Twitter to train prosecutors in fight against online abuse

Crown Prosecution Service seeks help as internet is increasingly used to perpetrate violence against women

Twitter is to train prosecutors in England and Wales to better fight online abuse, as the internet is increasingly used as a weapon by perpetrators of domestic abuse, rape and sexual violence against women.

The Crown Prosecution Service said the US-based social network would help it contend with criminal activity such as using the internet to post explicit images of former partners – an offence under the new revenge pornography laws – and the monitoring and stalking of victims using spyware and GPS.

Jenny Hopkins, chief crown prosecutor and the CPS lead on violence against women, explained that experts were being brought in to train prosecutors and update their skills and knowledge.

“Social media is increasingly being used as a tool against women and I think it is really positive that Twitter is going to be training our lawyers in the months ahead,” Hopkins said.

Police and prosecutors are also seeing an increasing number of cases in which perpetrators use social media to facilitate crimes against women, including rape, blackmail, grooming, harassment and sexual violence.

The CPS is publishing new guidelines on prosecuting new and emerging social media crimes. For the first time, violence against women and girls has been highlighted as an area in which social media is being used by perpetrators. The guidelines are now out to public consultation for six weeks.

Alison Saunders, director of public prosecutions, said the use of multiple fake profiles by individuals on social media could, depending on the context, be a criminal offence. She added that new ways of targeting and abusing individuals online were constantly emerging and it was vital that prosecutors looked at the whole picture – both on and offline – when examining evidence.

“Worryingly, we have seen an increase in the use of cyber-enabled crime in cases related to violence against women and girls, including domestic abuse,” Saunders said. “Offenders can mistakenly think that, by using false online profiles and creating websites under a false name, their offences are untraceable. Thankfully, this is not the case and an online footprint will be left by the offender.”

The new CPS guidelines highlight the changing landscape in which violence against women is being perpetrated. “Online activity is used to humiliate, control and threaten victims, as well as to plan and orchestrate acts of violence,” the document says.