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Interpersonal cybercrime prevention


Victim-centred prevention strategies have been proposed to deal with interpersonal cybercrimes. Lawrence Cohen and Mark Felson's (1979) routine activity theory (RAT) holds that crime occurs when two elements are present - a motivated offender and a suitable target, and when one element is absent - a capable guardian (i.e., anything or anyone that can frustrate the perpetrator's attempts to commit crime).

According to RAT, to prevent a crime, at least one of the core elements - absence of a capable guardian, a motivated offender, or an available target - needs to be altered. To make crime less attractive for criminals, therefore, capable guardians, which can be people (e.g., parents, siblings, friends, partners, and others) or security solutions (e.g., privacy settings, parental controls, filtering or blocking software, etc.) are proposed. The theory holds that self-protection measures can serve as capable guardians and frustrate the attempts of criminals to approach, contact or otherwise target the victim.

These victim-centred prevention strategies enable victims to take immediate action to prevent interpersonal cybercrime (at least those who have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to do so) or at the very least frustrate the attempts of perpetrators of these cybercrimes. The main criticizm of such approaches is that it puts the burden of interpersonal cybercrime prevention on the victim, rather than on the institutions that are supposed to protect victims from harm (Maras, 2016; Henry, Flynn and Powell, 2018).

One of the most significant barriers to preventing violence and abuse concerns attitudes, beliefs and values. Unfortunately, many people continue to hold attitudes that blame the victims of interpersonal cybercrimes and minimize the harm associated with it. 2017 Australian research into image-based sexual abuse for example found that 70% of respondents agreed that 'People should know better than to take nude selfies in the first place, even if they never send them to anyone' and 62% agreed 'If a person sends a nude or sexual image to someone else, then they are at least partly responsible if the image ends up online' (Henry, Powell and Flynn, 2017). Overall, 1 in 2 men (or 50%) and 1 in 3 women (or 30%) in Henry, Powell and Flynn's (2017) research held attitudes that either minimized the harms or blamed the victims. Victim-blaming attitudes are not only problematic among perpetrators or potential perpetrators, but when those affected by image-based sexual abuse hold self-blaming attitudes, they are less likely to report or seek support (Powell, Henry and Flynn, 2018). When community members hold these attitudes, they may cause further harm to someone who discloses their victimization.

Interpersonal cybercrimes involving children have been addressed in many countries through parental controls and education initiatives. Research has shown that parental monitoring of children's Internet access and use and the amount of time spent online protects children from cyberbullying (Vakhitova and Reynald, 2014). Nevertheless, parents may not be able to monitor children's activities online and/or adopt the necessary technological solutions (e.g., filtering tools to block access to certain sites) to supervise children's access and online activities without assistance from others (e.g., schools, governments, child protection services, and relatives) (UNODC, 2015). Education initiatives teach children and parents about safe Internet use and cyberbullying. Because cyberbullying involves bullies, victims and bystanders, prevention efforts must include each of these actors. In view of that, non-profit organizations around the world have developed and published projects on Internet safety for children, in general, and cyberbullying, in particular, such as:

  • Childnet International, a non-profit organization based in the United Kingdom, created a film titled " Let's Fight it Together ". The film illustrates that cyberbullying impacts adversely on all those involved in the hope of sensitizing children to the harm caused by cyberbullying.
  • " Ditch the Label " is a non-profit organization (located in the United States, United Kingdom, and Mexico) that provides advice and support for those bullied and cyberbullied, and views both bullying and cyberbullying as behaviour that can be changed through awareness, education and coping strategies for victims and bystanders, and conflict resolution strategies for offenders of bullying and cyberbullying.
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