Tethered to domestic violence through technology-facilitated abuse

‘Everyone has a right to be safe…don’t they?’ [‘Natalie’s story’]

For women experiencing domestic and family violence, technology can serve as a lifeline. It’s a way to stay connected to loved ones, and to those who can provide them with support when their worlds are crumbling around them. 

But, if not used safely, technology can also serve as a liability for women in these situations. In fact, 98% of women experiencing domestic violence have been stalked, surveilled, threatened or harassed through technology, according to a 2015 survey of domestic violence frontline workers.

Through the training the eSafety Office has delivered to more than 5,700 domestic and family violence frontline workers across the country, the stories of technology-facilitated abuse are sadly all too common.

The first-hand accounts we hear from frontline workers about women are grim and terrifying: current and ex-partners plant listening devices in children’s toys, or put malware on her phone to monitor every call she makes, every text she sends. They send text messages or post comments on social media that are threatening and incessant—sometimes they are coded so that only she will understand how menacing they are. Cameras are strategically placed to make sure she has no privacy in her own home.

This type of abuse often occurs without the woman’s knowledge, yet there can be signs that tell her something isn’t quite right—her partner knows where she is, or who she’s with, even when he shouldn’t; her phone or computer is behaving strangely; in one case, the family pet was mysteriously yowling and scratching at a spot on top of a wardrobe, which turned out to be a bugging device emitting a high pitched hum that only the cat could hear.

The effects of technology-facilitated abuse on a woman’s psychological and emotional state can be profound. She feels threatened, unsafe, and fearful. Her self-esteem is impacted, she loses confidence. She can feel trapped, vulnerable, and live her life walking on egg shells, afraid of what might be discovered, and the physical or emotional violence it may lead to. That freedom she is seeking for herself and her children doesn’t come easy as she remains tethered to her former partner through invasive technologies.

eSafety must be routinely integrated into overarching safety planning for a woman in an abusive relationship. Building the capacity of domestic and family violence frontline workers is absolutely key to this—to ensure women can continue to use technology safely, and in a way that’s least likely to increase her risk of harm.

The training we provide gives frontline workers the skills, the confidence and the essential knowledge they need to help the women in their care.

However, there are barriers to accessing face-to-face training—there’s the need to take time out of a busy work day, or to travel sometimes considerable distances, particularly for workers in regional and remote areas.

To overcome these obstacles we launched eSafetyWomen—online training for frontline workers. The online training gives frontline workers the opportunity to explore issues in greater depth, and to practice enabling the safety and security features of popular devices and social media platforms in their own time, and at their own pace.

This program helps frontline workers:

  • identify technology-facilitated abuse: i.e. what it looks like, and how it affects the person experiencing it
  • show the steps that women (and her children) can take to use technology and social media in a safer way
  • explain what the relevant laws are, and how to collect evidence
  • explain what to do about image-based abuse (a common feature of technology-facilitated abuse)
  • provide guidance on integrating eSafety planning into overarching risk assessment and safety planning.

Everyone has a right to be safe. Through this training we aim to reach domestic and family violence frontline workers across the country, so that more women can stay connected, and protected from technology-facilitated abuse.