Modern technology allows abusers to track and spy on their victims cheaply and easily. Victims and survivors of domestic abuse who feel something is wrong should consider the possibility that they are being tracked or stalked through their computers, phones and social media accounts. These online safety steps can help stop it
In this era of oversharing, it’s easy for an abuser to gain information about his or her victim.
- Don’t post or share anything you don’t want the world to know.
- Maintain strict control over your privacy settings on all accounts.
- Facebook’s privacy settings change constantly, but they do allow you to customise them to an extent. Put people into different groups and give those groups specific privileges. Change your settings so you have to review posts with you tagged in them. Go through and untag previous posts.
- Ask your friends not to post or share anything about you online without your permission. Stress that it could put your safety in jeopardy.
- Consider deleting your social media accounts entirely.
- Make these changes from a safe computer if you suspect your computer has spyware.
GPS tracking and monitoring
GPS tracking devices can track and monitor objects and people in real time. Some abusers use this technology to keep tabs on their victims. Abusers may also spy on you with nanny cams or similar, which they can monitor from a remote location.
- If you believe you’re being tracked or stalked, check if there’s a GPS tracking device on your car and remove it. A small device may also be implanted in your clothing, shoes or handbag. If you decide to go to a safe house or refuge, don’t wear old clothing, but something new in case your old clothes are compromised.
- Look for nanny cams and other surveillance devices in your home and at work.
A type of software called spyware on your laptop or desktop computer can track every website you visit, every email you send and receive, every document you open, print and more. It can even track your keystrokes, allowing someone to discover your passwords.
Your abuser needn’t have had physical access to your computer- spyware can be installed by online hacking or through an email attachment you or your children open.
Because it can be hard to tell if your computer has spyware – which is designed to escape detection – you might have to trust your instinct. If you feel your abuser knows more than he or she should about your whereabouts or what’s going on in your life, it’s possible that he or she is spying on you via your computer.
- Use a safe computer (e.g. at the library) to change passwords on accounts you want to keep secure, then do not access them from your home computer.
- Use a safe computer to create new email accounts with usernames that don’t identify you. You might want to create a separate address for your financial accounts, one for trusted friends only and one you can give to people who know both you and your abuser, in case they forward correspondence on.
- Talk to your children about not opening attachments in case they contain spyware.
- Get a new computer if possible. Once spyware is on your computer, it may be extremely difficult or impossible to remove entirely.
- If you don’t think your computer has spyware on it yet, ensure you have a secure firewall and install anti-spyware software that is set to update automatically. Keep in mind, however, that if you already have spyware these steps won’t stop it from continuing to gather data.
Spyware exists for mobile phones too. Much of this software is marketed to parents as a way to protect and monitor their children, but some abusers use it to spy on their current or former partners.
Spyware can track incoming and outgoing calls and texts, record phone calls and more. Some software can also work like a bug – as soon as a call comes in, the phone’s microphone begins recording, even if the call is rejected or ignored. Many programmes can also use a phone’s GPS to track its location in real time.
- Turn off your phone’s GPS. Some phones have the option to allow GPS only when calling 999 – check if yours has this capability.
- If you are receiving calls, consider keeping logs and saving evidence to use in any legal case against your abuser.
- If you plan to go to a refuge or safe house, it’s sensible to leave your phone behind. Even when turned off, phones can provide information. Instead, get a prepaid phone that doesn’t require a contract or identifying information.
If you found our tips on online safety interesting, you might like to read about what happens when someone who has experienced domestic abuse engages a solicitor. Read it here.