Police are becoming increasingly worried about an alarming number of domestic disputes between intimate partners over smartphone and Internet activity.
Deputy Commissioner Erwin Boyce was examining the changing nature of online bullying when he promised to unleash a major crackdown on cyber stalking, revenge pornography and other forms of cyber abuse.
His comments came as he addressed the launch of a training manual by the group, ‘No! To Online Abuse and Harassment (NOAH) at United Nations House on Friday.
“We view mobile devices and computers as part of everyday living. We cannot live without that but equally too, we have found it to be detrimental to relationships,” the deputy commissioner told a modest group of activists and interest group representatives.
“On a day-to-day basis, we see a phone that is password protected – your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife enters the phone, sees a conversation that is perhaps three words long and develops an opinion that creates a situation and a conflict. Then you have a physical exchange and then the instrument itself gets damaged. So we don’t only see it as an offence against the person, but we also see offences against property.”
Boyce identified revenge porn as the most prevalent and destructive type of cyber abuse in Barbados and said this has been the case since the 1990’s. He however said the development of mobile technology and smart devices has made such offences much easier to perform increasing the need for the force to improve its response.
“Indeed we recognise the face of change and evolving demands on the force are such that we cannot only depend on our internal capabilities to meet the external needs, nor can we depend on a tightly coupled relationship with a handful of partners to meet the goal.
“We believe we must be open and act decisively if we are to be stewards of our resources as loyal sons, daughters and protectors of freedom. Like you, the police recognise the pervasive use of social media and we agree that while most of the conversation will be innocuous, there is ample evidence the medium is being used to facilitate a range of illegal activities including bullying, deviance, and harassment. Our day-to-day experiences have taught us that those ills have a devastating effect and scar many victims for life,” Boyce acknowledged.
Five young people started NOAH in 2016 in response to an increase in online harassment, cyber bullying and revenge porn, leading to the charity’s registration.
According to NOAH’s President Ashell Forde: since then, the group has been conducting research, gathering data from the public, victims, psychologists, social workers and law enforcement, which revealed no age group was unaffected, though youth ages 18 to 34 were most seriously impacted.
“When we formed the organisation and started talking about online harassment on social media amongst our peers, making public appearances and talking to PTAs [Parent Teacher Associations], victims started coming to us.
“People literally walked up to us on the streets and told us about their experience. It was slow at first, but it grew and we realised some similarities with the stories our victims were telling. We realised victims seemed more open and willing to speak to us than they were to law enforcement. Most of them did not contact police, but the ones that did, expressed dissatisfaction with the response that they got. So we realised we had a resource that could be useful to the police force,” said Forde. [email protected]