Evidence of abusive attitudes towards women became apparent last week, when Huffpost Lifestyle highlighted the existence of a sick online game in which users are invited to ‘Beat up Anita Sarkeesian’ (a young academic interested in the role of women in computer games).
While sexist trolling is a common and unpleasant feature of web life, the explicit nature of the game raised stark questions about whether such online behaviour had parallels in real life.
According to psychologist Kerry Dawes and author of The Devil You Know: Looking Out for the Psycho In Your Life, certain male internet behaviour could throw up warning signs for women in new relationships.
“The internet is a very secretive place. I’ve worked with troubled men who have 20 or more email addresses. They operate a host of different personas from being young girls to 70-year-old men.
“If you’re in a relationship with someone who’s using the internet in a secretive way, and for hours at a time, that could be a sign of addiction and obsession.
“Abuse is a very secret affair. It tends to happen in the home, behind closed doors. So if someone has a secret hidden life on the web, there could be an overlap there.”
How long a person spends in cyberspace could also be an indication of how grounded they are, Daynes points out.
“If they’re spending time on the web that should be family time and time spent with you, that’s not healthy.”
Could you spot a potential abuser in a new relationship?
Daynes says: “Abusive men are masters at being incredibly charming. And it can be very difficult to establish whether he’s really lovely, or attempting to manipulate you.
“I had a client who was domestically violent and when he started relationships he’d memorise verses from greeting cards. Now of course we want dates to be attentive, but if someone’s trying too hard, it might not just be desperation, but something more dangerous."
The initial flood of love can also be addictive, says Daynes. The temptation for many women is to stay with a man, even after the hearts and flowers are gone and he becomes abusive, in the hope he'll revert back to ‘normal’.
“Women often blame themselves when their partner becomes abusive, because they think it’s the way they’ve conducted themselves in the relationship. But what they’re seeing from him at the beginning isn’t real."
Women also become addicted to the highs and lows of the relationship.
“An abusive relationship can be very potent. After a man is abusive, and possibly violent, there will be a short period of contrition, and back come the hearts and flowers. But then it starts again.
“It continues to go back and forth and because the first high of his love is so strong, it’s hard to leave," says Daynes.
For more information about domestic abuse, visit Refuge .