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Google “cyberstalking” and you’ll find plenty of tips on how to protect yourself from creepy strangers sitting behind a computer trying to talk you up in a chat room. But in today's reality, most of the people using technology to stalk are batterers and abusers, says Rebecca Dreke, director of the Stalking Resource Center, a program of the National Center for Victims of Crimes.
“Cyberstalking has become a bit of a misnomer,” says Dreke. “The use of technology to stalk has become much broader than computer stalking in the last eight to 10 years. Abusers are using all different technologies to monitor and track their victims.”
Abusers use technology to stalk or control their victims by:
- Installing apps on survivors’ phones that allow them to read emails and text messages.
- Placing GPS trackers on the survivors’ cars or using the GPS in their phones phone to find out where they are.
- Monitoring their activities and connections on social media.
- Gaining access to online accounts by hacking or by coercing survivors into giving them their passwords.
- Taking photos that were shared during an intimate time and posting them online or threatening to do so.
Fortunately, states are starting to recognize the many ways abusers can use technology to harass, stalk and threaten survivors and are adding statutes or revising statutes to cover electronic harassment.
“Abusers and offenders need to be held accountable for their actions, whether in person or electronically,” Dreke says. “Still, victims need to think about technology usage that balances their freedom against their risks.”
Many sites will tell survivors they should disconnect from social media and get a new phone, and that may very well work for some, Dreke says. “But that doesn’t stop the behavior. Stalkers will just find another means of approach. Then what you have is victims going through all the trouble of uprooting their lives and then the stalking just continues once the abuser finds a new avenue.”
Dreke recommends seeking the advice of a domestic violence advocate to help survivors determine what safety steps are appropriate for them.
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“For instance, some victims have said that posting on social media and checking in places makes them feel safer so their friends and family know where they are.” But that’s not a good idea if your abuser doesn’t already know where you are. Another common piece of advice is to get off social media altogether. “But, really, that can further isolate victims and keep them from reaching out to their network for help,” Dreke says.
The bottom line is that you need to do what’s right for you and your situation. A domestic violence advocate at a shelter can help you determine how best to keep yourself safe in person and online.
Technology can also be used for good. Find out more about apps you can download to help keep you safe, how to browse your computer while protecting your privacy, and more tips on technology in the Protecting Personal Affects section of DomesticShelters.org.
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