UCL Computer Science


Research Programme on “Tech Abuse” launches in February

27 January 2023

Dr Leonie Tanczer will soon embark on her UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship (FLF), which aims to protect victims/survivors of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) from the risks created by digital technologies.

woman at desk with laptop

Dr Leonie Tanczer, Associate Professor at UCL Computer Science, was among 84 UK researchers and scientists to be awarded the prestigious UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship in 2022.

Her Fellowship entitled “Revolutionising Online Safety” will establish the foundations to understand different forms of technology-facilitated abuse (so-called "tech abuse") and to pre-emptively inhibit Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) perpetrators from carrying out abuse via digital systems, rather than placing the responsibility on victims/survivors and expecting them to adjust their behaviour retrospectively.

On 1 February 2023, Dr Tanczer will officially begin her research, which has been supported with nearly £1.5 million for the next four years (2023-2026).

Throughout the duration of the study, Dr Tanczer will work closely with a variety of relevant project partners, including: 

  • IPV support organisations (Refuge, Respect, Suzy Lamplugh Trust, European Network for the Work with Perpetrators of Domestic Violence);
  • renowned academics (Prof Marianne Hester OBE, Prof Elizabeth Yardley, Professor Nicola Henry);
  • policy (Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, National Cyber Security Centre, College of Policing); and
  • industry (IBM, Kaspersky, Fujitsu, IoT Security Foundation) stakeholders.

All partners have agreed to provide their specialist expertise and join biannual Advisory Board meetings to offer feedback on the research and preliminary findings, and champion the research across different audiences.

Nicole Jacobs, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, welcomes the start of the project:

“We are seeing that perpetrators are using technology more and more to abuse their partners and ex-partners. It’s incredibly important we have a better understanding of all the different types of tech abuse victims face and use evidence from research to help stop perpetrators from using these avenues of control.

We are really pleased to see this research being done by Leonie and her team and very much look forward to working with them over the next few years. We are keen to support their ambition to change both technology and UK policy for the better.”

Ippo Panteloudakis, Head of Services at Respect and one of the project’s Advisory Board members, said:

“As a pioneering domestic abuse organisation, we have been leading on the development of safe, effective work with perpetrators, male victims, and young people who use violence, for the last 20 years.

We, thus, greatly welcome Leonie’s research focus on tech abuse perpetration. It closely matches Respect’s area of work. We are consequently curious about the impact that this research can have on perpetrator interventions.”

This strive for impact is echoed by Refuge, the largest domestic abuse organisation in England and a leading specialist agency working with women and their children experiencing technology-facilitated abuse. Emma Pickering, Senior Operations Tech Abuse Manager at Refuge, highlighted:

“We appreciate the emphasis of this Fellowship. Women shouldn’t be forced offline or required to stop using the latest technologies for fear of abuse or harassment.

Still, almost 2 million women in the UK have experienced online domestic abuse. This is an unacceptable number, and we hope that this research can help make a difference to women’s online safety and security.”

Lesley Nuttal, lead author of IBM’s “Five technology design principles to combat domestic abuse”, said:

"IBM is committed to finding ways of ensuring technology shapes lives and society for the better. Tackling and raising awareness - both within the tech sector and beyond - of the emerging issue of technology facilitated abuse is an important step on the path to inherently safer technology. To achieve this, we believe collaborations with academics are an effective way to develop long-term and user-focused solutions. We are, therefore, excited to play a part in this timely and transformative research project."

The Fellowship will also include policy and industry secondments for Dr Tanczer and her staff, as well as research visits to the University of Melbourne and Cornell Tech.

Australia is currently a hub for research on tech abuse and a champion of online safety developments, having established a dedicated eSafety Commissioner. Cornell Tech in the US is home to the first “Clinic to End Tech Abuse” (CETA). The latter brings together academics, domestic abuse practitioners, and volunteers to assist IPV victims and survivors affected by the misuse of digital technologies.

Further details about Dr Tanczer’s UKRI Fellowship and her growing “Gender and Tech” research team at UCL can be found on the UCL Computer Science website. Interested parties are also encouraged to sign up for the group’s monthly newsletter.