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    The Rise of Tech Abuse

    Reading Time: 3 minutes

    The Rise of Tech Abuse


    When I worked in a refuge, we warned all new women coming into the refuge to call their banks and change their addresses to the PO Box address of the refuge, and if they did not want to do that, not to use ‘hole in the wall’ cash dispensers. We experienced and heard of many women found by their abusers because they had used the cash dispensers, not even thinking that when their bank statements arrived in the post, their abuser would only have to look at where the money was taken out to get a pretty good idea of where they were! That was about as technical as it got back then!

    Oh, how things have changed!!

    Smartphones, smart TVs, ring doorbells, alarm systems, stereos, garage doors, baby monitors – the list goes on and on. With the advent of the internet came technology that has literally changed everyone’s lives. The question is, has it changed our lives for the better or for the worse? For victims and survivors escaping abusive partners and ex-partners, I would argue that it has been for the worse!

    A recent report by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee has found that the vast majority of domestic abuse cases feature some element of tech abuse or cyber abuse. This includes the use of spyware, with perpetrators being able to watch their victim’s movements and collect images and recordings of them.

    In 2020, 59% of the victims and survivors that were supported by Refuge which is one of the largest specialist providers of support for victims and survivors of domestic abuse in the UK, experienced abuse which involved technology.

    Women are now being found in refuge just as a result of the women staying logged on to their Netflix accounts!

    Apart from having to contemplate the hugely difficult and usually traumatic experience of leaving their homes with their children and trying to manoeuvre between housing offices and benefits agencies, victims and survivors now have to also try to remember if their phone is still tracking their location or their smartwatch is still connected to their device!

    MP’s have reportedly said that there is no ‘silver bullet’ when dealing with tech abuse but that it has encouraged the Government to improve the criminal justice system’s response to it. There needs to be more public awareness of tech abuse and more specialist services to support victims of it. At the moment, the criminal justice system’s response to tech abuse is woefully lacking.

    All too often, victims and survivors of tech abuse are expected to do something about the abuse. Cancel their social media accounts, change their mobile phone numbers etc. Why should they do that? Why should they have to do that?!

    The police often lack understanding about how devastating tech abuse can be for victims and survivors. I have worked with women whose abusive ex-partners have sent intimate pictures of them to every single member of that woman’s family and the police said they were not able to do anything!

    The government has made progress in tackling some forms of tech abuse through the online safety bill but there is still so much more to do before people can feel safe online.

    A government spokesperson has recently said, “We will introduce world-leading rules next year to bolster cybersecurity standards across devices, protecting individual privacy and security, and our Online Safety Bill will become law in a matter of months – making the UK the safest place in the world to be online”.

    This is a bold statement. We can only hope that it becomes a reality.


    Sharon Bryan

    Head Of Partnerships & Development Of Domestic Abuse Services

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    By Fiona Bawden, Times Online (8th May 2007)

    “Steve Connor, a student at City Law School, is a man on a mission. Six years ago he was a fairly directionless 27-year-old. Today, as well as taking the Bar Vocational Course, he is chairman of the National Centre for Domestic Violence, a ground-breaking organisation that he dragged into existence after a friend could not get legal help to protect her from an abusive partner.

    Connor’s route to the Bar has been circuitous. In 2001 he returned from a year in Australia (he says that he would not dignify describing it as a gap year), and took a job as a process server in South London. The job (“I just saw it advertised in the paper”) was not quite as dull as it sounds. On one occasion he was threatened with a machete, on another, he was nearly stabbed by a man he had arranged to meet on Clapham Common to serve with a non-molestation order: “He’d seemed really friendly on the phone…”

    The turning point in his life came when a friend, who was being abused by her partner, turned to him for support. Connor went with her to the police. She did not want to press criminal charges so the police suggested that she visit a solicitor to take out a civil injunction. “We must have seen 12 solicitors in a morning. We just went from one to the next to the next to the next. Everyone was very eager to help until we sat down to fill in the forms for the legal aid means test,” he says. The woman, who had a small child, did not qualify for public funding. But, Connor says, her financial situation as it appeared on paper did not bear any relation to her financial situation in reality. “She had a part-time job and she and her partner owned their home. Yet she didn’t have any money. Her boyfriend was very controlling and controlled all the money; he kept the chequebooks and didn’t let her have access to the bank account.”

    The injustice of the situation got under Connor’s skin. “I just couldn’t believe that there was no help available to people who did not qualify for public funds but could not afford to pay.

    I just kept feeling that this must be able to be sorted if only someone would address it.”That “someone” turned out to be him.

    In 2002, thanks entirely to Connor’s doggedness, the London Centre for Domestic Violence was formed. It started out with him and a friend, but is now a national organisation, covering 27 counties, and has helped approximately 10,000 victims last year to take out injunctions against their partners.

    NCDV now has nine full-time staff, 12 permanent volunteers and has trained over 5000 law and other students as McKenzie Friends to accompany unrepresented victims into court. We have also trained over 8000 police officers in civil remedies available regarding domestic violence. The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) has branches in London, Guildford and Manchester and is on track to have branches in 16 areas within the next two years.

    NCDV specialises exclusively in domestic violence work and could be characterised as a cross between McDonald’s and Claims Direct. The high degree of specialisation means that its processes are streamlined: clients can be seen quickly and the work is done speedily and cheaply. “Sometimes, we will have one of our trained McKenzie Friends at a court doing 10 applications in one day,” Connor says.

    Clients are not charged for the service. NCDV staff take an initial statement: clients who qualify for legal aid are referred to a local firm; those that don’t get free help from the centre itself. It runs on a shoestring, heavily reliant on volunteers and capping staff salaries at £18,000 a year.

    Steve expects to qualify as a barrister this summer and hopes that having a formal legal qualification will give the centre added clout. “We are already acknowledged as experts and consulted at a high level, so I thought it would be helpful if I could back that up by being able to say I’m a barrister,” he says. He is just about to complete a one-year full-time BVC course at the City Law School (formerly the Inns of Court Law School) and, all being well, should be called to the Bar in July. Although Connor sees his long-term future as a barrister, he says that he has no immediate plans to practise. “I want to get NCDV running on a fully national level. Then I may take a step back and have a career at the Bar.”