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Domestic abuse in the digital age

When many people hear the phrase “domestic abuse,” they think only of physical violence. In fact, domestic abuse takes many forms including emotional, verbal, psychological and sexual abuse. Some victims have said that physical violence is actually easier to recover from than other forms of domestic abuse.

In most cases, abuse is about exerting control, and violence is only one way of doing that. Recently, experts have been warning that domestic abuse is quickly becoming digital. Abusers are often exerting control over their spouses and partners using cellphones, email and social media.

It is common to hear, for example, stories of abusive husbands who call or text their wives and get angry if they don’t get an immediate response. Some abusers will also use GPS apps and other tracking software to keep tabs on their partner’s whereabouts at all times.

Online stalking and password hacking are also behaviors common to digital domestic abuse. An overbearing individual may install spyware on his or her spouse’s computer. Programs such as keystroke loggers allow the abuser to see everything their spouse has typed, including passwords. They may then hack into their spouse’s email account to monitor who their spouse is communicating with.

Social media sites like Facebook are also a platform for digital domestic abuse. An abuser may obsessively track who his spouse is sending messages to and interacting with. He may even try to set up a fake profile in order to “seduce” his wife and then accuse her of an affair.

The devices used in digital domestic abuse are relatively new, but the behavior is not. Even in a committed relationship, each spouse has the right to expect some privacy and autonomy, and digital domestic abuse violates both.

If you fear that you are a victim of domestic abuse (in any form), please seek the help of law enforcement and other victim resources in your community. And if the security of your cellphone or email account may have been compromised, please seek other phones and computers when reaching out for help.

Source: CBS Miami, "Experts Warn Of Growing Digital Domestic Abuse," Vanessa Borge, May 22, 2014

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