The Open University awarded £7.7m to protect women and girls online

Researchers at The Open University (OU) have been awarded £7,730,000 from Research England to create a new centre for protecting women against violence online.

Last year, The Open University released findings from the largest-ever survey conducted about online violence against women and girls. It revealed that one in 10 women in England (10%) have experienced online violence, three in 10 (30%) have witnessed online violence, and one in eight (13%) have experienced violence online that then progressed to offline violence. The findings also showed that seven in 10 women (68%) believe that current legislation is ineffective at tackling the problem.

The centre, to be based in Milton Keynes, will develop research to inform law, policy, technology development and practice to prevent and reduce harms suffered by women and girls online. The centre is expected to open later this year, with a cross-faculty and cross-disciplinary team led by Professor Olga Jurasz.

Professor of Law, Olga Jurasz, who has led the research into online violence against women and girls at The Open University, said:

“Women and girls are facing an epidemic in online violence, and the lines between ‘online’ and ‘offline’ spaces are becoming increasingly blurred, which allows violence against women and girls (VAWG) to thrive.

The work of this centre will be vital in advancing knowledge and understanding of the phenomenon of online violence, and will enable us to make a lasting difference in improving women’s safety.”

The online VAWG survey research forms part of the OU’s Open Societal Challenges Programme, which aims to tackle some of the most important societal challenges of our time through impact-driven research that will transform lives and drive societal change.

Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Research and Innovation, Kevin Shakesheff, said:

“Through our Open Societal Challenges programme, the OU is committing its academic expertise to tackle some of the world’s most important challenges of our time. This award to one of our Open Societal Challenges projects and the subsequent establishment of a leading research centre for protecting women online is evidence of the real-world impact that our Open Societal Challenges programme is having, with outputs from the centre helping to make the internet a safer place for women and girls.”

Plans for the centre will see the research team adopt an interdisciplinary approach by partnering with local businesses and organisations in England to provide local impacts. They will also work with global tech companies to co-design solutions that will provide accountability and help advance justice for victims of online harms.

The funding from Research England is part of a £156m investment from its Expanding Excellence in England Fund, or E3, supporting universities to expand their outstanding research units.