How to help someone deal with tech-based abuse
If someone you know is experiencing tech-based domestic, family or sexual violence, these steps can help you support them.
Tech-based abuse can include things that happen online or that use digital technology, including harassment, making threats, stalking and patterns of controlling behaviour.
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Put safety first
A person in an abusive relationship is generally most at risk when they confront their abuser, try to leave them or after the relationship ends. The danger can escalate if the abuser finds out they are looking for advice about domestic, family and sexual violence, or for information about patterns of controlling behaviour (known as coercive control).
Do not try to confront the abusive person yourself because you may make things worse. For example, the abusive person may get angry and take it out on the person you are trying to help.
Be aware that it can hard for someone to acknowledge they are experiencing abuse, so they may reject your support at first. They may also not feel safe to talk to you. Try not to judge or demand change, because they know their situation better than anyone – they may not be ready to act yet, or it may not be safe for them.
Remember that it’s not their fault they’re being abused. It’s best to listen to what they have to say, reassure them that they are believed, praise their strengths and let them know you are ready to help. The abuser may try to isolate them from family and friends, but try to stay in contact if it’s safe to do so.
You might like to download a free app called Be There, which is designed to help you recognise signs of abuse and support someone in an abusive relationship.
Arrange access to a safe device
The abuser may be using settings or software on the devices of the person you are helping, to find out who they are contacting, where they are going and what they are doing. Suggest to the person you are helping that they use your phone or computer, or one at a library or similar safe place.
You could even get them their own device and keep it at your place or in another location where they can make calls, send messages or go online without their abuser knowing.
If they’re using a smart device, they should sign-in using a new email address, so the abusive person does not find out about the device. Help them create a new account to sign into services and download apps. Only download apps that are necessary to stay in touch, to reduce the risk of sharing their location with the abusive person. Do not reinstall this device from a backup, as this will bring across shared Apple IDs, Google Accounts, apps and any spyware.
Make sure the bill or invoice for the device is not sent to the abusive person. You can always suggest a prepaid service if that’s safer.
Encourage them to get support
If you are in Australia and someone’s physical safety is at immediate risk, call the police on Triple Zero (000). You can also read our advice about how to get legal help and how to collect evidence safely.
If the person you are worried about lives with an abusive partner, or has an abusive ex-partner, it’s important to encourage them to contact 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or another specialist counselling and support service from a safe device. These services offer practical support and can help with online safety planning.
Be careful about posts
It may be best not to post anything online about the person you’re helping (or their children), especially if you and the abusive person are friends or followers of each other or some of the same people. This is because being tagged in photos, videos, comments or check-ins could allow the abuser to track and control the person you’re helping. Even if you don’t tag their location, it may be easy to work out where they are from the background.
Always check before sharing anything about them on social media, games or other apps. Talking with them about how they use social media can also help them understand the risks and how to manage their own posts safely. They may like you to let others know not to share anything about them too.
You can also help them decide if they should unfriend, block or restrict the abusive person’s access to their online information – but it’s usually best to get the advice of a counselling and support service and create a safety plan first, in case taking action angers the abuser.
Use eSafety's safety checklist
For more advice, read eSafety’s online safety checklist. You can also look at our coercive control page which will help to identify any ‘red flags’ and warning signs.