Content warning: This article discusses aspects of domestic violence and abuse.
An estimated two million adults experienced domestic abuse in the UK last year, according to the Office for National Statistics. Women were twice as likely to have experienced domestic violence as men, while women of color were three times more likely to die at the hands of their partners than white women.
In the digital age, it’s easier to find information on how to get help and connect with other survivors. Unfortunately, technology also gives abusers new avenues to control and manipulate the survivors. Knowing how tech can be used against them is an important first step for survivors to ensure personal safety.
This guide discusses some of the ways technology is used by domestic abusers and how survivors can strive towards greater digital autonomy.
Make sure you can trust your devices
There are many spyware programs out there. It’s not uncommon for domestic abusers to extend their control over survivors by installing tracking software on their devices. This type of software can track the target’s location, intercept their messages, record their calls, and more.
Signs that your device might have been tampered with:
- Your device behaves differently than it used to
- Your abuser took your device from you for an extended period
- Your abuser knows intimate details from your life, such as what you did at a specific time or contents of the messages you send
- Tapping software will likely consume quite a lot of battery power. If your battery runs out faster than it used it could be a red flag
- There is unusual background noise when you’re on a call
It’s hard for a layperson to know for sure whether there’s a tracking software on their device, but if you notice one or more of these red flags it’s better to err on the side of caution. Remember also there are many ways to track you: the abuser could have planted a GPS tracker in your car or installed secret cameras at home. Stay vigilant.
Regain control of your devices
Suspecting that there is tapping software on your device? The easiest course of action would, of course, be to uninstall it. However, a lot of spyware software is hidden, so you won’t be able to simply find the right icon and delete it.
If that’s the case, try restoring your device to factory settings. This is a drastic measure as it wipes your entire device clean, but it should get rid of the tapping software in the process. Make sure you backup all your files and information before you do this.
Once you’ve regained control of your device, you can take steps to prevent the abuser from installing a tapping program on it again. Choose a new screen lock on your phone or a new password on your laptop. Ideally, don’t use the fingerprint, face scanner, or other biometric unlocking features. Someone could try unlocking your phone with your finger while you’re asleep.
If you’re not sure whether the spyware is gone from your device, consider the device unsafe to use. If possible, use a desktop computer in your local library for looking up sensitive information and communicating with your friends.
Take steps against financial abuse
Financial abuse is one of the forms of domestic abuse where the abuser uses financial dependence as a means of control. Women living with HIV are particularly vulnerable to this form of abuse — the discrimination against HIV-positive professionals can make earning a living especially tough.
If you’re not sure whether you’re a victim of financial abuse, you can use these questions to identify your situation.
The important first step to battle financial abuse is to secure your own financial means. Your abuser likely has access to your bank card statements, National Insurance number, or other identifying information. Thanks to all this sensitive data, they can access your current accounts, freeze your assets, or transfer them to their own account.
Take proactive steps to prevent your abuser from taking your financial means away. You can call your bank and credit card companies to change your account numbers, PIN numbers, passwords, and other access codes. Ask your bank to disable online banking for your account. Online banking is the easiest way for your abuser to impersonate you and take control of your money.
Secure your personal data
Your abuser withholding important documents and financial records from you is a scenario you should prepare for. If you still have safe access to your documents, make digital copies of them and store them in a safe place that your abuser doesn’t know about. If you’re certain you can trust your device, upload them into cloud storage. Otherwise, you can buy a USB stick, upload the files there, and keep it hidden.
Some of the documents you might want copies of include your passport, birth certificate, marriage certificate, copies of your checking account, savings account, and credit card numbers, your children’s travel documents, driving license, medical records, insurance policies, and loan/mortgage information.