| 08.08.2023

Workplaces cannot afford to ignore digital intimate partner violence – here's why

Händer på ett tangentbord i ett mörkt rum
Digital intimate partner violence is not only affecting the victim but potentially also any workplace, even yours and mine. It cannot be ignored, especially by managers and others with power to do something about it, says Charlotta Niemistö, project leader at Hanken School of Economics.

Porträttbild av Charlotta Niemistö
Charlotta Niemistö

Together with Professor Emeritus Jeff Hearn, Associate Professor Matthew Hall and Associate Professor Ruth Lewis, Niemistö has co-written the article The Spread of Digital Intimate Partner Violence: Ethical Challenges for Business, Workplaces, Employers and Management Opens in new window , published in the Journal of Business Ethics.

The development of information and communication technologies have massively extended the potential for abusers to exert power and control. Digital violence can range from sending derogatory e-mails, putting abusive comments on people’s bank statements, posting genuine or fake sexually explicit images online to hacking lighting-systems to turn on the lights in the night.

”Workplaces are no longer separated from everything else, the borders and boundaries have become much more blurred. People’s non work life situations are relevant to their workplaces in all sorts of ways”, says Professor Emeritus Jeff Hearn.

Productivity and reputation at stake

Digital intimate partner violence can affect many groups of people within and around an organisation, as well as, for example, whole work communities, customer relations, productivity and reputation. Niemistö says that businesses and workplaces have an ethical responsibility that goes beyond legal responsibilities.

”Organisations need to be proactive and develop strategic organisational policy guidelines on safe working environments”, says Niemistö. Without a clear ethical approach, workplaces can exacerbate the problems.

Porträttbild av Jeff Hearn
Jeff Hearn

According to Jeff Hearn, security breaches such as stolen passwords, is another problem. Perpetrators may also contact co-workers and managers to gather or share information about their victim. Digital intimate partner violence can be experienced during the working day, even in the middle of a work meeting, and is a workplace and business concern also in terms of productivity and profitability.

”Employees who are victims experience emotional stress at home and work, they might need time away from work to seek health and legal support, or they even have to move locality to avoid or escape the perpetrator”, says Hearn.

Mainly women are targeted

According to global studies, over 50% of women and girls over 15 experience violence at some point in their lives. It’s no surprise that mainly women are targeted when it comes to digital intimate partner violence. There are also reports of relatively higher victimisation in the LGBTIQA + community. The perpetrators are usually men.

”Some studies have shown that the perpetrators are generally young adult men but I would be a bit cautious about that. The familiarity with technology is becoming more common across generations compared to 20 years ago”, says Hearn.

Today many tech companies are trying to make sure that their technology is not being misused, through coercive control resistant design. In 2020, IBM for example, listed five technology design principles to combat domestic abuse Opens in new window .

But as we know, technology is moving faster than ever before. AI being one of the latest examples of the rapid technological change.

“AI, along with other advanced technologies such as virtual and immersive realities, create even further possibilities for those who seek to abuse and violate others, whether (ex-)partners, work colleagues or customers. Organisations need to prepare for such things, in terms of, for example, ethical training and information, disciplinary procedures, and security measures.”

Jeff Hearn and Charlotta Niemistö work at Hanken’s GODESS research and development institute Opens in new window that focuses on research areas of gender, organisation, diversity, equality, and social sustainability.

Text: Jessica Gustafsson