A PERTH university researcher has commissioned a study into the high rates of stalking within the LGBTI community, which comes in light of recent news of security flaws found in a popular hook-up phone app.

Based on anecdotal evidence, the study by Curtin University senior lecturer Dr Lorraine Sheridan will examine the apparent higher-than-average rates of harassment and stalking experienced by LGBTI people.

Dr Sheridan has been researching issues surrounding stalking and has campaigned for survivor rights for 18 years. Her work, which has appeared in over 50 scientific papers, on stalking has also been influential in informing change within federal laws.

The Curtin University research comes on the heels of recent news from SBS2’s The Feed about a security flaw found within the popular gay hook-up/dating phone app, Grindr, which led to several serious cases of stalking and harassment in Russia.

Grindr has over 500 million users in almost 200 countries, many of which still have varying views on homosexuality that has resulted in wide-spread violence and discrimination.

Apps like Grindr are reportedly popular within these countries as it can provide a much more discreet means to meet other gay men, instead of public spaces.

A security flaw was revealed recently where accessing Grindr’s servers from three different places and triangulating the information could extrapolate specific data of a user’s location. The data was said to be so precise, it could pinpoint where a user was within their house.

In Russia, 2311 users were found, making them vulnerable to the country’s infamous “gay propaganda” legislation and homophobic violence. In Iran, where the death penalty is enforced, 349 men were identified.

On September 5, Grindr’s blog explained that the company was taking measures to keep its users safe in places prone to violence against the gay community.

The “show distance” function has been completely removed in certain regions according to messages now published within the app.

In a country like Australia where gay and bisexual men who use the app are fortunate to not have to worry about law enforcement crackdown, security flaws within the cyber world could still be a potential problem, according to Dr Sheridan.

“Phones are probably the most important tool that a stalker has… Phones can be used to send messages, speak to victims, track victims, etc,” Dr Sheridan told the Star Observer.

Cyber harassment was very common in results from a study of 1051 self-defined stalking victims conducted by Dr Sheridan two years ago in Australia, the UK and the USA.

“Almost half (47.5 per cent) reported harassment via the internet, but only 7.2 per cent of the sample was judged to have been cyberstalked,” Dr Sheridan said.

“A majority of cases that started online then moved into the physical world. Almost 90% had been bothered via phones. The study set out to examine whether cyberstalking represents a distinct form of stalking, or is simply one more invasive technique available to the stalker.

“Overall, the findings provided a picture more of similarity between stalking cases that range from purely on-line to exclusively off-line, than of marked difference. So, we concluded that cyberstalking is a question of degree, rather than a distinct form of contact.”

While the very nature of offline stalking and harassment made physical assaults and abuse more common, verbal abuse was common in the cyber world.

“Physical violence was more common in the purely offline group but stalking that began online frequently led to physical violence and vandalism. Verbal abuse occurred in a majority of cases,” Dr Sheridan said.

“In terms of effects on the victim, offline stalking was associated more with changes to the victim’s social and employment spheres, while online stalking was more strongly associated with loss of family and friends.

“Perhaps the most important finding in terms of effects on victims was that levels of all medical and psychological effects, and most social and financial effects did not differ significantly according to degree of cyber involvement.”

According to Dr Sheridan, disabled people were over-represented as online stalking victims.

“In the current work, disabled persons were over-represented as the victims of online stalkers, and it is possible that the disabled can yield heightened benefits from using the internet to order and arrange various services,” she said.

The Curtin study — which is now available online — is seeking LGBTI people along with the heterosexual community, to complete a survey that aims to increase understanding of harassment, how it’s viewed and experienced and further inform support and investigative services.

“We did some work on male rape in London and found that gay men who had been assaulted has particular needs that were not being met,” Dr Sheridan said.

“Maybe this work could also identify that stalking victims in the LGBTIQ community mate have particular needs that service providers need to know about.”

Watch The Feed’s story on the Grindr security flaw:

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