At its best, technology helps survivors of domestic violence connect with the resources and support they need. At its worst, technology leaves survivors vulnerable to stalking, harassment, and gaslighting.
Technology-assisted abuse, like other forms of abuse, is about power and control. From cellphones and computers to thermostats and cars, abusers use technology to track, humiliate, and harass their partners. Abusers don’t have to be tech experts or hackers to tap into their partner’s devices. They tend to have easy access or can guess or steal passwords.
Once they have access to a device, abusers may install tracking software or hijack a seemingly innocent tool like “Track My Phone” to monitor their partner’s location, texts, or internet search history. Armed with that data, abusers can isolate their partner from friends and family or control their behavior and movements.
Leaving doesn’t end technology-assisted abuse. Instead, it often escalates as abusers try to regain control over their former partner. In addition to spying, survivors leaving a relationship often face harassment through texts, email, and social media. The rise of smart thermostats, speakers, and lights leave survivors vulnerable to harassment and gaslighting. Abusers try to make survivors feel unsafe in their own home by blaring music, flickering lights, and changing the temperature.
Turning off devices and unplugging from social media might stop the harassment, but it leaves survivors isolated from friends and family and without any control over important parts of their life.
Staying safe and private in a digital world can be difficult, but survivors can take steps to protect themselves from technology-assisted abuse. If someone believes they’re being tracked, they probably are. A good first step is to find a safer device and change online passwords and user names. We’ve put together a short guide for how on how to protect yourself in a digital world. New Beginnings hosts tech clinics where survivors can get a tech checkup.
National Network to End Domestic Violence has a number of additional resources for survivors worried about technology-assisted abuse.