Research Looks at the Cyber-Victimization of People with Chronic Conditions and Disabilities

By Zhraa Alhaboby, Medical Doctor, Author, and Researcher, University of Bedfordshire

In short, what is the study about?

This study is a systematic review of the literature. We prepared and followed a protocol to search in five established databases for any publication that tackled cyber-victimization of people with long-term conditions and disabilities. We were looking for the scope and impact of this experience on patients/victims. The results were screened and eventually out of 2,922 papers we included ten studies. A total of 3,070 individuals, aged 6-71 years, and living with chronic conditions were covered. We found that people with chronic conditions and disabilities were consistently at higher risk of cyber-victimization with disturbing impact on wellbeing.

What would be the most important take-home messages from the study?

Cyber-victimization is prevalent against people living with chronic condition and disabilities. It ranged between 2 to 41.7%. Different definitions and terms were used, such as cyber-harassment, cyberstalking, cyberbullying, online victimization or online sexual exploitation. However, the studies were strict in design and did not take in-depth input from the victims. The definition of chronic conditions was broad and differences between specific types of long-term conditions were not acknowledged. The most common impact of cyber abuse was depression followed by anxiety, distress and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Physical health complaints and self-harm were also documented.

How are these findings important in practice?

The development and exacerbation of anxiety, depression, and PTSD among the victims is a serious issue. Hence, awareness raising and support for victims is recommended. The presence of physical complaints lead some victims to contact primary health services, which makes the role of general practitioners important to support them. This should be accompanied by consciousness while evaluating these cases in practice, due the variations in terminology and differences between specific chronic conditions, and subsequently the impact on each individual.

What other studies can be recommended to further an understanding/application of the findings?

This study was followed by a bigger study to examine the scope and impact of cyber-victimization on people living with long-term conditions and disabilities in the UK. The study was flexible and included all the categories of chronic conditions including mental health. With the help of more than 50 victim and patient support groups for recruitment. A mixed-method survey was distributed, the victims further volunteered for in-depth interviews, and input from general practitioners (GPs) was also obtained. The impact of cyber-victimization experience on the victims was devastating. Subsequently, a health promotion tool was developed to increase awareness and improve the support available to victims.


Challenges facing online research: Experiences from research concerning cyber-victimisation of people with disabilities

‘The language is disgusting and they refer to my disability’: the cyberharassment of disabled people

General Practitioners’ role in supporting the victims of cyber-abuse:

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Latest update: December 13, 2017
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