AUGUSTA, Ga (WJBF) – Each month, I write an article on important topics as they pertain to domestic violence. This month, I’m focusing on digital safety and how to protect ones footprint while online as well as on social media.
Shortly after escaping from the grips of my, now, ex-husband, I would often get notifications from Facebook about attempts to change my password. It would show the attempts came from the state in which my ex was living. Of course, this was startling and scary. I kept him as a friend on social media for appearance sake. I wanted to keep up the facade that we were still a happy couple. But, truthfully, I was living more than two thousand miles away. Yet, it felt as if he could still track my every move until I finally took the steps to block him.
The decision to leave an abuser is not only difficult. It can also create more toxicity and even physical harm.
According to the Emory University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, women are most at risk to violence during separation from their intimate partner.
Therefore, it’s important for victims to take intention and important steps to protect themselves not only physically but also digitally.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline has provided these steps for victims when it comes to internet safety:
Computers store information about the websites you visit. That means bills you pay and purchases you make are tracked, and messages or emails can be retrieved. You should always consider that a computer might be monitored when you use it and be careful with what you send others or post.
Safe computers can be found at your local library, Internet cafe, shelter, workplace, or computer technology center; avoid using shared computers when researching things like travel plans, housing options, legal issues, and safety plans. Using safe browsing practices (like using a VPN) can help prevent abusive partners from tracking your Internet history.
Email can be a useful way to keep in touch with trusted friends and family members who may be aware of your situation. An abusive partner is likely to know this and may have access to your email account without your knowledge. To be safe, open an account your partner doesn’t know about on a safe computer and use that email for safety planning and sensitive communications.
Use several different methods of communication when contacting people so that you’ll know if they tried to reach you elsewhere, and keep your monitored account active with non-critical emails in order to maintain appearances. Encrypted email services may offer an extra layer of security.
Cell Phone Safety:
As technology has evolved, cell phones have become increasingly embedded in our daily lives. This provides quick access to resources and information, but it can also give other people instant updates on your whereabouts, habits, and activities. Cell phones can be used to track your location and retrieve call and text history.
If you’re in an abusive relationship, consider purchasing a pay-as-you-go phone and keep it in a safe place for private calls. Use a password on your phone and update it regularly. If you are concerned that your partner may be secretly monitoring your phone, consider taking it into a cell phone service center to check for any spyware that may be downloaded.
Social Media Safety:
Posts on social media are never truly private, no matter your settings: once it’s online, it’s no longer under your control. Be protective of your personal information and remember that phone numbers, addresses, handles, and personal details (like birth date, schools you attended, employers, and photos with landmarks) may make it easier for someone to reach you.
Set boundaries and limits, and ask people not to post personal information, photos, or check-ins you aren’t comfortable with. Check your social media settings to make sure your privacy settings are strict, and disable the ability for other people to tag you in their photos or posts. Similarly, don’t post information about people without their consent – you could jeopardize their safety or the safety of others.
From my personal perspective, keep your information and whereabouts private and away from most people. Of course, most people want to help. But, some people may accidentally provide information to the wrong person which can end up in the hands or mind of the abuser and those close to him/her.
Also, remember the abuser may have access to your social security number as well as passwords. Therefore, change passwords as much as possible to less obvious words, letters and numbers. Remember to set up accounts independent from the abusers. Make sure to contact banks and and other account holders to put locks on your accounts.
The sadness and stress of abuse won’t last forever. Survival doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. But, the victory of surviving can last a lifetime.