DIGITAL ABUSE IN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE RELATIONSHIPS

DIGITAL ABUSE IN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE RELATIONSHIPS

DIGITAL ABUSE – WHAT IS IT AND HOW IT IS USED FOR AN ABUSIVE TOOL

What is Digital Abuse?
Digital connectivity is a powerful and positive tool for communication and intimacy between romantic partners. However, when one partner resorts to digital means to hurt the other, it can have harmful consequences. To better understand how, and how often, domestic abusers use digital technology to victimize partners, Psychology Today teamed up with the Data & Society research institute to talk to more than 3,000 Americans age 16 and older about their experiences. Here’s what was learned:
What does digital domestic abuse look like?
Digital domestic abuse experiences range from the relatively benign and irritating — to the possibly damaging, and includes: revenge porn, sexually harassing a partner online, controlling a partner’s social media accounts (e.g., demanding social media account passwords or determining who a partner can and cannot “Friend” on Facebook), requiring that a partner keep their phone with them at all times to respond to calls and texts, and using technology to monitor the other person’s actions both on and offline. It can also be where one gets access to the digital appliances and tools used in a “smart” house to control them and/or “see” into the house to monitor what the victim is doing and with whom.
It’s important to say that digital interactions in which both people agree to what is going do not represent digital domestic abuse. For example, sexting is not always a problem behavior. About 7 percent of teens sext, and it can be a part of healthy sexual exploration [1] and even a way to avoid having sex [2] — you can’t get an STD from a photo. If one person is forcing or coercing the other to sext or uses the sext in a way that the other person doesn’t agree to, however, that’s digital abuse.
How prevalent is digital domestic abuse?
Digital abuse in romantic relationships is not uncommon: 1 out of every 8 people who had been in a romantic relationship had experienced at least one of the forms of digital domestic abuse we asked about. The most common were having been monitored by a current or former partner and having been purposefully embarrassed online by a current or former partner [3].
We found that men and women were equally likely to have experienced digital domestic abuse, suggesting that we need to step beyond our assumptions that men are the only perpetrators — and women the only victims. We also found that the burden of digital domestic abuse weighs more heavily on certain groups. Of particular note, people under 30 were three times as likely as people over 30 to have experienced digital harassment perpetrated by a partner [3]. And 38 percent of people who identified as lesbian, gay, and/or bisexual (LGB) had experienced digital domestic abuse [3].
What is the impact of digital domestic abuse?
The effects can last long after the experience ends. We found a connection between a history of digital domestic abuse and negative attitudes toward online spaces: More than a third of people who had ever been digitally harassed by a partner also felt that people were “mostly unkind” to one another online. Internet users who had been targeted by a partner were more annoyed, angry, worried, or scared by subsequent online experiences than those who had been targeted by someone else [3].
What now?
There is hope, and there is help. The vast majority of victims of intimate partner digital abuse do not turn to domestic abuse support centers, hotlines, or websites for support. While this is purely speculative, it is perhaps because 74 percent did not say they were scared by their experiences [3]. It may also be that most people who have these experiences do not see themselves as victims of domestic abuse. Perhaps, too, some people may be concerned that their digital domestic abuse will not be taken seriously, or are uncomfortable reaching out for help despite their distress. And many people may simply not be aware of the available support resources. By arming ourselves with knowledge about what digital domestic abuse is and how widespread it has become, we are bringing this often hidden form of abuse out into the open. With increased awareness, the fight against domestic abuse, in all its forms, is strengthened..
Your partner may be digitally abusing you if he/she:
• Tells you who you can or can’t be friends with on Facebook and other sites
• Sends negative, insulting or even threatening emails, Facebook messages, tweets, DMs or other messages online
• Uses sites like Facebook, Twitter, foursquare and others to keep constant tabs on you
• Puts you down in their status updates
• Sends unwanted, explicit pictures and demands you send some in return
• Pressures you to send explicit video
• Steals or insists to be given your passwords
• Constantly texts you and makes you feel like you can’t be separated from your phone for fear that you will be punished
• Looks through your phone frequently, checks up on your pictures, texts and outgoing calls
• Tags you unkindly in pictures on Instagram, Tumblr, etc.
Digital abuse, like other forms of abuse, is an attempt to control a partner’s actions. If you break up with someone, change all passwords on everything digital. Make sure to make it a password that your partner will not know or guess. As part of maintaining a healthy relationship, we recommend that partners create a digital contract that outlines what is and is not acceptable behavior online. Additionally, it’s important to know and exercise your “digital rights”:
• You have the right to turn off your phone and spend time with friends and family without your partner getting angry
• You have the right to say no to sexting, or sending pictures or information digitally to your partner that you are not comfortable with
• You have the right to keep your logins and passwords private
• You have the right to control your own privacy settings on social networking sites
• You have the right to feel safe and respected in your relationship, online or off
References
[1] Ybarra ML. A Snapshot of Who Is Sexting in Adolescence. 2016. Accessible at:https://innovativepublichealth.org/blog/infographic-a-snapshot-of-who-is…[2] Lenhart A. Teens and Sexting. Washington, DC: Pew Internet & American Life Project; Dec 15 2009. Accessible at: http://www.pewinternet.org/2009/12/15/teens-and-sexting/[3] Ybarra ML, Price-Feeney M, Lenhart A, Zickuhr K. Intimate Partner Digital Abuse. San Clemente, CA: Center For Innovative
Psychology Today
Thermostats, Locks and Lights: Digital Tools of Domestic Abuse
Violence.CreditTony Luong for The New York Times
By Nellie Bowles
• June 23, 2018
SAN FRANCISCO — The people who called into the help hotlines and domestic violence shelters said they felt as if they were going crazy.
One woman had turned on her air-conditioner, but said it then switched off without her touching it. Another said the code numbers of the digital lock at her front door changed every day and she could not figure out why. Still another told an abuse help line that she kept hearing the doorbell ring, but no one was there.
Their stories are part of a new pattern of behavior in domestic abuse cases tied to the rise of smart home technology. Internet-connected locks, speakers, thermostats, lights and cameras that have been marketed as the newest conveniences are now also being used as a means for harassment, monitoring, revenge and control.
In more than 30 interviews with The New York Times, domestic abuse victims, their lawyers, shelter workers and emergency responders described how the technology was becoming an alarming new tool. Abusers — using apps on their smartphones, which are connected to the internet-enabled devices — would remotely control everyday objects in the home, sometimes to watch and listen, other times to scare or show power. Even after a partner had left the home, the devices often stayed and continued to be used to intimidate and confuse.

For victims and emergency responders, the experiences were often aggravated by a lack of knowledge about how smart technology works, how much power the other person had over the devices, how to legally deal with the behavior and how to make it stop.
“People have started to raise their hands in trainings and ask what to do about this,” Erica Olsen, director of the Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, said of sessions she holds about technology and abuse. She said she was wary of discussing the misuse of emerging technologies because “we don’t want to introduce the idea to the world, but now that it’s become so prevalent, the cat’s out of the bag.”
Some connected device makers said they had not received reports of their products being used in abuse situations. The gadgets can be disabled through reset buttons and changing a home’s Wi-Fi password, but their makers said there was no catchall fix. Making it easy for people to switch who controls the account of a smart home product can inadvertently also make access to the systems easier for criminal hackers.

No groups or individuals appear to be tracking the use of internet-connected devices in domestic abuse, because the technology is relatively new, though it is rapidly catching on. In 2017, 29 million homes in the United States had some smart technology, according to a report by McKinsey, which estimated that the number was growing by 31 percent a year.
Connected home devices have increasingly cropped up in domestic abuse cases over the past year, according to those working with victims of domestic violence. Those at help lines said more people were calling in the last 12 months about losing control of Wi-Fi-enabled doors, speakers, thermostats, lights and cameras. Lawyers also said they were wrangling with how to add language to restraining orders to cover smart home technology.
Muneerah Budhwani, who takes calls at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, said she started hearing stories about smart homes in abuse situations last winter. “Callers have said the abusers were monitoring and controlling them remotely through the smart home appliances and the smart home system,” she said.
Graciela Rodriguez, who runs a 30-bed emergency shelter at the Center for Domestic Peace in San Rafael, Calif., said some people had recently come in with tales of “the crazy-making things” like thermostats suddenly kicking up to 100 degrees or smart speakers turning on blasting music.
“They feel like they’re losing control of their home,” she said. “After they spend a few days here, they realize they were being abused.”
Smart home technology can be easily harnessed for misuse for several reasons. Tools like connected in-home security cameras are relatively inexpensive — some retail for $40 — and are straightforward to install. Usually, one person in a relationship takes charge of putting in the technology, knows how it works and has all the passwords. This gives that person the power to turn the technology against the other person.
Emergency responders said many victims of smart home-enabled abuse were women.

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