Psychologist and anti-domestic violence advocate Rodney Vlais, the 24/7 reach of social media and smartphones are attractive to abusive partners who are not satisfied with the amount of control they can exert unaided.
“Men who use violence against their current or former partner often do so to control her actions and to limit her world,” he explains. “The violence often has a purpose, so that he can maintain power over her, to stop her from doing things that he doesn’t want her to do, to make her do certain things, or to punish her for not meeting his demands.”
“Fear is often used here. Social media provides a new way for these men to monitor her movements, control her social word, harass and limit her freedom by keeping her afraid,” Vlais adds.
Experts are warning of a growing form of domestic violence they call “digital abuse.” Officials say digital abuse is when one partner uses technology to control and intimidate a significant other.
Mental health professionals say it’s such a new problem, couples could be in a digitally abusive relationship and not realize it.
The constant calls and threatening texts, Gina (not real name) says her ex-boyfriend’s electronic communication was relentless.
“I was always fearful of not answering my phone when he called and not responding to his text messages,” says Gina.
After months of high-tech harassment, Gina says she realized she was a victim of digital domestic abuse. Psychiatrist Gail Saltz says it is a growing issue.
“Now, sadly people are using digital technology to exert their power, their influence and control,” explains Saltz.
Digital abuse is just starting to be recognized by experts and goes beyond constant phone calls and text messages.
“Things that range from constantly checking to what they’re posting on social media and asking for passwords to more extreme cases as where partners create fake identifies on Facebook to see if they can get their partner to engage with someone else, and then accusing them of cheating and flirting in appropriately,” says Katie Ray-Jones of the US-based National Domestic Violence Hotline.
The popularity of being constantly connected can make recognizing a problem difficult.
“Isn’t this what everybody does? You know, everybody is on social networking, everybody is texting. Isn’t that just normal behavior?” asks Saltz.
Ray-Jones says that normal behavior can turn to obsession. It’s important to recognize warning signs. These signs include extreme jealousy, monitoring and isolation.
Technology expert Dave Hatter warns that digital abusers can escalate their surveillance by using apps which monitor their partner’s location through their phone GPS or installing keylogging software that records what they type on their computer.
“Even without GPS, you may go in a building where there are wayfinding techniques and the phone signal itself to try and triangulate your position won’t be as accurate as GPS,” says Hatter. “There’s a lot of ways you can track those devices. I always come to it from a perspective as you might be tracking me without me knowing it, but you literally could be using it like an ankle bracelet on someone and basically insist that they do it and basically track their every move, even with their full knowledge.”
Saltz says even more troubling, digital abuse can turn dangerous.
“People of all ages are vulnerable to the use of digital technology to basically be abusive and that abuse that starts in that way can often lead to, directly to physical abuse,” she says.
Gina says when her ex-boyfriend’s digital abuse became physical, she ended the relationship. Now, she warns others who think their digital boundaries may be violated to reach out for help right away.
“When I was going through this,” explains Gina. “I felt like I was completely alone. I didn’t tell anybody about what was happening.”
Ray-Jones says it’s difficult to estimate exactly how many people digital abuse affects because some people don’t even recognize it.
(Fox19.com/Clem Bastow – Dailylife.com.au)
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