I bet if you looked around you right now, you would see multiple examples of digital technology. For many of us this technology is extremely helpful and makes our lives much easier. But for victims of domestic, family, or dating violence, this same technology can be used to further isolate, threaten, gaslight, or intimidate them. As technology becomes increasingly widespread in our lives, it is important to be aware of how abusers exploit technology, and the steps victims can take to protect themselves.
What is Digital Abuse?
Digital abuse, also known as technology-facilitated abuse or online abuse, it a form of domestic abuse where abusers use digital technology, such as smartphones, computers, social media, and any other internet connected devices to control, intimidate, harass, or stalk a partner.
Digital abuse can take many forms, including:
- Monitoring and surveillance: Smart home devices, like internet connected locks, thermostats, security cameras, smart doorbells, or voice-activated assistants, can be used to monitor and track the movements and activities of their partner or family members without their consent. They may remotely access the live feed of cameras, review recorded footage, or use voice assistants to listen in on conversations. Abusers can easily install spyware or keyloggers on computers, tablets, and cellphones, so that they can remotely access email or social media accounts without permission, find information on websites visited, access passwords, or use GPS tracking to monitor movements.
- Harassment and cyberstalking: Abusers may use digital platforms and social media to send threatening messages, derogatory comments, or explicit images. They may create fake profiles or impersonate their partner online to damage their reputation or harass them. Cyberstalking involves persistent and unwanted online attention, including sending excessive messages, posting harmful content, or making false accusations.
- Control and manipulation: Abusers who have access to smart home devices may use them to exert control over their partner or manipulate their environment. They can remotely adjust temperature settings, turn lights on or off, lock or unlock doors, or activate alarms to create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Abusers may exert control over their partner’s online presence, including dictating who they can communicate with, what they can post, or what websites they can access. They may manipulate or coerce their partner into sharing passwords or gaining unauthorized access to their accounts, enabling further control and surveillance.
- Digital isolation: Abusers can use technology to isolate their partner from friends, family, or support networks. They may block or monitor their communications, restrict access to devices or the internet, or spread false information to damage their relationships.
How you can protect yourself
But as scary as all this sounds, if you are experiencing tech abuse, there are steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Educate yourself: Learn about digital safety, privacy settings, and online security. Understand the potential risks and tactics abusers may use.
- Control who has access to your computer, smartphone, tablet, and other devices.
- Know your privacy settings and keep your electronic devices, online accounts, and social media accounts as secure as possible. Social media often has customizable privacy settings that allow you to control who tags you in photos, who can send you messages or friend requests, and allows you to block other users on the site.
- Save or document any threatening messages, photos, videos, or voicemails you have received as evidence.
- Be mindful when checking in online, either by sharing your location in a post or posting a photo with a distinguishable background. Ask friends to get your consent before posting a photo or tagging your location online.
- Seek professional help: If you are experiencing digital domestic abuse, consider reaching out to helplines, support services, or organizations that specialize in domestic violence. They can provide guidance, resources, and assistance tailored to your situation.
Where can you learn more
There are also some excellent free tools available online:
Technology Safety & Privacy: A Toolkit for Survivors: Created by the Safety Net Project of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, this comprehensive toolkit contains safety tips, information, and privacy strategies. https://www.techsafety.org/resources-survivors
Coalition Against Stalkerware was created to fight against technology facilitated abuse and unite organizations that work to combat domestic violence and the IT security community. Their video “What is Stalkerware” is an excellent explainer video so victims and survivors can better understand and detect the warning signs of stalkerware. https://stopstalkerware.org/
Stay Safe Online: Created by the National Cybersecurity Alliance has easy to follow resources and guides on how to be safe online. https://staysafeonline.org/resources/
Women’s Law: Another project of the National Network to End Domestic Violence has excellent resources on how abusers misuse technology. https://www.womenslaw.org/about-abuse/abuse-using-technology
No one should have to suffer through digital abuse. It is important to remember that you have rights, and it is never okay for someone to use technology to control or manipulate you. If you or someone you know is a victim of digital abuse, Family Sunshine Center can help. Call our 24/7 resource hotline at 334-263-0218 (collect calls are accepted).