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Cyber-victimisation of People with Disabilities

  • Published: 2017-02-04 (Revised/Updated 2017-06-23) : Dr Zhraa Alhaboby (nccr@beds.ac.uk).
  • Synopsis: Information and research survey regarding online victimisation of people with disabilities.
Cyberbullying and Cyberstalking

Cyberbullying or cyberharassment is a form of bullying or harassment using electronic forms of contact. Harmful bullying behavior can include posting rumors about a person, threats, sexual remarks, disclose victims' personal information, or pejorative labels (i.e., hate speech).

Cyberstalking is the use of the Internet or other electronic means to stalk or harass an individual, group, or organization. It may include false accusations, defamation, slander and libel. It may also include monitoring, identity theft, threats, vandalism, or gathering information that may be used to threaten, embarrass or harass.

Main Document

Quote: "The findings so far indicate that cyber-victimisation against people with disabilities is prevalent with devastating impact."

Do you live with a disability? Have you ever been harassed, bullied or threatened? The discrimination against people with disabilities existed since ancient history.

Research on victimisation showed that people with disabilities are consistently at higher risk of targeting, mainly due to the socio-cultural influence and being seen "different" in lifestyle or physical appearance. The advancements in technology and electronic communication have further influenced these experiences. The Internet became part of our everyday lives for socialisation, work, health support or using online services. Despite these benefits the Internet has also carried the risk of victimisation to the online context. Online offenders today have easy-access methods to use, with anonymity and less restrictions to geographical areas. Subsequently, cyber-victimisation experiences emerged increasingly.

Cyber-victimisation is an anti-social behaviour by the offender(s) toward the victim(s) using an electronic mean of communication that triggers fear and distress. It includes - but not limited to - sending harassing messages, unwanted phone calls, sending threats, spreading lies, or contacting the social network of the victim. Cyber-victimisation has been reported against people with disabilities, however the terminology used in each case could vary.

Cyberharassment include the intimidation of the victim using an electronic mean, which according to our previous research has a negative impact on health and social relations, leaving the victims struggling for both health and support by the police. However, victims often find themselves isolated, not believed and denied of support. Cyberstalking also involves using electronic means but such cases show more fixation on the victim.

Cyber-bullying is another term used when there is a perceived power imbalance between the victim and the offender, hence it is usually reported in schools or in the workplace. All of these experiences are documented against people with disabilities, and when there is perceived prejudice underlying them they could be categorised as cyber-disability hate incidents or crimes.

Despite the evidence of the existence of these experiences, victims face obstacles in getting support from some formal channels, with many recognisable charity organisations trying to help. In a previous work done in the UK at the National Centre for Cyberstalking Research, people with disabilities who experienced cyberharassment shared various experiences such as the lack of expertise and training in supportive channels and the complexity of laws when it comes to cyber-offences and disability. Victims were also affected by the "misrepresentation of self", where the offenders used the disability to get closer to the victim or to gain more information that was used later for harassment.

In order to further scope the frequency and impact of cyber-victimisation on people with disabilities and to improve support available, we launched a new project exclusively focusing on the cyber-victimisation of people with disabilities and/or long term conditions. The research started with an online survey, and those who have cyber-victimisation experiences were invited to talk in-depth about their experiences in further interviews. We understand that this research should be fully informed by people with disabilities to guide it and guide us for our future work, hence we need input from people to help us build a better understanding and more inclusive future research and practice.

Another arm in this project is contacting GPs and the Police as supportive channels because most of the victims were not believed or perceived lack of training. Hence we talked to GPs to get their perceptions on the impact cyber-victimisation has on people with disabilities and what to be done to support victims.

The findings so far indicate that cyber-victimisation against people with disabilities is prevalent with devastating impact. The research is still open, with a final call for participants, any input from you is highly valuable and it will influence the direction of this project.

You can fill the survey in the following link:
https://bedshealthsciences.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_bpje8aRuFzUZEC9

Or you can contact the team directly to arrange an in-depth interview: nccr@beds.ac.uk

If you are a GP and want to share your opinion and/or practical experience:
https://bedshealthsciences.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_6zBHpZ6st4uCHKR

Dr Zhraa Alhaboby

Qualified medical doctor, Researcher at the Institute for Health Research (IHR) and the National Centre for Cyberstalking Research (NCCR), University of Bedfordshire

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