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Sooraj Shah

Contributing Editor

Sooraj Shah is Contributing Editor of New Statesman Tech with a focus on C-level IT leader interviews. He is also a freelance technology journalist.

Quarter of revenge porn and social media hacks are precursors to domestic violence – UK cyber police

A quarter of cyber-dependent crimes, including revenge porn and the hacking of social media accounts, are precursors to domestic violence, according to research that has not yet been released by police in the UK’s cybercrime units.

At Cyber Security Connect UK in Monaco last month, Martin Peters, the detective chief inspector of the eastern region special operations unit (ERSOU ROCU), who leads the cyber and economic directorate, revealed how data that had been analysed had shown a significant link between these cyber-dependent crimes and domestic violence.

Peters gave an example of two people who were in a relationship parting ways. If one of those people then hacked their ex’s Facebook account, it would have been reported to Action Fraud. It would usually go no further than this.

However, Peters, who works for a Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU), which are trusted partners of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), said that with a quarter of those people who have committed some type of cyber-dependent crime, there is a potential domestic-related element, and now that the NCSC and police are aware of this, they can intervene earlier to help to reduce domestic violence from happening between these people.

“When we looked at the data we found that if we had got in several months before and charged the perpetrator for computer misuse offences, then you wouldn’t have ended up with domestic violence,” Peters said.

“When you look at coercive behaviour and controlling people, it takes a point to break that element of control. So the earlier you can break that, the easier it will be for the other person to make choices whether they want to stay [with the perpetrator] because these things have a tendency to continue,” he added.

In the past, there have been investigations around cyber-dependent crimes, including what Peters referred to as smutty videos being shared, where police and cybercrime units did not know how to deal with the issue, and therefore the investigation would keep being passed around different departments.

“It eventually got to the point of asking ‘why don’t you just deal with it and get them charged on the Computer Misuse Act’,” he said, adding that these types of crimes all show some form of wanting to control people, perhaps with the ultimate goal of trying to force their partners to take them back.

Now, the ROCUs, Action Fraud and others are working more closely together to notify each other of these incidents, so that they can intervene more swiftly.

In addition, Peters has worked with others in the Cyber PROTECT Network, to send out advice leaflets to all first-time reporters of domestic violence to ensure they’re changing their settings on social media, as well as information about the ‘find your phone’ apps and other ways to reduce the chances of perpetrators carrying out a cyber-dependent crime. The link between these crimes and domestic violence means that it can work both ways, whereby domestic violence comes before the cyber-dependent crime.

Peters said that domestic violence also causes long-lasting damage and can cause huge issues when children are involved.

“If children have seen it happen you’ve got psychological harm towards them. They then end up being children who then come from broken homes due to domestic violence, and some of those people then go on to commit crimes themselves,” he explained.