Written by Techwarn.com
Content warning: This guide discusses aspects of domestic violence and abuse
Nearly 3 in 10 women (29%) in the US have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner, according to the US National Domestic Violence Hotline . There is no doubt that domestic violence remains an epidemic — not just in the US, but worldwide.
With the advent of technology, abusers have new ways of controlling and manipulating their victims. Digital devices can become dangerous tools of abuse in the wrong hands. It’s vital that domestic violence survivors are aware of the nefarious ways technology can be used against them.
If you or someone you know has experienced domestic abuse, read this guide to find out how to ensure tech safety.
Check if there’s stalkerware on your device
It’s known by many names: stalkerware, spyware, spouseware… Tracking software that can remotely monitor your browsing activity, intercept your texts, and track your exact GPS location is easily available online. Abusive partners and stalkers can even download it from Google Play .
According to shocking estimates, tens of thousands of people might have had consumer stalkerware installed on their devices without their knowledge. Spyware usually finds its way onto a device through a malicious attachment that triggers the installation process or through physical installation.
Knowing whether there’s stalkerware on any of your devices is crucial for your physical safety. Telling it for sure can be hard without the right expertise but here are some of the red flags:
- Your device starts acting up for no reason.
- Your abuser sent you a suspicious attachment through email or a messaging app that triggered a download process.
- Your abuser knows things they have no explicable way of finding out: where you are at all times, what you search for online, the contents of your conversations.
- Your device’s battery life is a lot shorter than it used to be.
Don’t think there’s stalkerware on your devices? That’s great news! Now, you should take precautions in case your abuser tries to install it on your phone or laptop in the future.
First, change the passwords and screen locks for all your devices. Don’t use the biometric screen lock feature — there’s a chance the abuser could take your fingerprint while you’re asleep.
After changing all passwords, stay vigilant when you unlock your devices. Your abuser might try to shoulder surf to get your login credentials. Watch out also for the attachments you download and get a good antivirus on all devices.
How to handle stalkerware
If you discovered that there is spyware on your device, you might feel tempted to confront your abuser immediately. A confrontation may, however, result in an escalation of abuse. Remember that your safety comes first.
Elle Armageddon, a security expert and activist, recommends using your devices as if nothing happened for the time being . Carry on texting friends, posting on social media, and using apps in order not to alert your abuser that anything is amiss.
The only thing that should change is being more selective with the tasks you use your controlled device for. Don’t talk to friends negatively about the abuser, don’t search for exit plan options, and don’t seek help.
Use a prepaid phone or a desktop computer at your local library for all the above actions. That way you can keep a level of digital autonomy from your abuser without alerting them that something is wrong. A backup phone will also be handy when you eventually make your escape as you should leave the compromised device behind.
Prevent economic abuse
Economic, or financial, abuse is a common form of domestic abuse. Financial dependence can be leveraged by the abuser to manipulate their victim and make exiting the relationship extra difficult. When there’s no real financial dependence, the abuser might try to seize your money to take your economic independence away from you.
Impersonating an intimate partner is fairly simple, especially in the digital age. Your abuser like has, or had in the past, access to your bank statements, credit card details, and other sensitive information. If you want to make sure they won’t be able to access your bank account, call your bank and request that they disable internet banking for your account.
Consider also having your financial information and any other sensitive mail sent to a secret post box office. You can get a post office box from the United States Postal Service or vendors such as Parcel Plus, Mail Boxes Etc., or The UPS Store.
Abuse in the 21st century
Technology can empower women in so many ways. Unfortunately, it also has the potential to destroy lives when used with evil intent.
Domestic violence survivors should be aware of technology-related risks and learn how to counteract them. At a time when so much of our lives are happening in the online world, safeguarding digital autonomy is more important than ever.
 The National Domestic Violence Hotline, “Get the Facts & Figures”, available at: https://www.thehotline.org/resources/statistics/
 ExpressVPN, “Tech safety for survivors of domestic violence”, 21 May 2019, available at: https://www.expressvpn.com/internet-privacy/tech-safety-guide-domestic-violence/
 Vice, “When Technology Takes Hostages: The Rise of ‘Stalkerware’”, 25 May 2017, available at: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/nejmnz/when-technology-takes-hostages-the-rise-of-stalkerware