More resources and support systems are needed for victims of digital abuse. The Digital Trust Foundation funded organizations that provide support services to victims and projects that contribute to the digital abuse policy debate. We funded five diverse projects that provide resources and support to digital abuse victims.
All project summaries were written by grantees.
Grantee: The Brookings Institution
Project: Sextortion – A Growing Problem of Digital Abuse
Sextortion is remarkably understudied. Despite the rash of sextortion cases online, press attention to the issue has been modest, particularly in comparison to the dramatic press attention to issues of online bullying and child pornography.Scholars have never sought to identify and study, in systematic fashion, the entire universe of sextortion prosecutions. The consequence of this gap in the literature is that some key questions of sextortion law and policy either have been answered only partially, or never raised in the first place. The Governance Studies’s Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution will undertake the first systematic study of sextortion cases and prosecutions to date. We will collect data on both state-and federal-level sextortion cases and build a dataset that identifies: the universe of sextortion prosecutions in the United States; the statutes under which prosecutors brought charges; and the sentences they obtained. By doing this, we planto identify variability across cases.Research will result in an initial paper that will be principally descriptive, including both an account of the scope of the sextortion problem and an account of how authorities are handling it under existing law. Subsequent analysis of the dataset will, in a second paper, allow for a broader analysis of the current state of sextortion law and policy. Each paper will have a tailored dissemination plan.
HeartMob will leverage existing expertise on harassment and bystander intervention to provide a platform where victims can safely report their digital abuse and volunteers can respond. The goal of the project is to provide real time support to individuals experiencing digital abuse, and to ensure individual’s safety, security, and equality online.
Grantee: National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV)
Project: Knowledge is Safety: Legal Resources Addressing Technology Abuse & Privacy
Through the Knowledge is Safety project, the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) will increase online privacy, safety, and security for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking and their families through the creation or expansion of tools, information, and resources on criminal and civil remedies relating to technology-assisted abuse, harassment, and stalking. For victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking, the terms “online safety,” “privacy,” and “security” take on new meaning. While victims have to worry about general technology crimes that may be committed by strangers such as identity theft or hacking, they also have to worry about abusers misusing the Internet and various technologies to further harass or abuse. Through the Knowledge is Safety project, NNEDV is developing a comprehensive online toolkit that will help survivors understand (1) how they can be safe and secure online, (2) what laws might protect them, and (3) what their legal rights are when they experience abuse online or through technology. Knowledge is Safety leverages NNEDV’s breadth and depth of expertise on the topics of technology safety and the intersection of domestic violence and the law; over the past decade, NNEDV’s Safety Net project has developed a wide range of resources on how to use technology safely and securely for survivors, and NNEDV’s WomensLaw project was the first of its kind to harness the power of the Internet to empower victims of domestic and sexual violence by providing an easy-to-understand explanation of their states’ laws on WomensLaw.org and through the bilingual, confidential, and secure Email Hotline. By equipping survivors, advocates, and communities with tools to address online privacy, safety, and security, NNEDV hopes to help create a world where no one has to fear being online.
Grantee: Net Family News, Inc.
The purpose of this project is to pilot a Social Media Helpline for schools in the state of California during the 2015-’16 school year. The pilot will test the feasibility of a national helpline for schools, using the metrics and case studies it gathers in a state representing nearly 10% of US schools, with the goal of scaling up to nationwide service possibly as early as the 2016-’17 school year. Like its model in the United Kingdom, the helpline will help schools and districts resolve problems students and staff encounter in social media, e.g., cyberbullying and other forms of digital abuse. In the process, it will provide hands-on help with social media abuse cases; referrals to evidence-based risk-prevention, policy and implementation best practices; and access to a growing database of schools’ social media case studies. The project will be able to leverage and build on its founders’ longstanding work with social media companies, researchers and risk prevention specialists and experience in the field of education and student leadership.
Grantee: Without My Consent
Project: 50-State Project
Victims in digital domestic abuse cases want to know if: (1) they can sue the perpetrator(s) and/or report the abuse to law enforcement, (2) bringing suit would exacerbate their injuries given that litigation records could appear online, and (3) the court system would permit them to sue under a pseudonym. The 50-State Project will be a concise yet comprehensive resource answering these questions for every state (as well as for the federal courts) so that these questions are no longer barriers to the pursuit of civil and criminal remedies.
Project: Something Can Be Done! Guide
The Something Can Be Done! Guide – delivered in an FAQ-styled template to WMC’s resources page – will describe legal strategies to combat non-consensual distribution of nude photos in small claims, family, state, and federal courts. This project will serve digital abuse victims because we have cutting edge information to share – short cuts and tricks of the trade that should help make revenge porn remedies obtainable by ordinary people, not just celebrities and those who can spend six figures litigating against a judgment-proof defendant. The defendants in digital domestic abuse cases are usually low income or judgment proof; spending money (which we have seen can exceed $60,000) to litigate rarely makes sense for victims. For too long, victims have been told “nothing can be done” at every turn. And that is simply untrue. WMC wants victims and their supporters to know everything that can be done on every level to combat non-consensual porn.
Project: Lawyer Training Program
Without My Consent will develop and teach a half-day workshop on non-consensual porn law. The workshop will cover:
Civil law and how to tee up a criminal case: We will use actual cases, hypotheticals, and practitioner documents to take the participants through a complicated non-consensual porn scenario that draws on expertise related to complaint drafting, restraining orders against online abuse, the filing of pseudonymous civil suits, the unmasking of anonymous defendants, the application of copyright law, and the role of intermediaries. We will teach attendees how to tee up a criminal case and how the civil and criminal sides can work together to support each other’s work. The course will include practice pointers on working with victims, setting expectations about the legal process, and understanding the ethical issues in digital abuse cases.
How to work with intermediaries to facilitate takedowns: The course will include the most current information on how tech companies and law enforcement work together to facilitate takedowns.
Criminal law: The course will include sample subpoenas, applications for search warrants, and possibly scripts/role play regarding the exploitation of nude photos in cases investigated and prosecuted in real life.
WMC’s training will be national in scope. WMC welcomes and will seek out opportunities to work with law enforcement and prosecutors to collaborate on these trainings. In the future, WMC may seek additional funding to develop “Train the Trainer” workshops so our lawyer training program can be scaled to jurisdictions across the country.