet to fathom the full extent of. Ray Karam explains:

Ray KaramBy Ray Karam

I am a former NSW Police officer with just under 13 years service behind me. I remember in the early 1990’s how we handled domestic violence cases. At that point we didn’t even know them as ‘domestic violence cases,’ they were just referred to as an ‘argument’ or a ‘dispute’ and then it seemed like almost overnight the wording changed and all of a sudden everything was a ‘domestic’.

This is not a critique of the Police, there are many great people working in the Police Force doing an outstanding job. This is more an identification that the laws aren’t always in step with where we are heading as a society. It seems society leads the way and the laws slowly follow.

Domestic Violence became a recognised crime gradually — I watched how more focus was put onto these cases as more and more people, were seriously hurt, injured or killed. Over time there were more forms to fill out, more directions for Police, specific charges were created and Apprehended Violence Orders (AVO’s) become a necessity. But was this type of crime increasing or did we just become more willing to see it?

I remember the crimes were always there, but the way we dealt with them and saw them in the early 1990’s was extremely different to the way we dealt with the same crimes 10 years later. There were a lot of people injured and affected as domestic violence law’s were made adequate. I remember being confused and frustrated as things changed, how was it that it took so long for the procedures to be put in place so that this type of crime could be dealt with simply and decisively. Why did we wait?

The way we understand definitions of Domestic Violence has now also changed. In the beginning unless some one was physically injured, most of the time no action would be taken. Then we began to recognise emotional or psychological abuse, harassment and stalking and the law and guidelines changed. We now recognise that violence is not necessarily physical. So the nature of the crimes didn’t change, these things were always there but just never ‘seen’ or dealt with.

In other words we were looking at these crimes for one thing, physical injury or assault, if that wasn’t present then we thought no crime had been committed. It was almost like by looking for the physical side we became blind to what else was already there. We can say now that isn’t the case but at one point this is how it was. Aren’t we dealing with the same situation again on the internet? Why are we again looking for only physical damage as a measure of harm done?

There are real crimes and extremely serious crimes being committed on the Internet with a frequency and with a particular type of violence that I have never seen before. And yet for the most part we remain blind to it. But I see the laws and awareness to these crimes like we once saw domestic violence, one or ten steps behind, trying to ‘keep up’ rather than leading the way and being representative of the type of society we want for ourselves – a society where all people have a right to live and interact safely on and offline without the threat of harm.

I worked in the inner Sydney suburb of Redfern for nearly 10 years and saw all manner of crimes and people. I remember watching how things worked and being frustrated daily at the lack of support for Police to do their job. I would see laws and directions given to the Police in what we called then a “knee jerk reaction.” Why were the laws not there before? Why do the laws and guidelines always follow after sometime and then only go part of the way? In other words, we have a vast knowledge and database within the Police, why aren’t we using this as a guide to see where the laws and guidelines should be? At this point the laws and guidelines appear to be set by an external influence, there is very little input from the ground up. I say the game needs to change because it has been shown that it is not working.

Currently laws that relate to a public place or to a face-to-face meeting do not have any equivalent when it comes to Internet-based crimes. We see crimes in a public place and in a face-to-face confrontation as being of a more ‘serious’ nature than those committed on the Internet. But is this really the case? Or again are we failing or falling short of seeing what is truly happening here? The Internet has a far wider audience and is available to billions globally. A crime in the street may be seen by 100 but the same crime committed on the Internet may be seen by millions, but not only that the crime on the street will be cleared or cleaned up. On the other hand the Internet becomes a permanent record for everyone to access. To me, crime is out of control on the internet and at this point it appears it is being treated as a ‘no go zone’. Crimes on the Internet are committed with a frequency that can become staggering. If I want to physically abuse my neighbour I have to at least leave my house and confront him. But on the Internet, I can abuse the same neighbour and millions of people in an instant with the touch of a button.

The laws need to change and we need to change how we are with them. It is time start to look at the Internet as the biggest and most significant public space we have and open our eyes to the crimes being committed there. These crimes, particularly those that intimidate, threaten, harass with intent to harm and deliberately target people’s reputations and businesses, clearly need to be addressed. And we may say – ‘they are not physical they are just ‘online’, but the effects of those crimes are on real people in the real world.

If our attitude is – ignore it, don’t go online or to those sites, then back in the 90’s we should have just told everybody to not go outside, stay only indoors, or not get married, live alone, and that way there will be no domestic violence.

 

About the Author: Ray Karam is a former NSW Police officer with 13 years experience in the field. Currently living in Northern New South Wales, he is a business owner and father to five young children. He has an ongoing interest in developing standards of community safety and facilitating discussion in the area of National crime prevention.

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