Technology. An invaluable and indispensable part of everyday life or a threat to civil liberty and personal safety?

There is no doubt different ways of communicating have provided a lifeline to many people during lockdown. In a socially distanced world, virtual meetings have helped families and friends keep in touch and, in some cases, help keep businesses afloat.

Mobile phone with notifications
Tech abusers can use devices to track their victims

 

But what about when the technology becomes an instrument of entrapment? A tool for abusers? This is known as ‘tech abuse’ and is just what happened to Elizabeth.

Receiving calls and texts at all times of day, accounting for every phone call on her bill and having her movements tracked was just the beginning of the abuse Elizabeth suffered at the hands of her now late-husband.

“He would check who every single call on my bill was and how long I’d been on the phone. He even put a tracker on my car so he would know where I’d been or if I’d stopped somewhere. These were things I had to explain every night.”

Their family home was filled with CCTV connected to her husband’s laptop, so even when Elizabeth was home alone, her movements were monitored.

“There was one occasion where a utility person had been in to read a meter and my husband decided that I’d spoken to that person too long, just from watching back footage and seeing me interact with them. If I didn’t have a good enough explanation for a question he’d asked me, that’s when violence would occur.

“My world was so tiny and shrunken, I had no freedom.”

Elizabeth’s abuse didn’t end there. Her husband forced her to take explicit photographs, which he later used against her when she tried to leave the relationship – a crime now known as ‘revenge porn’.

He emailed the images to her friends and family; printed them and posted them through the doors of her neighbours; and even made up business cards including her phone number, suggesting she was offering sexual services. He then left the cards in cafes around town.

While Elizabeth knew about the ways in which her husband was tracking her, some perpetrators can be covert in their methods of abuse.

Victoria Brinton is a Cyber Protect Officer at Gloucestershire Constabulary: “Perpetrators can gain so much knowledge about your life from your phone or mobile devices. Without securing your phone properly, someone could install tracking apps to see where you’ve been; find out about your finances through banking apps; read private messages and emails; and could even listen to the things you’ve been saying to digital assistants like Google or Alexa.

“We’ve created a check sheet useful for anyone who wants to better protect themselves online, but it’s especially important for those who feel they might be a victim of tech abuse.” (You can download it at the bottom of this article)

Martin Surl, Gloucestershire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “This type of crime is an abuse of the technology which has been so essential to us all during lockdown. We have all relied on video calls and social media to stay connected or to work safely from home, but to see it used as a weapon is concerning issue, which deserves more awareness.”

In Gloucestershire, the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner works to support victims of crime, and throughout September 2020 is collaborating with Gloucestershire Constabulary and Glos Take A Stand to raise awareness of tech abuse; how to spot the signs; and how best to support family members who may be victims.

Mr Surl continued: “We want to raise awareness of this form of abuse, and encourage any victims to report it, either to the police or Gloucestershire Domestic Abuse Support Service (GDASS). Both organisations will take reports of tech abuse seriously, and will provide advice and support to help keep victims safe.”


Download the Glos Take A Stand checklist for securing technology below.

Checklist for securing technology

 

Other useful websites

www.glostakeastand.com

https://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/

https://survivingeconomicabuse.org/economic-abuse/what-is-economic-abuse/

https://www.gloucestershire-pcc.gov.uk/commission-services/domestic-abuse/

https://holliegazzard.org/gdass/

 

Further information on tech abuse

www.turnon2fa.com

https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/section/information-for/individuals-families

https://www.gloucestershire.police.uk/advice/advice-and-information/fa/fraud/online-fraud/cyber-crime-fraud/