Abuse in a digital world
The following article is part four of a five-week series focusing on raising awareness about domestic violence. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and we hope to educate our community on this very important issue. 1 in 3 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Locally, the Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center has been serving victims of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and child abuse since 1978. Last year, HCWC served 2,055 victims of abuse (face-to-face) primarily from Hays and Caldwell Counties. 866 of those were victims of domestic violence.
In an increasingly digital world where technology helps us connect, technology can also be a means of control. Though digital abuse is more common amongst youth and young adults, digital abuse can happen at any age and at any stage in a relationship.
Thehotline.org defines digital abuse as “the use of technology and the internet to bully, harass, stalk, intimidate, or control a partner.” Digital abuse can look like:
•Limiting a partner’s access to technology
•Sending a partner threatening, insulting, or demeaning messages
•Reading a partner’s texts, messages, or emails without permission
•Stealing or insisting to be given passwords to a partner’s phone, email, or social media accounts
•Isolating a partner by limiting who they can interact with online
•Sharing or threatening to share private photos or messages without consent
•Using technology to monitor, track, or stalk a partner
•Impersonating a partner online through fake accounts
Digital Safety Planning
If you are being abused through technology, consider creating a safety plan to lower your risk of further harm. To determine what steps to take, figure out what is happening that makes you believe that an abusive partner is accessing your accounts or tracking you using technology. Sometimes the person knows too much about your daily activities. They may know how far you drove that day, or the places you visited. They might comment on emails or texts that you sent to someone else. You might find that someone else has posted using your social media accounts, or that your posts have been altered.
From this information, you can often determine what your partner has access to. They may have passwords to your accounts, are using the location tracker on your phone, or have hidden a location tracking device such as a Tile in your bag or your vehicle. If you are on a family plan, they may have access to make changes to your phone without you being aware. They may steal information by installing and hiding stalkerware on your phone or other device that can track your location and log your keystrokes.
If you can safely do so, start documenting any activity that indicates someone is stalking you or using your account. You may or may not want to submit this evidence to law enforcement but having documentation of their activity helps you see patterns and escalations. If in the future, you do decide to report to law enforcement, this saves you months of documenting their behavior. Take screenshots and keep logs of everything that you notice. If your partner does not have physical access to your phone, there are apps that can help you store information, such as DocuSAFE, created by NNEDV (National Network to End Domestic Violence). Take additional safety precautions by turning off location tracking on your phone and changing your passwords on all your accounts.
Safety planning can be a complicated and individual process, but you don’t have to do it alone. Create a safety plan with assistance from an HCWC advocate by calling our 24-hour HELPline at 512- 396-HELP(4357). Learn more about red flags for digital abuse and setting healthy digital boundaries at https://stopthehurt.org/digital-abuse-healthy-love-online-and-off/