A new study from researchers at the University of Melbourne spoke to perpetrators about the emotions and motivations associated with engaging in Technology-Facilitated Abuse in Relationships (TAR). 

Using the story-completion method, 35 self-identified perpetrators described scenarios that may precede abusive online behaviours. The report includes policy, practice and research recommendations, informed by feedback from the the UK’s UCL Gender and Tech Research Team.

Key themes emerging from the research

Analysis of participants’ stories revealed three overarching themes:

  • Abusive behaviours and negative emotions: perpetrators in the study explored the anger, fear and/or sadness that sometimes informed a resolution to use technology in harmful ways. Feelings of suspicion often led to perpetrators searching for the “evidence” needed to confirm what they felt they already knew.
  • A loss of trust, a desire for control: This described motivations for using TAR in the relationship, demonstrating that doubts about a relationship may be linked to using TAR to control it.
  • Inhibitors of abusive behaviours: Researchers explored perpetrators’ stories that focused on the avoidance of using TAR behaviours, illuminating the promise of preventative programs, sound technological design, and rigorous training, leading to safer online experiences in the future.

Use of technology to harm

The research also outlines some of the ways perpetrators talked about how their harmful behaviours could manifest in TAR:

  • Use of life-logging software as spyware and trackers to monitor location
  • Using unauthorised access to messages or social media posts by the victim-survivor themselves or their friends, to monitor social interactions
  • Searching for data such as social interactions, private documents and financial information, potentially constituting monitoring and stalking
  • Non-consensually accessing and retaining image
  • Deleting search history to mask technological access


The report includes recommendations for policy, practice, and research. Respect members delivering Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Programmes will find these particularly relevant to their work

Policy recommendation

  • That TAR content be included and addressed in Behaviour Change Programs throughout the duration of group-work.

Practice recommendation

  • That service providers embed TAR in organisational Behaviour Change Program Manuals.

Research recommendations

  • That service providers embed TAR in organisational Behaviour Change Program Manuals.
  • That research is conducted with practitioners to ensure TAR educative and program needs are met. 
  • That research is conducted with program participants to ensure the strategies and motives of people who perpetrate violence are identified and are used to guide practitioner training and programme development.

Respect’s partnership with UCL’s Gender and Tech Research Team: an opportunity for accredited services

Very little research has been carried out globally on technology-facilitated abuse with perpetrators but the UK may soon be leading on this.

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 abusing through digital systems rather than placing the responsibility on victims/survivors to adjust their behaviour re-actively. The research started in February 2023 and has been supported with nearly £1.5 million for the next four years (2023-2026).

UCL’s Gender and Tech Research Team, under Dr Leonie Tanczer, will work closely with Respect to support its membership of accredited Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Intervention providers so that they become more skilled at working with tech-facilitated abuse. To understand how perpetrators use tech-facilitated abuse, Dr Tanczer’s team aim to interview perpetrators, whilst supporting facilitators to understand how technology can be a tool of abuse.

Respect-accredited services that are interested in being part of this globally leading research project can contact Dr Leonie Tanczer or Dr Nikos Koukopoulos for an informal chat to discuss how they can benefit by working with the Gender and Tech Research Team.

You can download the study report here!

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