Family Violence Cyber Security Assistance

Family Violence Cyber Security Assistance

Mr GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (17:58): (1721) My adjournment debate is for the Minister for Police. The Nicholson Project is a joint pilot between Wayss family violence service and Protective Group. This initiative is privately funded, aimed at minimising the technology-facilitated abuse of family violence survivors.

The way it works is a referral is made via police to Wayss, and then Protective Group are able to remotely access the victim-survivor’s devices, such as iPads, computers and phones, once permission is granted.

Protective Group then conduct a thorough check of all hard drives, search for and remove any spyware and malicious programs, conduct an audit of the victim-survivor’s social media settings and then change all of their passwords. Protective Group staff are all ex-police, corrections and ASIO, so they understand security and the complexities of family violence. On the day my office spoke to Protective Group last week they had already accepted 20 job requests, all women seeking refuge, needing their devices swept. This has been exacerbated through COVID but also reflects society’s reliance on technology. CEO Steve Wilson said they are busier than they have ever been.

In 2020 Wayss responded to over 8000 family violence reports from Victoria Police. Wayss provides services across Greater Dandenong, Casey, Kardinia, Mornington Peninsula and Frankston, but I understand that tech sweeping is available across the state through Orange Door referrals.

As the minister may know through some statements I have made in this place on previous occasions, online and tech abuse is rife in family violence. Research shows that 99.3 per cent of family violence practitioners say their clients have been victimised using technology in some form. This is incredibly scary. Further research with frontline family violence workers by peak domestic violence network Wesnet found tracking and monitoring of women by perpetrators had risen 244 per cent between 2015 and 2020 and the most common abuse experienced with physical family violence is stalking, often through technology.
The former husband of a victim-survivor whom Ms Maxwell and I met with at Parliament was tracking her movements through the location services on her child’s iPad. He found her at a refuge.

This was despite intervention orders being in place and his being formally charged with family violence crimes. It seems that she was not referred on to services such as Protective Group to have her devices cleaned. Of further concern in this case is that both Safe Steps and Victoria Police did not ask specific tech questions despite this woman and her kids being classed as high risk.
If Orange Door are not directly involved with a victim-survivor, this risk assessment could very well be missed. This type of risk assessment does not seem very well known, and to my knowledge police are not trained to instruct a victim-survivor on how to conduct their own safety check.

Whilst it may seem as though this is a question for the Minister for Prevention of Family Violence, the action that I am actually seeking is for the Minister for Police to consider rolling out additional training to Victoria Police officers to assist victims of crime in sweeping their devices to keep them safe from perpetrators.