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Tech abuse

Technological or tech abuse refers to the use of technology to perpetrate domestic abuse online and in other virtual settings. Technology plays an integral role in modern life and is increasingly necessary for day-to-day tasks.

In 2019, UK-based domestic abuse charity Refuge found than 72% of women accessing its services had been subjected to technology-facilitated abuse [1]. Additionally, a survey by Women's Aid revealed that 90% of domestic abuse service providers reported an increase in demand for online support during the COVID-19 lockdown [2].

During the global pandemic, while many of us have turned to technology as a means of connecting with family, friends, work, and school, for those subjected to technologically facilitated abuse, this has been a particularly difficult and isolating time. Personal devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, and computers can be misused to monitor, stalk, harass, impersonate and threaten abuse victims. The increased interconnectivity of these devices, along with the increasing presence of smart technology in the home (such as Wi-Fi enabled security cameras, baby monitors, etc.) can give abusers an extensive system through which to control their victims and enact harms against them.

Examples of tech abuse listed by Refuge include:

  • Constant calls, texts and online messages to yourself, your family or your friends, your employer or you work clients

  • The publication of posts about you which encourage others to harass or abuse you online

  • The threat or actual publication of information that could cause you embarrassment, screenshots of messages, images of you or intimate photos of you

  • Access to and control over your social media, bank accounts or other personal accounts

  • Stalking of harassment through fake social media accounts

  • Tracking your whereabouts through your phone location and/or turning up unexpectedly wherever you go

  • Giving your children technological devices so they can remain in communication beyond contact hours

These activities isolate victims online, diminishing their personal and professional networks and undermining their independent and security.

Victims of tech abuse can take the following steps to protect themselves online"

  • Change your passwords and update your privacy settings. Turn off your location sharing and unpair your devices, but only if you feel safe to do so and that such actions will not incite further violence from an abuser.

  • Get a new device. This may be particularly suitable in instances where you are newly separated from your abuser.

  • Identify the abusive activity you are being subject to, keep a record, save any evidence, and report the abuse to law enforcement.

Under current UK legislation, tech abuse has previously been prosecuted under a range of offences, such as laws pertaining to stalking and harassment. However, in recent years a number of new pieces of legislation and policies have been proposed, including an Online Harms Policy (2019), a policy on the Security of the IoT (Internet of Things, e.g. smart devices like internet-enabled home security) and the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21, which is currently progressing through the Houses of Parliament.



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