Charity warns about use of technology in domestic abuse

Charity warns about use of technology in domestic abuse

Lauren Preedy - Senior Associate Solicitor - Head of Divorce Team

Lauren Preedy – Senior Associate Solicitor – Head of Divorce Team

An important element of the newly passed Domestic Abuse Act is the first statutory definition of ‘domestic abuse’. The definition is much wider than what has in the past been considered to be abuse, including not just physical abuse but also controlling or coercive behaviour, economic abuse, and “psychological, emotional or other abuse”.

The importance of this wider definition can be demonstrated by a warning given by the domestic abuse charity Refuge about the way that abusers use modern technology to abuse their victims.

Today we are all surrounded by technology, whether we realise it or not. Almost everyone possesses a mobile phone (most of them smartphones), and our houses are filled with computers, tablets, smart devices and security cameras. All of these things can be used by abusers to control or harass their victims.


Types of tech abuse

There are many ways in which abusers can use modern technology to control or harass their victims. Some are fairly obvious, but others may not be, particularly if the victim is not very knowledgeable about the technology involved.

It may, for example, be fairly obvious that an abuser can use a security camera to watch their victim, although the victim may not realise that if the camera is connected to the internet then the abuser can potentially watch the victim from anywhere in the world, at any time.

Internet-based abuse can, of course, happen in many other ways. For example, abuse via email, abuse via social media such as Facebook, and even hacking into the victim’s computer. And the abuse may simply comprise restricting the victim’s access to the internet and social media, thereby isolating them from support networks.

Then there is the mobile phone. This too can be used for various types of abuse, for example via text-messaging or, more insidiously, tracking the victim.

technology and domestic violence

And obviously, abusers can access their victims’ computers and mobile phones, to see what they have been doing.

The last avenue of tech abuse that we want to mention involves the use of smart home devices, such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home. These can, for example, be used by an abuser to listen in to their victim, again potentially from anywhere, at any time. And they can also be used to control other things around the home, even the temperature.

All of these types of abuse fall under the definition of domestic abuse under the new Act, for example as physical, controlling, economic, psychological or other abuse.


What can a victim do?

No one should have to suffer these types of abuse. Thankfully, there are a number of things that a victim of tech abuse can do to protect themselves. These broadly fall into two categories: practical help and legal help.

Practical ways of stopping or preventing tech abuse include changing passwords for devices, email and websites that you use (such as Facebook), changing privacy settings on websites, disabling location settings on your mobile phone, and disabling cameras and smart devices when not required. Refuge have set up a dedicated website containing much of this practical advice, which you can find at the Refuge website.

Office meeting shot

And then there is legal help. As indicated above, the law now fully recognises these types of behaviour as abuse. It is therefore possible for victims to seek the protection of the law. For example, the victim can apply to the family court for an injunction order. These take two forms: non-molestation orders, which can restrain the abuser from doing certain things, and occupation orders, which can (for example) restrict an abuser from certain parts of the victim’s home, or even require them to leave the home altogether.

If you are the victim of abuse then we can help you. To find out more, and to get started with one of our specialist lawyers here.

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