It is no secret that society is becoming increasingly reliant on technology in our everyday lives. Although most technology has been designed for the greater good, it isn’t always risk-free, especially when it falls into the wrong hands.
The rise in the use of technology is mirrored with the rise in reports of domestic abuse and recent years have shown that the two may interrelate.
What is ‘tech abuse’?
“Modern technology gives perpetrators ever-growing ways to stalk, isolate and control women using the tools of everyday life” – Refuge
Over the past few years, there has been an increased awareness about the various types and forms of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse can not only be physical, but it can be emotional, financial and psychological. ‘Tech abuse’ is the term used to describe incidents of domestic abuse which have been facilitated through the use of technology. According to Refuge (a charity designed to combat domestic abuse), tech abuse comes in many forms. A few examples include:
- Harassment by a perpetrator including constant text messages and telephone calls and the use of social media. This can extend to direct contact though personal or work technology, or via your friends and family;
- A perpetrator preventing your access to technology or to the internet, or monitoring your use of technology (for example, going through your phone or reading your emails);
- Revenge porn (i.e. where the perpetrator threatens to post indecent or confidential images of you, or messages / information about you, online without your permission);
- Using technology to monitor your whereabouts, who you talk to and the content of your conversations. This may include tracking you via GPS, installing tracking apps on your personal devices without your permission (or lying about their motives for installing such apps), stalking you via social media and, in some cases, hiding cameras around the house;
- Controlling your finances via online banking accounts or apps.
In a recent article posted by the BBC entitled Domestic abusers ‘sewing GPS trackers into teddy bears’, survivors of tech abuse discuss the levels their perpetrators went to in order to control and stalk them. In one case, a lady called Ellen talks about how her ex-partner hacked into her Gmail diary and turned up unexpectedly at a get-together between Ellen and her friend. You can read the full article here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-47623436.
What options are available?
Tech abuse is not only an invasion of privacy, but it is a form of coercive control and manipulation. This brings it under the definition of domestic abuse and means anyone who is suffering from tech abuse should seek help and support where possible.
Refuge’s Tech Abuse and Empowerment Team work closely with survivors in order to help them overcome the impacts of tech abuse and feel comfortable using technology as they begin to shape their new lives. They are also heavily involved in campaigns to raise awareness of tech abuse and to detect and prevent it.
Other charities and organisations who offer support and guidance to victims of domestic abuse include:
- Women’s Aid
- National Centre for Domestic Violence
- Men’s advice line
Unfortunately, the majority of support services available to people are online. This can deter victims of tech abuse from getting the support they need out of fear that their online activities are being monitored. Many websites have an “exit page” button to enable users to close the webpage quickly, but they should also check their browser history etc. to make sure that there is no trail left of the pages visited.
Victims who are currently in abusive relationships may not be in a position to access these services, either because they have no online access or because the repercussions of having their research detected are too severe. In these situations, support may be available via telephone (if you have access to one), a medical professional or the police (particularly in emergency situations).
At Maguire Family Law we are frequently asked to liaise with clients in a way which prevents their partner from finding out about what’s going on. This can include calling from a withheld number, providing a mobile telephone number which has not been published online and cannot be traced to the firm and only contacting clients at an agreed time or arranging to meet with clients via a friend. Our offices in Wilmslow and Knutsford are both discrete and buildings shared by other businesses, in the hope that clients will feel able to visit us without any passers by knowing where they are going and why.