The only people who should be getting a new iPhone every few months are hardcore Apple fans, and they also really shouldn’t. But sadly it’s a necessary evil that women who are stalked by abusive partners face.
Natasha Malmstrom told the ABC that her ex had managed to track down five phones since she left him in 2012. Shared passwords, cloud access, pre-installed GPS tracking apps, and social media posts are all commonly exploited by perpetrators to keep tabs on their victims. Even Natasha’s dog’s collar was a vulnerability – her ex used it to get hold of her new phone number.
‘Digital coercive control’ – when domestic violence is facilitated by smartphones and other technologies – can be just as emotionally and socially damaging for women as physical assault. Abusers use tech to control women’s finances, and influence their relationships with friends and family. Receiving constant threats via phone makes victims feel isolated.
And it is seriously common. All 30 women interviewed for a DV study by researcher Dr Bridget Harris said they “experienced abuse through technology”.
“The Brisbane Domestic Violence Centre hands out 50 mobile phones a month to women trying to flee a tech-savvy abusive ex.”Lexy Hamilton-Smith, ABC
DCC keeps women who have escaped violent relationships trapped in the nightmare, and it can be a huge red flag for future abuse. In half of all intimate partner homicide convictions, there were no previous reports of violence.
Ladies, it is not normal or okay for your BF to be texting you 50 times a day, demanding to know where you are or who you’re talking to.
When it comes to technology-based abuse, a lot of the advice women receive is decidedly victim blamey. Changing your passwords and Facebook security settings are good first steps, but asking women to ‘reduce their social media activity’ or ‘get new phone numbers’ does little in the long term, except distance them from their support networks.
Tech companies have a huge responsibility to make the Internet a safer place for women, but don’t hold your breath waiting for serious policy changes. In her most recent submission to the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, Dr Bridget Harris’ recommendations included:
- Eliminate charges for changing and unlisting numbers
- Release survivors from charges for phones that abusers have taken or destroyed
- Offer financial hardship plans for domestic violence survivors unable to pay for phone contracts and plans
- Improve consumer safeguards to protect privacy and facilitate release from contracts and family plans when domestic violence is an issue
So while the rest of us are freaking out about real-life Black Mirror, domestic violence victims are facing far more pressing smartphone horrors. And they probably always will, even if tech companies and telcos step up.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.