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How to spot tech abuse within a relationship

With technology advancing, so is the potential for it to be used in domestic abuse as a form of controlling and emotionally abusive behaviour.

Commonly, tech abuse includes abusive text messages or calls and demanding access to devices, such as confiscating a phone, or monitoring computer access. But as technology evolves, abusers become more cunning, and it is important to keep up to date with developments. Other forms of tech abuse include:

  • tracking;
  • obtaining passwords;
  • revenge porn; and
  • threatening revenge porn.
Trends in tracking

In April 2021, Apple released a new product, the ‘Air Tag’, which is a small key chain shaped device that can be attached to luggage or keys, or anything you could lose.  However, shortly after its release, reports were received that the product had been used to stalk women. Abusers and stalkers have purchased Air Tags and slipped them into a person’s bag, or even stuck them to a person’s car, which would then allow them to follow and trace the person’s movements. Apple was urged to respond to these developments, and has now updated the device to inform a person’s phone when an unknown Air Tag has been following them for some time.

Other features from the tech giant Apple have often been used for the wrong purposes, such as the ‘Find my iPhone’ feature which allows the user of a lost iPhone to log on remotely via a Laptop for example, and see the last location their iPhone was active.

Apple has also developed ways for groups to be created for families or households, which would then allow members of that group to see the location of any other respective member.

Password access

Other forms of tech abuse in the emerging digital era include being asked to share your social media passwords to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and other platforms, which can be a way for the abuser to control who you follow, talk to and message on social media, as well as what you post, share, like or comment on.

Revenge porn

‘Revenge Porn’ is another form of tech abuse, which entails sharing someone’s private sexual videos or photos online without that person’s consent. Sharing private sexual images or videos (both online or offline) is a criminal offence since 2015. Whilst there is legislation in place that makes it an offence to share private sexual images against someone’s consent, it is not yet a crime to threaten to share someone’s private sexual images.

A number of reforms with respect to domestic violence and abusive behaviour laws were introduced via the landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021, such as:

  • removing the defence of ‘rough sex’ which was previously often used as an excuse for causing serious harm to victims; and
  • stopping legal representatives of the perpetrators being able to cross-examine survivors.

It was hoped that the Act would also address the gap in revenge porn laws, and make it an offence to threaten a person to share their private images, as 4.4 million individuals experience threats of their images being shared against their will.

For advice and support

Tech abuse often occurs alongside other forms of abuse. It is commonly part of a pattern of behaviour called coercive control. If you are in immediate danger, call the police on 999.

The following charities provide a range of advice, support, and more detailed resources in regard to domestic abuse:

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.

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Amy Blaettler

Trainee solicitor

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