Technology enhances our lives in many ways, including making it easier to communicate and stay in touch with loved ones, but it can also be used by abusers in domestic violence relationships to facilitate harassment and control. This explainer shares some tools and legal insights to help survivors confront their abuser and use the legal system to obtain justice and safety in the face of technology abuse.
In creating this video, TalksOnLaw relied on insight from attorney advocates and domestic violence assistance organizations. This video was made in partnership with D.V. victims advocacy organizations Sanctuary for Families and Safe Horizon and with the support of the pro bono department of the law firm, Davis Polk. Special thanks to Eboni K. Williams for volunteering her time and advocacy.
(Additional Resources for Survivors Available Below)
For access to general victim services, research, and advocacy initiatives addressing cyber abuse, visit the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative. https://www.cybercivilrights.org
Safety Alert: Computer use can be monitored and can be difficult to completely clear. If you are afraid your internet usage might be monitored, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.
Federal Trade Commission- Consumer Information: For technology tips for victims of domestic violence and stalking visit: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2015/02/technology-tips-domestic-violence-and-stalking-victims
The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence’s project called “VAWnet” provides a number of resources that explore the extent and nature of technology-facilitated abuse. Education and tips are provided on topics such as "Harassment," "Sexting/Revenge Porn," "Stalking/Surveillance," "Human Trafficking," and "Child Sexual Abuse/Exploitation." https://vawnet.org/sc/technology-assisted-abuse
The Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) provides safety tips, information, and privacy strategies for survivors on the use of technology. https://www.techsafety.org/resources-survivors
Technology can be an amazing thing, but it can also be used as a form of abuse. Today, we are going to talk about some of the ways that it can be abusive and most importantly give tips for victims, survivors, and their allies. I’m Eboni K. Williams and I’m a lawyer, a journalist, and a long time advocate for domestic violence survivors. Today, I’m going to explain some of the tools to help victims and survivors. To do that, I’ll draw on insight from TalksOnLaw and an incredible group of public interest and pro bono attorneys.
So what is technology abuse? Step one is identifying it. You can think of these in four major categories: tracking, hacking, harassing, and controlling. So tracking involves following location and online activities, and technology has made tracking much easier in recent years. Abusers can now use GPS devices to get real time locations of their victims. They can do this with apps on their phone, some of them are social apps, but also tracking apps, like what we use to find our children or even a missing phone. Next, let’s talk about hacking. Now, hacking involves accessing social media accounts or devices without permission. Now, let’s talk about harassing. Now, harassing is the repeated contact with someone using social, online, or digital reach out. Lastly, let’s talk about controlling. Controlling is all about limiting your access. This could be cutting you off from your friends, family, email, or even limiting your financial access, like your access to your bank or bank accounts.
So, next we want to talk about safety. Technology abuse is complicated and everybody’s situation is different. We want to encourage you to trust your instincts and evaluate what is best for you. Specifically, we encourage you to reach out to organizations and advocates. So in setting up your safety plan, you want to figure out if someone has access to your device or is monitoring your whereabouts. So if you suspect the abuser is monitoring your account, try using a different device or perhaps an account that the abuser does not have access to. Sometimes abusers escalate their control when they feel they are being cut off from access. So before you cut off access, try to think through how the abuser will respond and plan for your safety accordingly. So a part of your safety plan could be making sure you check the settings on your device, look out for accounts that are not yours that are on your device, and check out the apps that you do not recognize that are on your device. Another tip could be to maintain the old devices to make sure that your abuser thinks those are still in use while simultaneously acquiring new devices, and making sure your friends and family can have access to those. And it is really important to remember the documentation piece. Again, if you find yourself trying to go to court and prove these things in a court of law, you have to have the evidence. So because these are digital files, you want to make sure you are keeping logs of the abuse. You want to make sure you are sharing the digital files with a trusted friend or family member, making copies, forwarding them to your other accounts, and anything to preserve the record and evidence of the abuse.
So, once you have planned for your safety, a next step can include taking action, and this can include around your legal rights. Yes, as a survivor, you do have legal rights. Let’s start with your criminal law rights. Now, every state has laws against threatening, harassing, and stalking, and some states even have specific laws against stalking online or cyber abuse. But there are other remedies, like family law and in civil court. Now, in family law, you can seek a protective order to have the abuser stop harassing, threatening, or stalking. Also, in civil law, you can actually file a lawsuit and potentially seek money damages for the harassment, threats, or stalking you have endured.
Finally, if you think you are a victim of technology abuse, seek help from an attorney or victims assistance group. We have also provided additional resources, so check out that section. I’m Eboni K. Williams, and thanks for watching TalksOnLaw.