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Domestic Abusers Can Weaponize Tech

weaponized domestic tech

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Wednesday, 06 November 2019 05:24 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Domestic Abusers Create Virtual Victims by Remote Control

It's great to be able to snap your fingers, clap your hands, or press a button to control the features in your home. Or to verbally ask whichever voice activated device you've chosen as an electronic home companion to read you the news or the weather report. But like so many other technological advances that are designed for convenience, what's widely used can also be misused.

As I wrote in a prior column, "Remote Controlled: Domestic Abuse Through Technology," some abusers manipulate household electronic items to make a partner feel intimidated, confused, afraid, and concerned that he or she is going crazy. From music, to temperature control, to alarms, remotely operated technology can be weaponized as a form of power and control, used to both confuse and abuse.

There are unfortunately many other ways in which modern technology is used to facilitate domestic abuse often evidencing an underlying desire for power and coercive control.

Technology Facilitated Abuse

Heather Douglas et al. in, "Technology-facilitated Domestic and Family Violence” (2019) discuss how the use of different types of technology is being used to facilitate domestic and family violence.

They examined a variety of technological means of communication ranging from smartphones to social media platforms such as Facebook, interviewing 55 survivors of domestic and family violence in Australia. Included within the range of technology-facilitated abuse they studied were incidents of identity theft, abusive texting, social media defamation, doxxing (sharing someone´s personal details online), and unauthorized sharing of sexual images.

Ominous Omnipresence

Regarding overt monitoring, Douglas et al. (ibid.) note that perpetrators create a sense of omnipresence when they openly use technology to track victims, although many abusers prefer covert methods of tracking such as using a GPS device. They define location-based tracking technology within intimate relationships (as well as post-separation) as "the most blatant example” of what prior research refers to as “spatial and temporal extension of control." Recognizing that GPS tracking removes physical boundaries, obviating the need for physical proximity.

They give one example of a woman suspecting her ex-partner had put a GPS device on her car because she noticed a drain on her car battery, and observed that her ex-partner frequently turned up in places where she was.

Creating Virtual Isolation

Douglas et al. (supra) note that perpetrators control of technology can also create a sense of victim isolation by cutting off remote access to friends and family. This was found to be a particularly devastating method of control for women who were newly arrived in a new country and had been relying on a video call program like Skype for example to maintain contact with family back home.

They note that some victims decide to unplug completely from technology to escape a perpetrator’s abuse. This disconnection, however, can increase a sense of isolation because it separates victims from not only their abusers, but also from their online support system, often including friends and family, as well as personal and professional opportunities.

Social Media Manipulation

Douglas et al. (supra) also recognize how platforms such as Facebook, with the capability to connect users with many levels of friends-of-friends, can be used by abusers to infiltrate a victim´s online social network. Not only does this type of manipulation allow an abuser to virtually monitor victim behavior (often referred to as Facebook stalking), it also allows abusers to potentially interfere with a victim´s support system.

Douglas et al. note that this type of social context manipulation can occur well in advance of a woman realizing they are involved in a violent relationship, and is evidence of coercive control. One woman in their study describes how an ex-partner, whom she added as a Facebook friend, proactively sent a friend request to every single one of her Facebook friends, easily and quickly becoming entrenched in her virtual social group.

Although any public platform is fair game for abusers seeking to harass victims, personalized platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, or others where a victim exercises some measure of control over his or her set of connections, is particularly alluring to abusers seeking to demean or humiliate victims.

This is because by posting on these sites, controlling and manipulative partners or ex-partners can broadcast unflattering messages, photos, and other negative posts for all of a victim´s friends and connections to see. This can be uniquely devastating because unlike platforms where the virtual audience consists of strangers, personalized sites like Facebook are populated by people the victim actually knows.

Respectful Use of Technology

Healthy relationships do not involve invasive communication or control, on or offline. The first sign of an attempted boundary violation in either realm should be a red flag. Using technology in positive, wholesome ways can enhance relationships, promoting a dynamic of trust, honesty, and respect, that is likely to contribute to a comfortable, rewarding relationship.

This column was originally published in Psychology Today.

Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 4,000 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). 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 with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.

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Healthy relationships do not involve invasive communication or control, on or offline. The first sign of an attempted boundary violation in either realm should be a red flag.
online, facebook, stalking, social media
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2019-24-06
Wednesday, 06 November 2019 05:24 PM
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