Opinion: Given Risk of Tech Abuse, Online Learning Must Include Sex Ed

The COVID-19 pandemic has created many overlapping crises, and brought long-existing societal problems to the surface, including intimate partner violence. Typical narratives around intimate partner violence focus on physical violence between adults within a home. But those of us who work with survivors know the reality of abuse is much more complicated and begins much earlier. Verbal harassment, threats to emotional safety, and financial control can overlap and also escalate to physical violence.

One of the most under-the-radar types of intimate partner violence is technological abuse—harm perpetrated over the internet, cellphone, or any form of digital communication. When the city shut down to prevent the spread of coronavirus, most New Yorkers were confined to their homes. Much of our communication shifted online, creating an environment where this kind of abuse can thrive unnoticed. Experts believe that not only have domestic violence incidents increased during shutdown—demonstrated by an uptick in calls to the city’s hotline and police reports—but other kinds of intimate partner violence, including technological abuse, are also on the rise.

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This kind of abuse is pervasive, particularly among young adults—50 percent of young people aged 14 to 24 years old say they’ve experienced tech-based harm. About one in four say they have been harassed by a romantic partner via text, and that they feel a romantic partner checks up on them too often.

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