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The Changing Face of Domestic Violence

October 14, 2019

navy homecoming

Did you know that 15 percent of respondents in Blue Star Families’ 2017 Military Family Lifestyle Survey said they felt unsafe in their relationships?

If that wasn’t sobering enough, a 2013 VA study stated that around 22 percent of service members had perpetrated intimate partner violence.

Of course, domestic or intimate partner violence is not an issue faced solely by military families. Across America, many families are destroyed, and children and parents left with long-lasting emotional scars because of domestic violence.

So, as we prepare to move into the beginning of a new decade, the ways intimate partner violence is carried out are starting to change. While at its core, all abuse is about power and control, researchers are finding that the means by which this abuse is facilitated is shifting.

Technology: Friend or Foe?

technology communicate

Who doesn’t love the plethora of ways we now have to communicate and stay up-to-date with our friends and loved ones? With just a few clicks, we can Skype or Facetime our friends across the nation, send instant (and free) text messages to anyone anywhere, keep an eye on our kids’ whereabouts, and much more.

On the face of it, technology is a friend. It enables levels of communication and interpersonal networking on a scale never seen before in the history of humanity. Not only that, but thanks to GPS, we can also navigate our way around any new city with ease.

Remember those hefty pocket maps we all used to stash in our glove compartments? We’re sure nobody is sad to see those go!

On the flip side, these channels have opened up new avenues for abuse. And, unfortunately, not all technology users are putting these tools to good use. In fact, tech is turning into a controlling mechanism.

Frontline service providers say that a majority of the domestic abuse cases they assist with feature an element of tech abuse. Mainly, it seems that tech abuse and in-person abuse go hand in hand.

All that to say, to better understand the issue, let’s dive into what technology abuse really means.

What is technology-assisted abuse?

Technology-assisted (or technology-facilitated) abuse refers to patterns of abusive behavior that are carried out via technology. Harassment, stalking, monitoring of victims’ digital devices, threats, and coercion are prime examples.

Spyware, which some commentators have dubbed “Spouseware,” can be used to remotely read every piece of communication a victim receives and track their search history. Because these apps are “hidden,” it can be difficult, if not impossible, to know if they’re installed on a phone.

Although it’s a crime to intercept another person’s digital messages or hack their devices, these programs get away with enabling such actions by purporting to be used solely by parents tracking children or employers tracking employees on work phones.

Tech abuse takes other forms, too. More and more victims and survivors are stepping forward and reporting smart home devices being turned against them. In a 2018 New York Times article titled “Thermostats, Locks and Lights: Digital Tools of Domestic Abuse,” the writer illustrates how smart home digital devices are used to effectively haunt people at home by flicking music, lights, thermostats, and more on and off and by making adjustments.

Additionally, reports from Australia suggest that even children’s toys, such as XBoxes and Playstations, are being utilized by abusers.

How can you combat tech abuse?

It’s unfair to suggest that a person going through tech abuse stay off the Internet and away from their freedom to communicate as modern humans do. The reason being, it will only expand the digital divide and create an unjust space.

Tech safety is something that each of us probably consider very briefly, if at all. Perhaps we should place more importance on this. Sure, we run our VPNs, use password managers, avoid getting hacked or giving away our bank account details. But when it comes to tech abuse with an intimate partner, more effort is needed.

Victims and survivors should take steps to secure their devices and how they access information online. If you’re not sure how to get started, this guide to tech safety for domestic violence survivors is very useful.

It’s not a bad resource for all of us actually, whether any of us are in an abusive situation or not. After all, taking steps to secure our digital selves before anything bad happens is the smart thing to do.

It’s time to face up to the issue.

get helpBecause the courts of our country continue to see more and more cases of abuse with technology as an integral aspect, laws are slowly starting to shift. The problem is that as tech advances so swiftly, so do methods by which tech is misused. What does this mean? A lack of legal precedents and difficulty prosecuting.

Perhaps, however, some help will come from the private sector. Just imagine digital devices that were smart enough to know when someone other than the owner had used them.

Though, in the meantime, raising awareness of the issue is key to facing it head-on. With Domestic Violence Awareness Month just around the corner, what better time to start than now?

If you’re looking for help, know that you’re not alone. Get the support you need:

For immediate assistance, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224. Or, visit MilitaryOneSource.mil and RealWarriors.net for additional resources and tools. Additionally, click here to become a member of Blue Star Families today. It’s free, and you’ll instantly get connected to an uplifting community, filled with programming and events to lend a hand wherever you may be.