Abusive partner study

Perspectives on technology-facilitated abuse

My previous research on how technologies could be designed to better facilitate progress and engagement in abusive partner intervention projects (APIPs) identified that abusive partners may understand how they use technology to harm (‘tech abuse’) in a different way than non-abusive individuals. This work seeks to explore: a) the perspectives and experiences of professionals who work directly with abusive partners, and b) with abusive partners themselves, to better identify these differences. This is so that we can design interventions that are more responsive to the needs of those who harm and how we might design technologies that mitigate or aim to prevent these behaviours from happening in the first place.

Below, you will find information about my project, aims and how to get involved.

My background

My name is Rosanna Bellini and I performed my doctoral work in the area of intimate partner violence under supervision of Nicole Westmarland, by working closely with local councils, community groups, charities and non-profits. The digital tools I created across my doctoral work are still in use today, and focus on increasing engagement in APIP-related content and on improving awareness of abusive behaviours in-between APIP sessions. I have experience in working across a range of different delivery interventions, from one-on-one work, group work around peer support and psychosocial-based violence prevention programmes. This has included BIPs across both the United States where I worked with the groups in Duluth, Minnesotta, and groups in London, Durham and Newcastle. I was the first researcher alongside Nicole Westmarland to investigate the suitability of using video conferencing software to deliver Batterer Intervention Programmes, which came in handy during a global pandemic! I also have a practice-based background in working directly with women and men who have been subject to technology-facilitated abuse in their current or former intimate partnerships in the Clinic to End Tech Abuse, NYC.

Why are you doing this?

Abusive partners use a range of abusive behaviours that can be physical, psychological, economic and/or sexual to stalk, harass, control, intimidate or otherwise scare their victims. We know that technology can extend an abusive partner’s ability to inflict these harmful behaviours even after separation has occurred. Existing studies from the research group that I am part of on technology-facilitated abuse have provided an excellent insight the perspectives of survivors and professionals allowing us to better understand the range of different technical attacks that abusive partners might use. Yet there is a lack of understanding as to why abusive partners conduct these attacks, and what purpose they serve from an abusive partner’s perspective. We know that from services that work directly with abusive partners indicate that tailoring interventions to accommodate and challenge thought processes around abusive behaviours can lead to greater successes in desistance from abusive behaviours and increase the levels of safety for survivors. This project as led by myself at Cornell University seeks to understand tech abuse from the perspective of abusive partners themselves. We aim to complement this by an in-depth understanding as to how professional support workers manage these disclosures.

Okay, so what’s involved?

What we’re proposing is a project in two parts. You can get involved in either or both parts to the research

  1. Assist in hosting a co-designed tech abuse module focused on group discussion to elicit abusive partner perspectives and experiences on tech abuse
  2. A series of focus groups exploring professional responses to abusive partner disclosure around tech abuse

For Part 1. we aim to work directly with APIP providers and other organisations who assist abusive partners to implement co-designed discussion-based activities that explore tech abuse in greater depth. We have a great deal of expertise in researching this topic for the past five years and we would like to distribute this knowledge through co-designing a complementary tech abuse-based module or training session in existing APIPs/abusive partner interventions with providers. We feel that this could be especially handy for services looking to introduce tech abuse into their curriculum. In doing so, we hope to elicit insightful responses from abusive partners and insight from professional services in how they respond to disclosures.

For Part 2. we aim to gather professional service providers together together via a virtual focused group discussion around their experiences and perspectives on abusive partner disclosures on tech abuse. This will be coordinated across ENDGBV service providers using a video call.

Are there any potential risks involved?

This research resolves around asking questions about the use of violence which should always be handled with care and attention. I have been trained in the United Kingdom in working in intimate partner violence intervention contexts by the country’s largest vulnerable persons charity (NGO) Barnardo’s, and the intimate partner violence sector lead in working with abusers or ‘perpetrators; Respect UK. I also have a history of researching sensitive topics, has been granted approval for the handling of sensitive data and being present in multiple scenarios where emotional and distressing topics have been discussed.

For abusive partners, it may be challenging to discuss their use of harm and abuse against others. However, by ensuring that the co-designed module will not be the first module for a new group of abusive partners, hopefully this will mean that they may be more comfortable and confident to share their experiences with others, and by extension, professional service personnel including the lead researcher. Despite the sensitive topic of technology-facilitated abuse, their familiarity with discussions with the lead researcher’s co-facilitator and each other will help to mitigate the intensity of such material.

For the discussion with professional services, discussion around violence and abuse will be likely familiar to you as part of your everyday work. It is anticipated that appropriate counselling or supervision around sensitive activities is already provided by your organisation. The benefit of this research will be to identify a gap in research and practice, and could also be an opportunity for you to showcase ‘what works’ with abusive partners in relation to tech abuse.

What will happen if I want to take part?

If you agree to take part in Part 1. of our study, I’ll be in touch over email around adapting our research to co-design a module on tech abuse that is in line with your curriculum, your organisational goals and your capacity (staff, resources).

If you agree to take part in Part 2. of our study, we shall be in touch about scheduling a focus group with your fellow professional services in the coming months.

Getting in touch

If you would like to get involved or discuss this project further, please send me an email at rbellini@cornell.edu. If you know someone else who would be interested in participating, please feel free to share this webpage.