Advances in digital technology have fundamentally transformed the way we communicate. From messaging friends on social media platforms, to using online dating websites, to tracking our exercise with mobile apps, to answering calls via wearable devices, we can now connect with our close friends, family, loved ones and larger community faster than ever. Digital tools constantly collect information about our interactions, and those closest to us are often involved in shaping our digital interactions.
While increasing our ease of connectivity to our partners is often an advantage, many people do not understand what digital abuse is and are not able to recognize the signs of digital abuse between partners. October marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and as Richard McKeon, Ph.D., chief of the suicide prevention branch at the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) points out: “survivors of intimate partner violence are twice as likely to attempt suicide multiple times, and cases of murder suicide are most likely to occur in the context of abuse.” Although physical violence is more commonly linked to domestic violence, digital platforms and software are also now leveraged as mechanisms to transmit abuse. Using abusive language and intimidating partners – whether publicly or privately online – can be just as devastating as an act of physical violence. By controlling a partner’s digital life, an abuser may find it an effective way to exercise control over someone’s physical, financial and emotional well-being.
Here are a few considerations to make digital safety a priority for yourself, your friends and your family in relationships:
Increase your awareness of the information collected by digital tools. Several mobile apps and websites automatically default to settings that track your location. Digital stalking can be made even easier with GPS, with social media platforms’ location tags often leaving a digital trail. Protect yourself and others by remaining aware of who has access to what devices, apps and accounts. Reset your passwords and contact information associated with your account on a routine basis for added security.
Recognize and understand the reach of digital tools. The Internet gives individuals a much broader platform to broadcast photos, screenshots of texts and documents that could potentially harm someone’s personal or professional life. Abusive partners can use public shaming or humiliation to distort the truth.
Take note of any abrupt changes in a friend or family member’s online behavior. If it seems like someone’s posts, comments or replies have changed in content or frequency, ask them directly about the changes you’ve observed. Their partner may be imposing limits on who they can contact and what they can post. Connect those in your community with digital and in-person resources and let them know you are there for them.
While digital abuse is common among young people who are frequently using technology at high rates, it is important to know that anyone can be a victim of digital abuse. In addition to local resources, national resources for domestic violence victim assistance and support include:
- For anonymous, confidential help available 24/7, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) now.
- Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) which can be reached through the RAINN Hotline at 1-800-865-HOPE or through its website at http://www.rainn.org/