Technology gives us so many ways to keep in touch with each other and even check up on each other’s whereabouts and activity. Apps like Venmo show us our friends’ financial transactions, Instagram show us where our friends have been and what they’ve been doing, and Facebook shows us who’s online and who isn’t. Today’s smartphones come with GPS trackers, so our location can be monitored and recorded at all times. Cybersecurity and parental control apps also let us monitor another person’s activity online.
If you’re a parent, you might use some of these tools to make sure your kids are staying safe online or they’re getting home from school on time when you’re still at the office. But what if these tools get into the wrong hands? Learn how technology is changing our understanding of domestic abuse.
What Is Technology-Facilitated Abuse?
Technology-facilitated abuse refers to the monitoring, controlling and harassing of other individuals using digital technology, such as instant message apps, social media, GPS trackers, and other digital tools. If a person wants to control or harass another person, they have instant access to so many different aspects of the person’s life, regardless of whether they give out this information voluntarily or not. A person can easily look up another person’s friends of Facebook, see who they’ve paid on Venmo, or where they were last night with their friends using apps like Instagram.
Digital cameras, hidden cameras, and GPS trackers can also be used to monitor the person’s activities on and offline, which can lead to nasty disputes later on. A person may not feel comfortable in their own home, knowing that their partner is monitoring nearly everything they do. Asking or calling for help may not be an option when their partner can eavesdrop on their calls or access their call history and text messages. So, what can a person do?
While technology-facilitated abuse is a relatively new phenomenon, those with poor technology literary skills, non-English speakers, and migrant women tend to be the most vulnerable. If one person in a relationship has more experience with digital technology, they can use this advantage to abuse the other person. The person being abused may not know how to adjust the privacy settings on their digital devices, they may not have access to their own computer or smartphone, or they may not understand how these apps work. If and when their partner lashes out at them, they may not know what they did wrong or why the other person is upset.
Technology can help some of these people feel less alone, especially if they’re trapped at home all day. They can use instant message apps and video calling tools like Skype to connect with their loved ones in their home country, but these tools can also exacerbate abusive relationships, giving the abuser more ways to control and harass their partner.
If a person is caught in an abusive relationship, they can try contacting the police or the National Domestic Abuse Hotline. One of the best ways to curb technology-facilitated abuse is to learn how to use technology, including adjusting the privacy settings, using “Do Not Track” requests, and other cybersecurity tools that protect against snooping and digital harassment.
But, unfortunately, some of the most vulnerable people, including migrant women, may not have access to these tools or information. Safe Connections is a program that’s designed to supply victims of domestic abuse with smartphones and pre-paid credit cards, so they can make their way to safety or use technology without being tracked or harassed.
Visa sponsors can provide a smartphone and basic technology literary skills to the person they’re sponsoring, so the immigrant can protect themselves and use these digital tools responsibly. If someone sees a person bullying their partner online or on social media, they can intervene and contact the abused to see if they need help.
Breaking the cycle of abuse can be an uphill challenge. Learning how to use these digital tools can empower people to take control of their own lives and find the help and support they need to get out of an abusive relationship. Technology can change or even exacerbate the power dynamics in a relationship, but both partners should enjoy the same unfettered access to these digital tools.