We are increasingly living on digital platforms. With growing recognition that domestic abuse can be perpetuated using technology, there has been an increase of news stories that focus on how abusers use it to coerce and control victims.
In “The Abuse of Technology in Domestic Violence and Stalking”, Delanie Woodlock describes many of the ways inventions have provided new avenues to harass, scare or intimidate victims in a domestic violence context. The vast majority of tech-related domestic abuse currently happens through common devices like smartphones, laptops and tablets.
There are many ways in which technology can be used to negatively impact the well-being of the victim as it can be used to create a sense of the perpetrator’s omnipresence as well as being used to isolate, punish, and humiliate domestic abuse victims. Perpetrators can also threaten to share sexualised content online to humiliate the victim. This Non-consensual intimate image sharing is commonly known as ‘revenge porn’. This use of technology is used to punish and humiliate the victim with maliciously sharing sexualised content. Examples included non-consensual sexting and threats to share explicit video footage — in some cases this can be captured through hidden videos cameras in the house.
The most commonly used method of creating this sense of being ever-present in the victims’ life is through constantly calling or texting the victim or by installing spyware to monitor the victim as well as cyberstalking of social media accounts. This technological abuse can also create a sense of isolation which can become particularly distressing when a victim is forced to change his/hers phone numbers, close social media accounts, or otherwise retreat from a support system.
However, technology also has the potential to tackle these issues. To become an empowering tool, not a source of risk, to enable survivors to make connections, to ensure they have the information they need and to rebuild their independence safely and sustainably.
Here are just some of the ways technology can protect, empower and improve victims’ access to justice:
- apps and websites can link victims with service providers and support groups
- technology can give victims in remote areas access to services
- victims can stay connected with friends and family, combating abusers’ attempts to isolate them
- CCTV cameras and GPS tracking devices can alert victims and authorities if an abuser is approaching
- victims and police can record incidences of domestic violence
- there are now apps that help victims record their abuser’s behaviour, and access relevant services, information and emergency contacts on their smartphones, such as Aurora, iMatter, and Smartsafe.
- Comic Relief commissioned Tech vs Abuse, which is a collaborative research study about the use of digital tools to support people affected by domestic abuse. The website points to ten different initiatives by organisations such as Refuge or Rape Crisis Scotland, all of which aim to improve the safety of those affected by abuse and coercive control: https://www.techvsabuse.info/
- A research team at University College London published a 6 page document in July 2018 containing resources for domestic abuse victims who’ve been targeted through smart home gadgets that are controlled by their partners: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/steapp/research/projects/digital-policy-lab/g-iot-resource-list
Many people experience this type of abuse but may not recognise it as such. Some may be fearful of disclosing information or unsure of what support is available. As well as the above tips of using technology as a positive tool for preventing domestic abuse, there are other forms of help available with the following contact support:
If you are over 18 and affected by this, and would like support please call 0800 408 1552 or visit the Refuge Warwickshire website: https://www.refuge.org.uk/our-work/our-services/refuge-warwickshire-domestic-violence-service/
If you are a child or a young person that is affected by this film and would like to talk to someone then you can call Childline – 0800 1111 or visit Childline: https://www.childline.org.uk/
Young people can also visit The Hideout: http://thehideout.org.uk/
In an emergency always dial 999.