The U.S. Office on Violence against Women (OVW) defines domestic violence as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can take many forms, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional, economic, and psychological abuse.
This article is gender neutral; clearly both men and women can be victims of domestic violence and abusive behavior.
Most of us would agree that new technology is, in most cases, unbiased. It is how we implement technology that establishes its value, and impacts any ethical questions that surrounds its use. It is clear that virtually all technologies, if used improperly, can be used to cause damage.
Over the past year I have reviewed several computer monitoring and keylogger products which I must admit, I had not considered could be misused as an aid in spousal abuse until it was brought to my attention. I suppose I shouldn’t have been quite as surprised as I was; after all many of these products are advertised as a method to detect a cheating spouse.
Curious about this, I Googled “cheating spouse” and I was surprised to see over 900,000 hits. More surprising was the number of hits on “keyloggers for cheating spouse”; over 95,000.
Probing further, I discovered that this type of technology is now pervasive in spousal abuse. According to Anna Stepanov, manager of the Anti-Spyware program at McAfee Avert Labs, “Using spyware for surveillance in cases of domestic abuse is a serious matter.”
Stepanov, who is also the author of a report entitled Spyware: A Morphing Campaign, which describes current spyware trends that includes domestic abuse states, “Monitoring a victim’s online, cell phone, or general computing activity is of more value than ever in controlling or hurting a victim.”
Cindy Southworth, technology director at the National Network to End Domestic Violence commenting on this issue has stated “With spyware, if the victim is thinking about leaving, all that is captured. If the victim looks for plane tickets, shelters, a new apartment, it all shows up in the computer logs.”
Since spyware is now an issue in domestic abuse the agency cautions those in an abusive relationship not to use their home computer for these kinds of tasks.
All of this has now been compounded by the news that the misuse of GPS technology by abusive individuals is now rampant. GPS can be used to track a victim by transmitting coordinates that result in the generation of a web page that maps the victim’s location.
The U.S. National Network to End Domestic Violence suggests the following to computer users, to reduce the impact of this type of abuse.
Internet Safety Tips for Abused Women
If you are in danger, please try to use a safer computer that someone abusive does not have direct or remote hacking access to.
If you think your activities are being monitored, they probably are. Abusive people are often controlling and want to know your every move. You don’t need to be a computer programmer or have special skills to monitor someone’s computer and Internet activities – anyone can do it and there are many ways to monitor with programs like Spyware, keystroke loggers and hacking tools.
It is not possible to delete or clear all the “footprints” of your computer or online activities. If you are being monitored, it may be dangerous to change your computer behaviors such as suddenly deleting your entire Internet history if that is not your regular habit.
If you think you may be monitored on your home computer, be careful how you use your computer since an abuser might become suspicious. You may want to keep using the monitored computer for normal activities, such as looking up the weather or recipes. Use a safer computer to research an escape plan, look for new jobs or apartments, bus tickets, or ask for help.
Email and Instant/Text Messaging (IM) are not safe or confidential ways to talk to someone about the danger or abuse in your life. If possible, please call a hotline instead. If you use email or IM, please use a safer computer and an account your abuser does not know about.
Computers can store a lot of private information about what you look at via the Internet, the emails and instant messages you send, internet-based phone and IP-TTY calls you make, web-based purchases and banking, and many other activities. It might be safer to use a computer in a public library, at a community technology center (CTC), at a trusted friend’s house, or an Internet Café.