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.
Head Of Partnerships & Development Of Domestic Abuse Services