Sexual harassment or violence need not always be physical.
For instance, a perpetrator could maliciously spread nude photos online of a former partner without consent.
Such “revenge pornography” is among the sexual assault cases involving technology the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) saw last year.
Of the 338 cases its Sexual Assault Care Centre dealt with, 57 – or one in six – involved some form of technology to facilitate or exacerbate sexual violence or harassment.
The statistics released yesterday were from a report by University of Liverpool criminology lecturer Laura Vitis.
The most common type of assault was image-based sexual abuse, which 30 victims reported. These included revenge pornography, sextortion or attempts to extort or coerce using nude images.
There was also sexual voyeurism, where the victims were filmed without consent.
Ms Anisha Joseph, manager of the Sexual Assault Care Centre, said: “Disturbingly, some perpetrators also profited off these images, for example, by exchanging them to pay off a debt or selling them online.”
The second most common type was contact-based sexual harassment, such as via text messages with explicit content, calls or non-consensual outings on social media. Many of the perpetrators were colleagues or employers.
In eight of the 57 cases, women who were raped or sexually assaulted also met their perpetrators in an online space such as via dating apps.
The recent increase in the number of “upskirting” cases – when someone takes a picture up a woman’s skirt – also shows how sexual voyeurism has become common in public spaces, especially on public transport, said Aware.
One particular challenge about technology-facilitated sexual assault cases is that the police may have trouble going after the suspects when the content is outside local jurisdictions, noted Aware.
Another is the perception that sexual harassment or threats in online spaces or through technology “are wrongly thought to be less ‘real’ compared with physical contact”, said Ms Anisha. “…We must take the social and psychological harm of online violence and harassment seriously.”