Can Digital Abuse Be Worse Depending on Where You Live
Dangers of Remote Control in Remote Areas
Domestic abuse is an insidious problem impacting households globally, in all socioeconomic brackets. Digital abuse through technology grows daily as a method through which abusers traumatize and control victims.
Although victims of digital abuse live in almost every zip code, research reveals how those located in remote areas might face additional challenges in terms of seeking help.
Digital Coercive Control
Digital abuse continues to be a significant issue related to domestic violence. On this topic, Bridget A. Harris and Delanie Woodlock (2019) examined how domestic violence perpetrators use digital technology to engage in what they describe as "digital coercive control." Their work draws on two research projects from Australia, as well as emergent research, to provide frameworks to examine invasive behaviors facilitated through technology.
Harris and Woodlock (ibid.) also examined the link between digital abuse and other forms of violence. They acknowledge that technological abuse has distinct and unique features, including spacelessness. The concept of spatiality was central to their examination, and they considered what they refer to as the "spaceless yet geographically situated" experiences as well as the risks faced by victims who reside in regional, rural, and remote areas.
Where No One Can Hear You Scream
For most people, home is considered to be a safe space. Harris and Woodlock (supra.) note that historically, the home signified a "space of sanctity; diametrically opposed to the stereotypical sites of crimes in public places, committed by dangerous strangers." But according to some of the women in the projects they studied, their homes were quite the opposite. In the words of one of the women, describing how her home was not a safe spac — He has so much power, control over everything."
Harris and Woodlock (supra.) note that victim opportunities to leave abusive relationships can be hindered in rural areas by both infrastructure and socioeconomic factors. They may have limited access to transportation, possibly complicated also by poor road conditions in some areas. Abusers may exploit such conditions, as noted by some of the women in the study who resembled the victims in a previous study where victims reported that "no one can hear your screams" from residences that were secluded.
Many victims subjected to digital coercive control report they have to be very careful what they say online because their abuser is monitoring all of their text messages, as well as other use of technology. One woman in the study who was using the internet to plan her escape explains how she had to religiously delete her browsing history.
Omnipresence in Digital Space Can Be Forced
While some perpetrators engage in clandestine surveillance, others apparently enjoy informing their victims they are being surveilled. Harris and Woodlock (supra.) share the report of a woman in the study who explained that her ex-partner sent her Facebook messages saying, "I know where you are."And apparently it is not just abusers who watch victims, but others in their network as well.
One woman reports receiving a message from her abuser, "I know where you were last night, I had photos taken, you weren’t with the kids." Other victims have been informed they were surveilled during time frames when they knew the perpetrator was working or otherwise engaged.
Harris and Woodlock (supra.) describe how the spaceless feature of technology, combined with its ubiquity and its use for surveillance, creates a sense of an abuser’s "omnipotence and omnipresence." They note this makes victims feel as if they have lost their freedom, and is a way to "micro-regulate" their behavior, both in public and in private, and restrict their contact with support systems, through spaceless methods.
Remote Shaming and Blaming
Abusers also use technology to emotionally traumatize victims. Harris and Woodlock (supra.) note the experience reported by one victim, who shared that the perpetrator published her secrets, as well as the things she was ashamed of on Facebook for all to see — including her children.
In addressing this problem, Harris and Woodlock recognize the heavy responsibility placed on victims to shut down their social media, change their phone numbers, etc., in order to avoid the digital abuse as a new form of victim-blaming.
But normalization might become a problem as well. Harris and Woodlock (supra.) note that some young people report getting 50 texts a day from their friends and significant other, which might complicate the analysis of when communication has become abusive, in terms of deciding how many text messages reflect when an communication partner has crossed the line.
Technology as a Saving Space, a Lifeline
Hopefully, through continued discussion and increased public awareness, victims of digital abuse can enlist the help and support they need. Particularly for those who live in remote areas, technology can be more than a weapon for abusers, but a lifeline for survivors.
This article was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick, JD, MDiv, PhD, is an award-winning career trial attorney and media commentator. She is host of “Live with Dr. Wendy” on KCBQ, and a daily guest on other media outlets, delivering a lively mix of flash, substance, and style. Her over 4,500 media appearances include major news outlets including CNN, Fox News Channel, HLN, FOX Business Network, and weekly appearances on Newsmax. She is author of Red Flags (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the New York Times bestseller Reading People (Random House, revision). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin professionally with a rock band. Read Dr. Wendy L. Patricks's Reports — More Here.
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