How abusers use technology

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By Erika Weisensee,
Milwaukie writing mom

It makes sense for victims of abuse to turn to the Internet to find information, access services and reach out to others through email. But in doing do, victims may be putting themselves at even greater risk. That’s why advocates are urging victims to use caution when using computers and other technology, such as cell phones.

Abuse is about power and control, and abusers may monitor computer and cell phone use to exert more control over their victims. Violence could escalate, domestic violence advocates warn, especially if an abuser learns that a victim is looking for ways out of the relationship.

Domestic violence shelters and resource centers are now offering information about technology and abuse issues. This information is not only valuable for people currently experiencing abuse but for everyone because anyone could become a victim of harassment, stalking or abuse via technology.

Here are some tips offered by the National Network to End Domestic Violence (www.nnedv.org):

– Be cautious if you have an abusive partner who is tech savvy. If your gut instinct tells you that your computer use and cell phone use is being monitored, it probably is.

– Know where you can get help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) has advocates trained in issues related to technology and abuse.

– Use a safe computer at public libraries, community centers or Internet cafes.

– Create a new email account from one of the many free email services and don’t choose an obvious password. Also, don’t use your name as part of the email address.

– Don’t share computer or other passwords with people and don’t make them obvious (avoid pet’s names, nicknames, etc.).

– Don’t make a phone call regarding sensitive or private information on shared phones, as phone numbers can easily be tracked.

Because technology is such a big part of teenagers’ lives, they are especially vulnerable to stalking and abuse through email, social networking sites, texting and other technology. The Family Violence Prevention Fund (www.endabuse.org) has responded with a website and campaign called “That’s Not Cool.” The campaign is designed to give youth knowledge and skills to help themselves and others, whether they are experiencing “textual harassment,” online bullying or other abuses. Check it out at www.thatsnotcool.com.

### Erika teaches writing and communication courses at the University of Portland. She spent many years working for Raphael House, a non-profit serving victims of domestic violence.