Digital abuse, also known as tech-enabled coercive control or tech-enabled abuse, is a tool abusive partners and perpetrators sometimes use to control domestic violence (DV) survivors.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline1 defines digital abuse as “the use of technology and the internet to bully, harass, stalk, intimidate, or control a partner.” Tech abusers often use overlapping tactics to exert surveillance, power, and control over their intimate partners.
Tech-enabled abuse is extremely pervasive. A National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) 2014 survey2 found that 97% of domestic violence advocacy and support programs reported that abusers misuse technology to stalk, harass, and control survivors.
The many faces of tech abuse
The advancement of technology and our increasing dependency on it provide abusers with low-cost ways to target survivors and maintain power and control. Technology is used to cyberstalk, harass, make threats, humiliate, spread rumors, impersonate, intimidate, and track survivors’ locations.3
It’s common for tech abusers to…
- demand passwords or access to private accounts such as online banking and email
- monitor individuals’ phone use
- install location monitoring through tracking devices or apps
Tech abuse can also look like…
- taking intimate photos or videos of a partner without permission
- distributing intimate images without consent
- manipulating or forcing a partner to take photos or videos
- installing cameras throughout the home3
While these tactics are some of the most common, there are many other insidious ways abusers use digital tools to harm a partner.
It’s important to remember that tech-enabled abuse tactics are often perpetrated alongside other forms of DV and coercive control. Within intimate partner relationships, it’s normal to share some personal and private information with each other – but in abusive relationships, sharing can cross boundaries and become invasive or damaging.
EndTAB4 founder Adam Dodge, an expert in the field, says that “a majority of people doing harm are not cyber experts but are tech savvy and have exploited an opportunity due to their personal connection with the survivor.”
Digital tracking can make it especially hard for survivors to find and access resources to help them leave and stay safe once they’ve left. It’s likely impossible for a survivor to be completely unplugged from the digital world. Whether they’re in a relationship or have fled, they deserve safe access to technology in order to thrive.
Tech safety planning
You don’t have to be a tech expert to support a survivor with technology safety planning. There are several practical and accessible safety steps you can use to support survivors. If you or someone you know is experiencing tech-enabled abuse, please read the National Domestic Violence Hotline1 safety plan tips below and reach out to a local DV program for more support!
- You never have to share your passwords with anyone.
- Change your passwords and usernames regularly.
- You never have to send any explicit pictures, videos, or messages that you’re uncomfortable sending (“sexting”).
- Sexting can have legal consequences: Nude photos or videos of someone under age 18 could be considered child pornography, which is illegal to own or distribute.
- It’s okay to turn off your phone or not respond to messages right away. You have the right to your own privacy. (Be sure that the people who might need to reach you in an emergency still have a way to.)
- Save or document threatening messages, photos, videos, or voicemails as evidence of abuse.
- Don’t answer calls from unknown or blocked numbers. Your abuser may try calling you from another line if they suspect you’re avoiding them. Find out if your phone company allows you to block numbers (and how many if so).
- Once you share a post or message, it’s no longer under your control. Abusive partners may save or forward anything you share, so be careful sending content you wouldn’t want others to see.
- Know and understand your privacy settings. Social media platforms allow users to control how their information is shared and who has access to it. These settings are often customizable and may be found in the privacy section of the website. Keep in mind that some apps may require you to change your privacy settings in order to use them.
- Be mindful when “checking in” to places online, either by sharing your location in a post or posting a photo with distinguishable backgrounds.
- Ask your friends to always seek permission from you before posting content that could compromise your privacy. Do the same for them.
- Avoid contact with your abuser in any capacity, through any technology, online or in person. Consider changing your phone number if the abuse and harassment don’t stop.
#TechSafetyMeans: This short NNEDV video captures just what tech safety means!
Tech safety resources
Below are some resources, best practices, and toolkits for creating digital safety plans that support people experiencing tech-facilitated abuse, including online toolkits with resources, tip sheets, apps, and templates for survivors and professionals working with survivors.
- Technology Safety and Privacy: A Toolkit for Survivors contains safety tips, information, and strategies to help survivors prioritize safety, identify abuse, and increase security and privacy.
- Technology Safety Plan: A Guide for Survivors and Advocates
- Assessing for Technology Abuse and Privacy Concerns: Best practices for advocates and agencies
- App Safety Center provides tips, information, and resources for the safe development and use of smartphone apps addressing domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, harassment, and stalking.
- Tech Safety App is an educational resource app for anyone who thinks they might be experiencing harassment or abuse through technology and wants to learn how they can increase their privacy and security using tech. (Available in English and Spanish as a free download in the iOS and Android app stores.)
- Safety Net Device Applications
More apps and tools
- ‘;–have i been pwned? Check if your email or phone is in a data breach. This app alerts users of data breaches, including accounts and passwords that need to be changed and/or updated.
- FastPeopleSearch App: See how much of your personal info is available online.
- Fing App network toolkit: Shows all devices logged into a person’s wifi network and offers the ability to remove unwanted devices.
- National Domestic Violence Hotline
- A Glimpse From the Field: How Abusers Are Misusing Technology: Safety Net Technology Safety Survey © 2014, National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV)
- Tech-Enabled Abuse: Peace Over Violence (POV)
- EndTAB helps organizations keep people safe in the digital age through trainings and presentations that take the mystery out of addressing online abuse.
Solid Ground’s Broadview Emergency Shelter and Transitional Housing provides confidential temporary housing for parents and their children experiencing homelessness due to domestic violence. We provide 24-hour trauma-informed support services to help families meet their immediate needs and move forward with their goals. Our team of housing counselors, child advocates, domestic violence/legal advocates and specialized service providers partner with residents as they work to secure permanent housing, heal from trauma, and increase self-sufficiency and stability.
Domestic Violence Help in Seattle/King County
Call 206.299.2500 for Solid Ground’s confidential Domestic Violence shelter services and/or 2.1.1 toll-free at 1.800.621.4636, M-F, 8am-6pm for info about all King County resources.
National Domestic Violence Hotline
1.800.799.7233 or TTY 1.800.787.3224
English – Online chat is available 24/7/365.
Español – Póngase en contacto con nuestros asesores altamente capacitados las 24 horas, 7 días de la semana y reciba el apoyo que merece. Chat en Español esta disponible cada cuando el botón de chat está en rojo.
Resources for Youth
Get relationship help | love is respect advocates are available 24/7/365. We offer confidential support for teens, young adults, and their loved ones seeking help, resources, or information related to healthy relationships and dating abuse in the US.
OUTSpoken Speakers Bureau & Youth Programs | The NW Network offers a wide range of supports to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, and questioning youth and young adults (13-24) around issues of violence and crime such as dating violence, bullying, hate violence, physical and sexual assault, exploitation, theft, police harassment, and experiences in the sex trades.