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Domestic violence: How perpetrators use technology and social media to track their victims

Abusive: “The use of technology by abusive partners has added more stress for women who are in the toughest moments of their lives.”

POLICE and domestic violence workers were baffled by one case – how did the abusive partner of a woman keep tracking her and her children in emergency accommodation?

The authorities thought they had done all that was needed.

They had provided the woman with a new mobile phone.

They had assessed all of her online usage to determine whether there was a method that left her vulnerable to her highly abusive partner.

And they had shifted her between emergency accommodation.

And still the man – who had threatened to kill his partner – kept finding her.

Eventually, the problem was solved.

The partner had planted a tracker in a piece of basic furniture that the desperate woman was using for one of her small children.

With that tracker, worth only a relatively small amount of money, the partner had stalked his partner in the most desperate time of her life.

“We hear things which people think could only be in a movie. But it’s real life. It’s not being made up,” co-ordinator of Centacare’s Regional and Domestic Family Violence Service Angela Short said.

“The use of technology by abusive partners has added more stress for women who are in the toughest moments of their lives.

“Some women may not understand the size of the digital footprint that they leave. There are some basic apps that may exist on a woman’s phone and their abusive partner can easily use those to follow her movements.

“It’s a growing area of concern and one that domestic and family violence case workers continue to educate themselves in.”

Centacare has worked with women oblivious to how their partners were monitoring their lives.

One woman learned her partner had installed miniature cameras in their bedroom and had also hacked into the Smart TV in their loungeroom.

The partner worked in the information technology industry and knew how to install and monitor the cameras and control the television.

The woman had little IT knowledge and could not understand how her partner knew so much about her movements.

“This is a real issue for women whose partners want to control their behaviour,” Ms Short said.

“Technology is getting cheaper all the time and the evolution of smart phones means our digital footprint is getting larger.

“We’ve also had problems with neighbours who tell the abusive partners what the woman has been doing.

“The neighbours don’t know they’re doing anything wrong – it’s not uncommon for an abusive partner to present as a loving, family man to outsiders – but it’s used as another way to control a woman.”

One of the most obvious problems is social media – simple posts on Facebook with comments or tags from friends can alert an abusive partner to the movements of his partner.

And it doesn’t matter if a woman has made her social media account private.

Some technology experts warn women not to use their real names on their social media accounts, informing them that names and profile pictures can be seen through basic internet searches even if the account is private.

There is a flipside to the technology that has raised risks for women.

Technology has helped women capture evidence of partners breaching domestic violence orders. Some women have been able to bring to court evidence captured via apps on their smartphones of their partners clearly breaching orders meant to keep the woman safe.

“Police do great work with domestic violence and they want to help at all times but sometimes they lack the evidence that a court requires because the perpetrator ensures no trail is left behind,” Centacare executive director Peter Selwood said.

“The growth of technology has meant that some women have been able to capture the evidence required and it can be presented to the court.

“This helps to bring domestic violence more into the open. We know that some perpetrators are seen by many as wonderful people. They can keep up an image in the community that is respected.

“However, the victims of their domestic violence know what the real story is. Technology can help tell this story.”

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