Domestic Violence and Technology Safety
By Resilience Lead Shelter Advocate, Allyson
The Dangers of Technology
While technology can be an incredibly useful tool that helps bring people together, it can also be used as a controlling tactic in an abusive relationship. Throughout this blog, we will focus on how abusers use technology in ways to hurt or intimidate their partners and what you can do to keep yourself safe, digitally.
Impersonation is a controlling behavior that we are seeing more in recent years. Technology makes it quite easier to pretend you are someone you are not. Abusers often find ways to gain access to their partners social media or e-mail accounts and send communications as that person. There are ways to hide or “spoof” your phone number and alter your voice. Very often, partners are requiring passwords to email or social media accounts. Most of us do not even think about logging out of our accounts on personal computers, televisions, cell phones, etc.
The release of smart appliances, while a welcomed technological advance by many, offer another opportunity for abusers to torment their victims. These days, we are able to turn on lights, adjust thermostats, open garage doors, turn on our ovens and play music all remotely from our phones. With remote access, it is easier for abusers to use this technology against their partner. There have been several reports of abusers using remote thermostats to control the heat or air in the home or logging into Bluetooth devices such as Alexa while not physically there. One survivor had reported that their abuser still had access to their device and would play very loud, hateful music in the middle of the night to wake them up.
There are also now several different ways to track a person’s location. There are apps for cell phones that have the capability to track and monitor a person’s movement, phone calls and texts. Several of these apps are marketed as ways for parents to track their teenage children, but in the wrong hands they can be dangerous. Lastly, much of our personal information can be found online through searches. When signing up for rewards accounts, social media or other accounts, many businesses obtain and sell your information, making it easier to find personal information online.
Safety Planning with Technology
Technology truly is an important advancement that in many instances makes our lives easier every single day. To abstain from technology completely is unrealistic, so we’d like to offer some information on how to protect your safety through technology. Particularly for survivors of abuse, it is important to make an individualized and comprehensive safety plan.
Do your best to use a computer or device that you know would be safe. If you suspect someone is watching your phone or computer, use a friend’s, family member’s or public device. If this is not an option, treat the phone as if it is being watched. Do not search locations specific to you, do not text or save important information and do not access any accounts that the abuser would not already be aware of.
Change all of your passwords and user names. Most of us utilize the same passwords and user names for several of our accounts. You should make sure that your passwords are different, especially your email. Since most of our accounts reset passwords to our email, it is most important to have your email password be very secure. When setting a secure password, do not use names or dates that are very important to you as those close to you would be able to guess them.
If possible, replace devices and reset the settings. Always be sure to keep your cell phone and computer location turned off unless you are actively using it. Make sure to sign out of accounts when you are not using them as well. For example, if you sign into your google account on your phone, personal email, television and tablet – all of those devices are saving your data. If fleeing a situation and you leave a device behind that you are still logged into, someone can see all of the searches that you may be actively making on your phone.
In general, you should always keep your social media accounts private. Do not accept friend requests or messages from anyone that you do not know in person, sign out of your accounts and change your passwords often. It is also important to not answer phone calls from numbers you do not recognize. If the message is important enough, the person will leave a voicemail.
If you or someone you know is experiencing technology abuse, please call or e–mail us. We have experts on staff to personally assist with safety planning around technology.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, believe survivors. It may be easy to dismiss someone who is feeling paranoid about changes in the thermostat or feeling like they are being followed. However, your support could help provide the spark that someone needs to reach out for help.