On 26th and 27th October 2017, we will be welcoming over a hundred national and international practitioners, technologists, and academics to Melbourne at our 2nd Annual Technology Safety Summit. As we’re gearing up, we’ve been reflecting on what technology safety – and specifically technology safety education – means to us.

More than turning off location services

Often, when people think of technology safety, they think that to be “tech-safe,” they just need to turn off certain settings on their accounts or devices. Essentially, if they turn off location services and don’t use Facebook, the thinking goes, they’re safe. But broad and blanket statements that basically tell people to not use their technology the way it is intended, is not very helpful and may cause unintended harm.

Technology safety is not a checklist of what to do or what not to do; it’s about having the skills to critically assess safety and privacy risks and develop strategies that reflect the identified risks. ‘Technology safety’ for any individual is dynamic and can change based on technology innovation, the circumstances and relationships in their life, and how they use their technology.

WESNET’s technology safety education is about helping workers and survivors of domestic and family violence learn those important skills, so they are empowered and can make informed decisions that are right for them. Understanding one’s personal risks and being able to make informed decisions about how to address those risks is more helpful than going through a checklist of what not to do.

Technology facilitated abuse is not caused by technology

Another core tenant of WESNET’s technology safety education is the understanding that technology safety is not about how technology is used to harm, but how an abusive person uses technology as a tool to harm. A person is abused because they have an abuser; not because they have a smartphone, are using a dating app, or are talking to friends on Facebook.

When the focus is on the technology and not the abusive person’s behaviour, one of the consequences we’ve seen is that either the technology or the survivor’s reliance on that technology is blamed. “If only she wasn’t so obsessed with her phone,” we’ve heard some say. Or: “If only we didn’t have technology – then none of this would be a problem.” With this type of response, the abusive person’s behaviour is not even acknowledged and becomes completely minimised.

While educating survivors and workers on how they can use their technology more safely and privately is important to us, we also don’t forget the other important part of this equation: accountability of the abusive person’s behaviour.

Technology safety is more than education

For us, technology safety is more than just education (although that is important). Technology safety includes advocating on technology security and privacy policy issues to ensure that survivors’ voices are a part of those discussions. It includes supporting technology innovation that truly support survivors of abuse by ensuring that developers understand the issue they are innovating for. It also includes supporting all practitioners, from frontline workers to police to the courts, on how to address technology-facilitated abuse and support survivors. Because we know, technology safety is more than just turning off location services.

On October 26th and 27th, we will spend two days looking at this intersection of technology and violence against women. We will be talking to practitioners, researchers, and technologists on how technology is used to harm domestic violence and sexual assault victims, but more importantly, what we can do about it. It’ll be a complex and nuanced discussion of the issue, the challenges, and how we can support survivors while holding abusers accountable.