How Domestic Abuse Victims Can Use Tech to Escape the Situation
Technology today has grown to levels that we might not have expected in some years before, and the applications to different aspects of life have also been boosted in no small means. By different forms of life, though, we mean both the good and the bad.
To cut the long story short, this is evident in how technology can now be used to carry out domestic abuse in varying degrees. This is surely a growing concern for us, but there is good news too.
Should you ever find yourself in such a situation, technology can also provide a way out.
Cases of Technology-Propelled Domestic Violence
Seeing domestic violence in the light of something physical only will take all the depth out of this ugly situation. That is why the definition has been expanded to not just cases of physical attacks, but any other psychological, emotional and social abuse used by attackers to keep the victims under their thumbs.
Now that we have technology in the mix, there is no telling how much victims can be traumatized and constantly abused.
To put things in context, we should consider the stories of two couples as told by Chris Cox – who is the executive director of a company (Operation Safe Escape) that helps men and women alike run from abusive relationships.
The story of the first couple centers on Anna (not real name) who enjoyed the first year of her marriage only to have all hell break loose in the second year.
Among the various abuses meted out by her partner was his demand to know the password to all of her accounts. The interesting thing about this situation was that he still maintained autonomy over his own passwords, making it a less mutual situation for both of them.
He didn’t stop at that, though. Now that he knew her passwords, he got into the habit of checking her phone constantly. To make sure she didn’t make any moves he didn’t know about too, he went on to install parental control measures on her phone.
In short, he had access to any and everything she does on that device. If that is not a technology jail, we don’t know what it is.
The second case is that of Mike (not real name) who also suffered the same fate at the hands of his spouse.
His situation is more unique in that he was cut off from his network of family and friends by his wife. Since she had also installed parental control apps on his phone, he could not even reach out to anyone without her knowing.
In both cases, both abusive partners never laid a finger on their victims from these accounts. However, they have made it almost impossible for them to leave the relationship, make complaints to outside sources or live an autonomous life.
The worst side of domestic violence via technology is that it doesn’t stop when the victim leaves that relationship.
For example, Anna’s spouse remotely hacked into her digital video recording account and deleted a host of her favorite shows when she left him. He also went ahead to send derogatory emails to her employers so that she has a bad reputation with them.
In other cases, we can see abusive partners hack into motion sensors around the house to spook the victim even more. In a house where there are a lot of connected things, it becomes even worse.
Imagine waking up at the middle of the night to see the thermostat flicking on and off without anyone else being in the home. Imagine the emotional trauma from being startled by the dishwasher suddenly turning itself on or off – or your smart lights powering up and down by themselves.
In short, the possibilities are endless when tech is involved.
What to Do in These Situations
Under this heading, we are assuming you (or the victim) are still in that relationship. In such a case, you have to be as careful as possible. A single misstep from you could cause the abuser to tighten their noose around you even further.
The first thing to do is establish the series of ways you are being spied on. Depending on what your abuse already has access to, here are some things you want to make sure of:
● Only browse in Incognito Mode – You don’t want to risk your abuser going through your browsing history and finding out that you have been planning an escape. However, you still need to get on the internet to make valuable research. This is where Incognito mode comes in to make all the difference. The beauty of Incognito mode is that all the histories and cookies from your browsing session are deleted as soon as you close the tabs. To make sure your partner doesn’t suspect anything, browse other websites with the main browser tabs so something is always under your history tab.
● Use external computers – If you don’t trust surfing the web on your devices or communicating with outside sources, try external computers instead. We recommend going to the local library and using one of the computers you find there. Simply asking the library staff for help with encrypting your connection and communications will also do you a lot of good since they are skilled in such. That way, you never risk being found out communicating with the outside.
● Document the abuser’s access – While planning an escape, don’t forget to document how the abuse is being carried out. This will help you remember just what the abuser has access to so you can tackle it when you finally get out of the relationship. Without such knowledge, you might always be exposed to the attacker’s abuse even when you have left the same roof/ city/ state as them.
● Setup new email addresses – Your other email addresses are compromised for now, so you don’t want to use those for anything sensitive and risk your abuser finding out. With the incognito mode or an external computer, create a new email account that is not linked to your name at all. It could be something very generic, so that it doesn’t leave a trail back to you. It is also recommended that you never sync this email with any device, neither should you keep it logged in.
This email will aid your communication, saving of sensitive documents and such. Speaking of…
● Scan your documents – Thankfully, you can use your smartphone to scan documents today – even if they are not as professional as the real deal. With that knowledge, you should not waste time in scanning and saving copies of your most sensitive documents in cloud storages.
Here, take note of your academic certificates, property certificates, drivers’ license, ID cards, international passports, and such other important files. Most times, abusers take these files away from their victims so that they (the victims) do not get to escape. If you have a scanned copy of them all, you can always leave and print out your documents elsewhere.
● Get a burner phone – Burner phones, by definition, are inexpensive units that you can buy without a contract, with their main aim being making of calls and sending messages. Since they don’t cost much, they can usually be paid for in cash.
You can get just about any device as a burner phone today, even the ones that can connect to the internet. Make sure you pay for it in cash so that the transaction doesn’t show up in your account, and take measures to keep the phone hidden. Save your support network (friends and family who know about your situation and plan to escape) on this phone and never contact anyone else. A safety precaution is to delete all call logs and messages so that you remain safe should the phone ever be found.
● Stash money away – This might be difficult when the abuser has access to your phone and bank login information. But then, technology has changed the concept of money as we know it today.
There are a series of online wallets you can open to store your money on (PayPal, Payoneer, Neteller, Perfect Money, etc.). If you are concerned about the abusive partner finding out, cryptocurrencies are another way to turn. After all, these will allow you to create anonymous wallets and perform transactions that cannot be linked back to you in any way.
What to Do After the Escape
After leaving such an abusive relationship, there is more work to be done. You have to make sure you are totally free from the influence and reach of the abuser to aid your recovery and integration into a life of better quality than before.
To do so:
● Change your account passwords – Changing the passwords to any and all accounts that the abuser might have access to is necessary. In fact, we recommend taking this time to change the passwords on ALL of your accounts, as you don’t know which they might have access to without your knowledge.
When setting a new password, use online password generating software. That reduces the chances of picking a password they will be able to guess.
● Change your account details – Besides passwords, there are other details about your account that you should change. One of the most important in this section are the security questions.
Things like your date of birth, first street you lived on, mother’s maiden name and so on can be easily guessed by the abusive partner. While you might not change the question itself, you can lie on the answers so only you know the true answers.
● Scan your devices – Take a minute to remove all the parental controls that must have been installed on your phone and other devices. In the same way, look for apps that could be used to monitor you and uninstall them.
If you wouldn’t mind, we would prefer that you reset these devices to factory settings altogether. You might have to flash the ROM on these units to get autonomous access, but that is a really small price to pay for safety.
● Check for implants – Bugs like microphones can be used to listen in on your conversations. Take your units to specialized personnel and tell them to look for anything out of the ordinary. Don’t forget to get your car checked too as it could have had its GPS system tapped.
● Check your connected devices – If your ex-partner knew about your connected devices, they could use this to frustrate you. Reset all of them, setting up fresh accounts and syncing them up again like they were new.
This includes devices as simple as your smartwatch to more sensitive devices like motion sensors, smart assistants and cameras in the home. They can easily be turned against you, and you don’t want that to happen.
● Reach out for help – Even if you are not ready to go public yet, reach out to friends and family with your situation so that they can always come to your aid at the slightest beck. This is not a time for you to be alone. Most importantly, when your attacker knows that you now have a support network, they won’t be as motivated to come near you.
If you find yourself in an abusive relationship, we want you to know that it is not the end of the world. It will be difficult, but keep a strong front and plan your escape meticulously.
When you do get out, take all of the measures above to ensure you are totally free from your abuser. Then, live life and enjoy your freedom.
Never, for once, blame yourself for what happened to you. No matter what anyone might say, it is not your fault – and no one deserves to be abused in any way.