Person Using a Smartphone

How smart phone technology changed the nature of domestic abuse


What was life like before the smart phone? Can anyone really remember? You could go about your entire day without having to check a screen every few minutes. You could pay your bills once a month by sitting down and writing a cheque, and putting it in an envelope which you would post by walking to the post box on the corner of the street. You were not bombarded at every moment of the day by pop up ads and subscription based services that take seconds to sign up to, but require a masters degree to understand ow to unsubscribe.

It’s safe to say that the more technology has advanced, the more insidiously it is used by those who seek to perpetrate abuse and harassment against their innocent victims. The more we feel we should be connected to others and therefore safe, the more the reality is actually the opposite.

Restricting access and isolation 

Isolation of a loved one from their friends and family is one of the red flags in the behaviour of an abuser. While communications between close friends and family is positively enhanced through social media and messaging, this makes it increasingly apparent if one much loved member drops out soon after meeting a new partner.

Chances are that person’s use of the phone is being restricted, its use weaponized as an effort to control their victim’s access to the outside world.

Leaving a digital trail

It can make the person being abused increasingly nervous about using the phone for any of the activities most of us take for granted. While searching the internet is an everyday activity for everything from booking a dentist appointment to helping with your kids’ homework, for someone who is on the receiving end of continuous abuse it can leave a digital trail that is further weaponized against them.

While the internet contains myriad advice and signposts to help those who are suffering from domestic abuse and coercive control, for someone trapped in that situation accessing that information could be problematic. If your search history shows up searches for non-molestation orders, local women’s refuges, and other related issues, that puts you in a vulnerable position with your abuser.

Constant surveillance

As well as restricting access to smart comms, an abuser can also use it as a constant source of surveillance. GPS tracking apps, messaging, video check-ins, camera based security systems – there is no end to the range of scape of smart operated surveillance technology which can make a victim feel as though there is no escape, and no sense of privacy.

Such surveillance erodes any sense of confidence and self worth someone might have. Knowing that there is someone watching over you 24 hours a day, seven days a week can bring on symptoms of anxiety, depression and post traumatic distress.

Online harassment and stalking

Smart technology has drastically increased the prevalence of ‘stranger danger’, whereby a perpetrator can have access to someone across various social media channels. While simply blocking someone sems a simple enough solution, the truth is that a persistent abuser will come back under several different guises, creating fake accounts and spreading misinformation and images in a bid to continue the campaign of harassment. Other than constantly reporting the perpetrator, and keeping a record of every single interaction, there is very little that an individual can do to stop it.

In this respect your smartphone becomes an item of fear. Every ping of a notification, every vibration can be a trigger that magnifies the fear and paranoia that becomes an every day reality for the victims of abuse and harassment.


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