Technology is a blessing and a curse to victims of domestic abuse. It can be a great tool to get help when you need it. However, the advances in tech also make it easier for an abuser to control, harass and stalk their victims. I sometimes hear people joking about facebook stalking other people, but it’s no joke when a partner or ex-partner is doing it to try to control you. It’s creepy at best and at it’s worst, it’s terrifying. I know a woman that worked for years to keep her location from someone that abused her horribly only to have her safety and security blown because of a mutual contact on social media.
Technological domestic abuse is using technology to control or stalk a partner or an ex-partner. It can include hacking in to a partner’s email and personal accounts and using tracking devices in a partner’s cell phone to monitor their location. Unwanted phone calls and messages, monitoring interactions via social media and demanding to know your partner’s passwords fall into this category as well. Some have gone so far as to put covert cameras around the victim’s home and GPS tracking devices on their vehicles. Others use pictures, whether provided willingly at one time or obtained secretly, in order to control, harass or otherwise manipulate their partner or ex-partner.
These acts make the victim feel like there is no safe place – the perpetrator knows their every move. They’re afraid to answer a call and afraid to not answer – who knows who or what you will hear on the other end. They feel they can never completely escape. Even when they physically leave, they are still unable to remove themselves psychologically. They just want them GONE, and they feel helpless because no matter what they do, the other person finds a way to get to them.
It’s ridiculously difficult to get around this now with all of the ways we have to communicate. When I was younger, if someone repeatedly called you to try to make you talk to them, you just took the phone off the hook. Problem solved, at least temporarily. If things were really excessive, you could change your number to an unlisted, unpublished number to make it harder for them to call you. It was landline only – no endless texts, messages or emails. Now, you can choose not to answer, but then you are bombarded with voicemails and text messages by the hundreds. So, you block their number. Great! They send you messages on FB Messenger, Twitter, We Chat, Kick, Snapchat or any number of other messaging and social media platforms. Let’s say you successfully block or ban them from those. They can still get to you by creating a new profile with a false name or by using someone else’s device or profile. If friends tag you in a post, they can still see you and know where you are.
So, what can you do? You might not be able to completely stop them. After all, you can’t make all your friends and family and all their friends and family block your ex. However, there are things you can do to minimize their access to you.
First of all, tell them once to stop contacting you. Only once, then do not respond to any other attempts. Block their number, block or ban them from your social media accounts. Tighten up your settings and who can see your posts. Post less often and don’t post where you are at the time. If you really want to post pictures of your night out with friends on Instagram, do it another day. Consider taking a break from social media and disabling your accounts for awhile. Use strong passwords and change them often. Disable bluetooth and GPS on your device. Use filtering in your email settings. Keep good records of the activity and contact the police if needed. Consider talking to a lawyer to see if legal action is an option.
You may not be able to do all of these things. Maybe you have kids together and you feel you need to have some form of communication for their sake. Make it one form of communication only. Maybe you are still in the relationship. If you think your device is compromised, continue to use it for for simple things and use a safer device to search for help that involves your safety and relationship situation.
Remember that when you attempt to break off communication, the attempts to contact you may get worse before they get better. It’s hard to be strong enough to hold your ground on this. Sometimes they will make you so angry you just want to tell them off. They may scare you into believing they will hurt themselves or someone you love if you don’t re-establish contact. Hold your boundaries and get help. Contact your local police department, a local domestic abuse assistance program like PADA, a domestic abuse hotline or even just a a good friend or family member that you can vent your feelings to. Whatever it is, you don’t have to do it alone.