In this day and age, technology is a powerful tool. But for domestic violence abusers, it can serve as a means of oppression and control. Find out how to protect yourself online
Trigger warning: This article discusses aspects of domestic violence and abuse.
Understanding how abusers use technology against their victims is an important step towards regaining digital autonomy and ensuring personal safety. If you are a survivor of domestic violence, it can be of great help to identify technology-related risks and learn how to counteract them.
In case your device had been bugged, read this article in the Incognito mode and delete the current session from your browsing history.
Check if your devices had been bugged
Unfortunately, there are spyware programs on the market that could allow your abuser to track you through your devices. Spying software installed on your phone could give them your exact location at all times or intercept calls and messages. Bugging your phone or computer in this way requires physical access to the device but can be done in less than an hour.
You can never know for sure if someone tampered with your device, but there are warning signs to look out for.
Signs your abuser might have bugged your device:
- Your abuser insists you take your phone with you whenever you leave the house
- Your abuser knows things that you would not expect them to, such as who you’ve been communicating with or the details of those conversations
- Your device behaves differently than it used to
- Your abuser took your device from you at some point in the past
Restore your device to factory settings
If you have good reasons to suspect that someone installed tracking software on your phone, you should restore it to factory settings. For most phones, resetting to factory settings should enable you to wipe the device of all its contents.
After removing spyware from your phone, make sure your abuser won’t be able to install it again. Set a new passcode you haven’t used on any devices or accounts before. Don’t use your phone’s integrated fingerprint or face scanner – someone could use those functions to unlock your device without your knowledge, for example, by using your finger when you’re sleeping. Try not to unlock your phone when your abuser is nearby; they might be trying to shoulder surf.
Backup your data
Your abuser might try to take your documents from you in an attempt to blackmail or intimidate you. It’s important to make copies of all your important documents, such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, your children’s documents, passports, visas, medical records, police reports, insurance policies, driving licenses, and so on.
Having these records will make it easier for you to get the documents back if they’re taken away by your abuser. If you don’t have access to a scanner, you can simply take a photo with your phone or head to the local library where there should be a photocopier.
Once you have copies of the documents, store them securely. If you can trust your device, upload the files into cloud storage. If you think your abuser might be controlling your devices, buy a secret USB stick, back up the files there, and keep it hidden away.
Gain some control of your finances
Using financial dependence as a way of gaining control over someone is called economic abuse and falls under the broader term of domestic abuse. If you can ensure you have access to and control over your finances, you’ll take a significant step towards independence.
If you have a bank account in your name, you’re already on the right track. But remember that conducting your banking activities over the phone or Internet leaves you vulnerable to the abuser trying to impersonate you. After all, they know all your personal information, so going through a phone verification should be a breeze for them. Visit your bank in person and request that they permanently disable phone and internet banking for you for the time being.
Credit cards are difficult to secure when you live under the same roof as your abuser. They probably had ample chances to write down your credit card details in the past, which now allows them to conduct online transactions or even cancel your card. The best course of action is to request a new card from your bank and have it sent to a safe address, perhaps your friend or a relative. Keep the new card hidden or consider leaving it with a trusted person so the abuser can’t steal your credit card details.