Red flags to look out for
The warning signs of tech-based coercive control can be different in every relationship, and at different times in the relationship or after it’s ended. These are examples of some common ones to watch for, but you may experience others.
Love bombing you
- Beginning the relationship by flattering you, showing you lots of attention, making big promises or telling you they love you very early – for example, even when you have only been in contact on a dating app or through online messages. Later, they may claim that any angry, mean, upset or distrustful behaviour, such as getting jealous about who you connect with online, is because they love you so much.
Gaslighting or undermining you
- Making you confused about what’s happening so you start to doubt your ability, skills, memory or sanity – for example, changing the settings on smart home devices so things like the heating, lights or television turn on at unexpected times.
- Refusing to admit they’re tracking or monitoring you, even when there is evidence to show they are, and using discriminatory terms like you’re ‘crazy’, ‘mad’ or ‘insane’ when you question them.
- Searching topics on your devices to create a fake internet browsing history that they accuse you of being responsible for.
- Posting backhanded compliments (or ‘negging’ you) on social media to damage your self-esteem.
- Spreading lies about you – for example, posting comments or sending messages that imply you are emotionally unstable or have mental health issues.
- Claiming their controlling behaviours and demands are healthy forms of ‘boundary setting’ and reasonable expressions of their relationship needs, and accusing you of being confused or misguided if you don’t agree. This is sometimes referred to as ‘manipulation or therapy speak’.
Harassing or threatening you
- Repeatedly calling or sending messages demanding to know information like ‘What are you doing?’, ‘Who are you with?’, ‘Where are you?’ and expecting you to respond immediately.
- Posting a comment or sending you a message that has an abusive or threatening meaning to you, even though it seems innocent to others. For example, sending you a flame emoji if they have previously threatened to injure you with fire, or an animal emoji if they have previously threatened to harm your pet.
- Threatening to ‘out’ your sexuality or sexual preferences to all your contacts if you argue with them.
- Threatening to share your personally identifiable information online, also known as ‘doxing’, unless you do what they say.
- Creating fake social media accounts in your name and posting embarrassing or abusive content to undermine you or discredit you, especially during family law proceedings.
Monitoring your activity
- Messaging your friends or family to check up on you.
- Monitoring your phone calls, texts, online messages and search history by accessing your accounts or devices.
- Constantly calling or tracking your device location to check where you are.
- Seeming to know information from your private conversations, messages or emails, or turning up in places where you’re not expecting them.
- Installing new cameras or security systems in your home or car that they claim are for your safety.
- Using a two-way surveillance system at home to tell you what to do when they’re not there.
- Tracking where you are through your pet’s microchip.
- Telling you who you can and can’t communicate with online and offline.
- Spreading rumours or lies about you in messages or posts, to damage your friendships.
- Refusing to let you work or study by restricting your access to devices, transport apps or key cards.
- Damaging, destroying or removing technology you use for assistance, such as hearing, mobility or accessibility aids.
- Claiming any restrictions they place on your use of technology are for your own good, or best for your relationship or their ‘self-care’.
Restricting your privacy and independence
- Insisting you tell them the passcode to your phone or the passwords to your devices and online accounts.
- Accessing your online accounts without your consent – for example, by using a password you saved on your device.
- Changing the passcode or passwords to your devices and online accounts, so you can’t use them without their help or permission.
- Monitoring your MyGov account so they know when and where you accessed services.
- Telling you what you can and can’t post on social media.
- Forcing you to post photos together appearing happy and in love, so others think you are in a healthy relationship.
- Insisting on joining your telehealth calls with your doctor, or other online appointments.
- Accessing your fitness devices to track your eating habits, weight or menstrual cycle.
- Refusing to let you know how smart devices work in your home, so you have to ask for help or permission to use them.
Financially abusing you
- Taking money from your online accounts without your consent.
- Limiting your access to money – for example by stopping you from having a separate online bank account, restricting access to your bank cards, or withholding child support payments to make it hard for you to afford essentials like food and clothes.
- Checking your online activity to make sure you’re not applying for jobs, so you give up your career and become financially dependent on them.
- Sending you a message via a bank transfer description that has an abusive or threatening meaning which the bank's moderators have not detected.
- Gambling your joint money online and blaming you for their online gambling problems.
Being sexually violent
- Pressuring you to engage in sexual activities online that degrade or humiliate you.
- Sharing or threatening to share an intimate image or video of you without your consent. This is image-based abuse or ‘revenge porn’ and you can report it to eSafety (even if they use a deepfake or digitally altered image or video).
- Creating a fake social media account in your name and using it to post sexually explicit content, or making sexual advances to people online while pretending to be you.
- Recording you having sex or performing other intimate activities without your consent or knowledge.
- Pressuring you to watch, mimic or participate in the creation of online pornography. This might extend to physical abuse, if violent acts such as strangulation are copied.
Using your religious or cultural beliefs to hurt you
- Stopping you from joining online religious, spiritual or cultural practices, events or traditions.
- Posting an image of you without religious or cultural clothing you would usually wear in public. This is image-based abuse and you can report it to eSafety.
- Threatening to have you deported (especially for women on spousal visas), to block divorce, to arrange your so-called ‘honour killing’ or to shame you culturally (such as hair cutting, which in some cultures is a sign of adultery).
Using your children to track, control or threaten you
- Buying a child a digital device and setting it up to share their location, or tricking the child into turning on location sharing settings on your devices, so the person controlling you can track you.
- Hiding tracking, surveillance or recording devices in children’s backpacks, prams or toys to watch you.
- Telling the child to call or text them regularly when they are with you, but not allowing the child to call you when they’re with them.
- Contacting a child online outside of agreed or imposed access hours by pretending to be someone else or using a gaming or social media chat.
- Threatening to call or email social services to falsely claim you are neglecting or abusing your children.
- Finding out your contact information, and other details you want to keep secret, by accessing systems that hold records related to your children, such as Medicare and school apps.