How perpetrators use technology as a tool for abuse

Thursday 4 February 2021

down arrow

Technology plays a crucial role in daily life, but as technology becomes more accessible, it can provide people who use violence with more ways to monitor and track victims.

In a recent survey of frontline family violence workers, more than 99% said they had clients who had experienced technology facilitated stalking and abuse.

These tactics often leave victim survivors feeling like they can’t leave an abusive relationship and overwhelmed by the sense of control. In particular, stalking behaviour – relentlessly monitoring or contacting someone in an effort to control them – greatly impacts a victim survivor’s mental health and poses a significant risk of serious harm.

The survey by WESNET found that easy access to video surveillance technology, increased use of location settings on devices, and advances in GPS technology provide perpetrators with more ways to track and monitor where victims are.

According to the survey, almost one in three victim survivors of family violence have been tracked using GPS – an alarming 245% increase from the previous survey conducted in 2015.

Pre-loaded smartphone features that allow people to locate their phone, can also be used to track a victim survivor’s location wherever they are. Perpetrators can easily access this information using a shared login. Victim survivors are often coerced into sharing account details with the perpetrator – otherwise they’re accused of having ‘something to hide’.

One practitioner reported that “Once they have the password to your email, perpetrators can access almost everything.”

Perpetrators also use shared bank accounts to get location information from transaction details, often in real time.

Security settings on technology platforms alert users of changes to accounts. But these alerts also mean the perpetrator is aware if the victim survivor tries to change the settings, making them feel trapped.

And it doesn’t end when the relationship ends. 

Following separation, when a perpetrator has rights to contact or spend time with children, they can use apps such as FaceTime to abuse victims.

According to one survey respondent, “Perpetrators are frequently insisting on having contact with children by FaceTime (in court orders) then use that time to question the child about their whereabouts, what their mother is doing and where their mother is, or coerce the child into showing the mother on video.”

There has also been a 347% increase in children being given a device that the perpetrator then uses to contact and control their mother, and a 254% increase in the use of children’s social media for the same purpose.

The impact on victim survivors is devastating, with many experiencing high levels of fear as a result of the technology-facilitated abuse. One survey respondent reported:

“The impact is huge. Since technology is such a part of everyday life now, women often feel they have no escape from the perpetrator. This kind of constant, relentless abuse has a massive impact on women’s mental health. I have seen women become completely paranoid and jump at every sound due to the abuse.”

For many, the fear of using technology makes it much harder to keep in contact with friends, family and services, which can cause significant impact on their lives and increase their sense of isolation.

In some cases, victim survivors have returned to their abuser because they felt they could not escape control.

It’s a challenge for those responding to family violence.

The study found that specialist family violence workers are more aware of technology-facilitated abuse than they were five years ago, but still find it hard to keep up with new tactics used by perpetrators.

And while frontline workers feel there has been an increase in police taking reports of technology abuse seriously, the response often depends on the officer.

One practitioner said:

“Unfortunately police often underestimate perpetrators’ abilities to stalk women and doubt the veracity of their reports. Police often don’t understand the technology themselves and don’t believe perpetrators are capable of doing these things. They also appear to not have the will to fully investigate these matters and lack resources and knowledge of how to gather evidence such as ISP addresses which could prove it was a perpetrator engaging in the behaviour.”

Find out what to look out for and steps to increase safety online on the Technology and family violence page.

This information is sourced from the Second National Survey of Technology Abuse and Domestic Violence in Australia – a national survey of 442 specialist family violence practitioners published in 2020. It is a follow-up survey to the 2015 ReCharge study, conducted by DVRCV, Women’s Legal Services NSW and WESNET to investigate technology-facilitated abuse in Australia.


With the Safe and Equal monthly bulletin