Although technologies such as the internet, email and mobile phones have provided benefits for victims of family violence, they have also opened up new avenues for abuse.
Trust your instincts
If you suspect the abusive person knows too much, it is possible that your phone, computer, email, car use or other activities are being monitored. Abusers and stalkers can act in incredibly persistent and creative ways to maintain power and control.
Plan for safety
Dealing with violence, abuse, and stalking can be difficult and dangerous. Family violence services can help you in your risk assessment and safety planning – see the ‘Domestic Violence’ section of this site.
If you are in immediate danger, contact police on 000.
Use a safer computer
If an abusive person has access to your computer, they may be monitoring your computer activities. ‘Spyware’ and ‘keylogging’ programs are commonly available and can track what you do on your computer without you knowing it. It is not possible to delete or clear all of the ‘tracks’ of your online or computer activities.
Use a safer computer if you are looking for help, contacting services, making decisions or plans regarding the relationship and your safety, or sending online correspondence that you do not want the abuser to know about. Use a computer at a public library, school or university, community centre, or Internet cafe.
Create a new email, Facebook or instant messaging account
If you suspect that anyone abusive can access your email, consider creating an additional email account on a safer computer. Do not create or check this new email from a computer your abuser could access, in case it is monitored.
Use an anonymous name, and account: (example: firstname.lastname@example.org, not YourRealName@email.com). Look for free web-based email accounts (like yahoo or hotmail), and do not provide detailed information about yourself.
Some email providers request an existing email address when establishing a new account. A confirmation email is then sent to the existing/old account. This process could provide the new email account details to anyone with access to the old account. If you are concerned about this, you can usually proceed with establishing the new account without providing an existing email. Alternatively, be ready to delete the confirmation email as soon as it arrives.
Always sign out of your email or social network sites.
Check your mobile phone settings
If you are using a mobile phone provided by the abusive person, consider turning it off when not in use. Also many phones let you to ‘lock’ the keys so a phone won’t automatically answer or call if it is bumped, or set a pin number to minimum time that locks the handset when not in use.
When on, check the phone settings; if your smartphone has an optional location service, you may want to switch the location feature off/on via the phone settings menu or by turning your phone on and off.
Change passwords and pin numbers
Some abusers use a victim’s email and other accounts to impersonate and cause harm. Safer password practices include:
- change your password
- choose a new password that cannot be guessed by someone else
- create ‘strong’ passwords and provide security questions & answers that no one else knows.
Also keep anti-virus software up-to-date on your computer and other devices. This may assist you to identify and remove any unknown programmes.
Minimise use of cordless phones or baby monitors
The privacy and security of these devices is easily compromised. If you don’t want others to overhear your conversations, turn baby monitors off when not in use and use a corded phone for sensitive conversations.
Get your own mobile phone
When on a call you want to keep private, try not to use a shared or family mobile phone because the mobile phone bill and the phone log might reveal your plans to an abuser. Consider using a prepaid phone card so that you won’t get numbers listed on your bill.
Bills for mobile telephones on a plan usually list the suburb where each call was made, and the numbers dialled, so consider this when setting up your billing address.
Ask about your records and data
Ask government agencies about their privacy policies regarding how they protect or publish your records. Request that courts, government, post offices and others restrict access to your files to protect your safety.
Get a private post box and don’t give out your real address
When asked by businesses, doctors, and others for your address, have a private post office box address or a safer address to give them.
See if your private contact information is can be found online. Go to Google and do a search for your name in quotation marks: “Full Name”
Save evidence and consider reporting abuse or stalking
Messages left via texts/answering machines can be saved as evidence of stalking or abuse. Keep a record of all suspicious incidents, and consider taking screen shots and storing these.
You can report abuse, violence, threats, stalking or cyber-stalking to police and the abuser can be charged with a criminal offence, or police can assist with applying for an Intervention Order. There are criminal penalties for online or cyberstalking.
Stalking often involves a long term pattern of events, and recording individual incidents, even if these seem isolated or insignificant can be useful and help to build a picture of what is going on, as well as to establish a pattern of behaviour if you wish to follow up legal options. A good way to document incidents of stalking would be to keep a ‘stalking incident log’ or a diary with the dates and details of any incidents, and any evidence.
The NSW police have advice on how to record stalking incidents and what details to gather for the purpose of making a report to police.
Legal intervention for cyberstalking
Every Australian state and territory has stalking legislation, with penalties including prison time. If you are being stalked and want advice about legal options, you can contact Women’s Legal Centre to get help.
The Advice above is provided courtesy of Domestic violence resource centre Victoria.