Domestic abuse perpetrators are increasingly using digital means to harass and intimidate their victims. This has been labelled “Digital Coercive Control” and it’s real. The trouble is that it often goes undetected and the affected person might not be aware that it is going on. Government funding is also limited as there is a primary focus on physical forms of abuse. We want to help you discover the various methods that are used to exert control and to give tips on how to cope if you are in this situation.
Technology is a generally a positive thing. It allows us to stay in touch with our loved ones, organise our daily lives and makes our work more efficient. However, someone using family violence can also use technology to harass, monitor, stalk, impersonate or make threats to control, frighten or humiliate.
· In a national survey of domestic and family violence workers conducted in 2016 (SmartSafe), 98% of the 546 participants reported that their clients had experienced technology-facilitated stalking and abuse.
· 1 in 5 Australians have experienced image-based abuse (Henry, N., Powell, A. & Flynn, A. (2017)
· Delanie Woodlock et al. (2020) examined the types of technology that were most frequently misused, they note that the most common type was text messaging on phones, followed by Facebook use and email
· Given the tech-savvy of the younger generation, they report that the age of victims who were most impacted by DCC were women between 25 and 34
· eSafety office records a 340% spike in complaints since the pandemic started
Tracking you through your devices
Threatening or sharing photos of you without consent (image-based abuse)
Abusive or threatening texts or calls
Abusing victims on social media sites
Making someone prove where they are by sending photos of their location
Checking someone’s text messages, social media activity or internet activity
Forbidding someone from having a phone or limiting who they can contact via phone or internet
Spying on, monitoring or stalking someone through any type of surveillance device (such as a tracking system or spyware)
Feelings victims may have:
This type of abuse makes victims feel as though their perpetrators are omnipresent in their lives and that there's no escape. Unfortunately, this may occur even after a relationship has ended. And yet it’s difficult to go offline as it might prompt the perpetrator to make in-person contact and aggravate the situation. It is also important for victims to stay connected with their families and friends to seek support and protect their mental health.
Identify the problem by asking yourself these important questions:
Have you noticed that they know information about your movements that they shouldn’t be aware of? I.e. turning up at places unexpectedly
Have they installed monitoring systems around the home? Look out for cameras or security devices
Have you noticed unusual online activity? These might include: emails and texts that were sent but not by you, emails marked as read not by you and unusual transactions
Are they regularly asking your whereabouts, checking your phone or your web browser history?
Has your password been changed and you've been locked out of accounts?
Have they given your children presents, that could be used to track your location or access personal information?
We have been learning about password security (use a strong password and don’t use the same password on different sites etc.) from the very first day we touched a device and yet we still fail to follow basic guidelines since most of us feel we don’t have the time to follow the various steps involved.
Here are some key tips on how you can protect your security when making passwords:
Length is key
The best passwords are at least 12 – 15 characters long, and contain letters, numbers and symbols
Use different passwords for accounts that contain confidential information
We have to emphasise this one as it’s incredibly important. If you had the same password for everything, it would make all of your accounts vulnerable to hacking.
Use password managers to remember your passwords
Password managers are software that store and protect passwords to allow us to make multiple passwords without forgetting them Your passwords will be kept secure within an “encrypted vault” and can only be opened with a master password which won’t be stored by the password manager. This has to be the longest and most unique password that you can think of to ensure maximum security.
Set up two-factor or multi-factor authentication.
It seems pretty sophisticated, but it’s simply giving you extra security by asking you to enter a second piece of information when you log into an account, on top of entering your email and password. After entering your password, the site or company will immediately send a short code to something you have: an email account, a text message or voice call to your phone. You then enter that code on the website and you are able to access your account.
Single sign-on isn’t as safe as you might think
Many websites give you the opportunity to use your social media or email account details to sign into their site, without having to create a new account for ease. This could potentially be risky as without knowing, you are giving these sites access to more information than you have already given.
Don’t share your password with anyone
Be strategic with your secret questions and answers
Make answers up that you can remember but someone else won’t be able to guess – especially those who know you well.
Be on alert for professional hackers
Professional hackers don’t have to try particularly hard to get access to passwords. They are trained in tricking people to give access to their details. You will be fine if you are aware. They might either do this over the phone by pretending they are a representative from a company trying to sell you something or from somewhere you already subscribe to, or by sending an email pretending to be a colleague, friend or service with a link to a fake website to follow. Since so much of our personal information is out in the open it won’t be too tricky for them to pretend to be close to us.
Change your password (only when you need to)
If you think someone might know your password, changing it from a device that isn’t being monitored can keep them from gaining further access to your account. Otherwise, if you have created a strong password and it hasn't been compromised it isn't necessary to change it regularly.
WAYS TO MAXIMISE PRIVACY ONLINE
Log out of accounts and apps This might seem like obvious advice but it is surprising how many people forget to log out of these. Logging out is especially important when you have been using someone else’s device. Make sure you uncheck the “keep me logged in” feature.
Use strong passwords (see above)
Review privacy settings It is likely that you will keep a lot of information on various accounts including your address, email, date of birth, contact number etc. You have no idea how someone could use this information. It would be wise to review the privacy settings on all your online accounts, especially your social media ones. It’s more than just social networks like Facebook or Instagram that have privacy settings. Most online accounts allow you to change your settings to limit who can see your profile information.
Limit location sharing Smart phones have GPS location capability and you could inadvertently be sharing your location. You can control which app has access to your location by turning off that option through your phone in your settings.
Don’t include location pins in your pictures You might not know this but when you take a picture on your smartphone you might be sharing your location as well. You can turn off that function through the privacy settings on your camera app. Every phone should allow you to do this. can turn off that capability through the privacy setting on your camera app. You will also need to change the setting on whichever photo sharing app you are using.
Be thoughtful about which social media accounts you connect
It’s tempting to link your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts but be wary of the fact that even more details about your life will be accessible for anyone to see online.
Be careful when using free wireless networks Don’t get us wrong, we get excited when we find there is free internet in a local café but it can leave you susceptible to hackers getting access to your private information. If you’re going to do something that requires an extra level of security such as checking your bank account, it’s worth doing it at home or waiting until you have reached a secure network.
Use Incognito or Private Browsing Nowadays Google Chrome, Microsoft Explorer, Safari and Firefox allow you to browse privately. It’s best to use this if you are using a friend’s device or public computer. It means that someone won’t be able to open your web browser after you’ve used it to go through your search history. Please note, it’s only effective if you close your browser after use.
Create multiple email addresses Using different emails for different accounts is safer because if someone guesses the email and password for one of your accounts, they don’t have access to all your accounts which might have confidential and sensitive information. You can use one email address with an extra secure password for your banking and shopping. A bonus is that you can have another extra email address to receive all of the spam emails you get when you subscribe to certain services.
WHAT IS “IOT”?
IoT is technology that didn’t exist a mere few years ago. The Internet of Things refers to devices connected to each other and to a device or app that can control them. These devices may be connected through the Internet, Bluetooth, or other means. People’s first impression of these is that they are functional, efficient and should improve one’s way of life. However, they can provide yet another, highly invasive way that technology can be misused to abuse.
Here are some common types of IoT device:
· Home Automation and Personal Assistants
· Connected Health and Medical Devices
· Smart Toys and Location Trackers
· Smart Cars & Driverless Vehicles
Although the above devices appear on the surface to make your life easier, they could be another vehicle for further harassment, stalking and intimidating.
· Do this particular device need to be connected? Consider this if it contains information that is personal to you.
· How safe is the device and the software that runs it?
· Is the user able to individualise to protect privacy and security?
Make sure you learn about the device when it is first installed and familiarise yourself with the security settings in case you need to change them in future.
SEEKING LEGAL ACTION
You can of course seek legal action if you are in this predicament. Bearing in mind that technology is often changing and the laws in this area are constantly shifting, there could be circumstances where the current law may not cover your exact situation. However, it must be stressed that most acts of misusing technology for the purposes of harassment, stalking, and abuse are illegal. Even if you are unable to or choose not to seek protection, damages, or other forms of justice in civil or criminal court, you can still make a plan for your safety and get help to deal with the emotional trauma that you may experience.
Analysing what is happening can help you to discover if stalking is occurring and how to address it. It also may be useful if you end up going to court.
Keep a log of all incidents, even if you are not sure if you want to take action and involve the authorities. You might want to include the location, date, time, witnesses (if any), suspected technology involved (e.g., phone, email, etc.), and a brief summary of what the abuser did. It might be difficult to re-hash details from past events so it’s worth keeping a log at the time.
Prioritise your safety. Your safety may be compromised if your abuser was to find out that you were documenting the abuse and they might end up escalating their actions. Make sure you assess the situation and do what is safest for you.
Have a think about the technology that you suspect is being used. This could be based on the abuser’s past behaviour and tactics used.
Anything related to the event or incident. If you receive a threatening message by email, text message, or voice mail, make sure you save it and take a screenshot of the message. Make sure it includes the sender’s address, time, content and any other details that you think may be relevant.
Document only relevant information. Bear in mind that this information could potentially be introduced as evidence if you were to go to court or could inadvertently be shared with the abuser in future.
If you are in immediate danger:
You can also contact the police in your state or territory
Download our free Domestic Violence Safety Plan here to plan for your safety and protection.