Refuge Charity: Tech Abuse and Safety Resources

“Every year, over two million people experience domestic abuse. This includes 100,000 people who are at high risk of murder and serious harm: 95,000 of those are women. Perpetrators – partners and ex-partners are increasingly using technology to facilitate their abuse of the women.”

What is Tech Abuse?

Nowadays, technology gives perpetrators never-ending ways to control, follow and detach women using the tools of everyday life.

Repeatedly, both victims and survivors’ online activities are monitored, controlled, and harassed through technology. Internet use, social media profiles and linked online accounts (bank statements) are the most common ways that perpetrators track down their victims -including men controlling women’s social media conversations, monitoring their locations-.

And for those who tried to leave, tracking them through technology and even finding their children. In some cases, they even placed devices in cars. Moreover, cameras were placed around the house. That was a way for abusers to gain access to women’s personal and home devices, their online accounts and children’s toys and devices.

Refuge, is a UK based charity that provides specialist support for women and children that experience domestic violence and tech abuse. Therefore, we did a research and explored the services they offer to the victims and the methodology they use to present it in this article.   

Technology and Control: Results 

“Tech vs Abuse” is a collaborative research project that was accomplished over six months and undertaken by several charities SafeLives, Snook and Chayn and commissioned by Comic Relief, and set out to explore the potential opportunities, gaps and risks presented by technology in the context of domestic violence and abuse. It explored cases from over 200 survivors of domestic abuse (over 18 years old) and also from 350 practitioners who support them.

Some of the results they found when putting together the results of the collaborative research were:

  • In the online survey of women who had experienced abuse, only 1 in 5 said their online activity was not monitored by their partner. Almost half (47%) said that they were monitored, and a quarter said they did not know.
  • A rise in the number of women whose children’s IPads, Xboxes and PlayStations have been hacked by the perpetrator to gain full access to their accounts, to trace information such as the child’s location, who they are speaking to and what games they are playing.
  •  Overall, there was a sense that the perpetrator was always one step ahead. This resulted in a lasting fear of using technology, both by survivors and practitioners. They viewed technology as potentially dangerous, both during abusive relationships and during recovery.
  • Women choose to or were often advised to remove all technology from their lives. This left them even more socially isolated and with less control over their lives. 
  • Many reported that the language and terminology used by services online to describe domestic abuse and the support they offer was a barrier for preventing them from recognising what is happening to them. However, it should be vital that all online sources of support and advice are better designed with the language, questions, behaviours and motivations of those who seek to use them.

“What every victim wants is a safe place to go. That should include online.”

Advice: Avoiding the Risks When Navigating Online

  • Use different passwords to different sites.
  • Use capital and small letters.
  • Don’t write just numbers.
  • Don’t write names and dates.
  • Always Logout.
  • Don’t choose “keep password”.
  • Use more than 12 letters.
  • Use special characters.
  • Use letters and numbers.

How do you think technology can be improved to help survivors?

Refuge aims to empower women and children to rebuild their lives, free from violence and fear. To do so, they provide high-quality services for women and children who have experienced violence; protects women by advocating for a strong criminal justice response to perpetrators; and also prevents future violence through education, training and awareness-raising. Some of the most helpful and accessible services they provide for the victims are:

  • Refuges: A refuge is much more than a safe roof over a woman or child’s head. Their specialist staff provide residents with the building blocks that women need to begin a new life, free from fear. They help women and children to overcome the impacts of violence and abuse and offer a huge range of practical and emotional support. It includes: 
  • Safety planning
  • Finding a safe new home
  • Budgeting, debt discussions and discussing access to welfare benefits
  • Accessing health services
  • Finding nurseries and schools
  • Accessing local community and cultural services
  • Gaining legal advice, including accompanying women to appointments and court
  • Training, education and employment
  • Independent advocacy:
  • Creating safety plans and undertaking risk assessments 
  • Accompanying clients to court or arranging pre-trial visits
  •  Supporting clients to give evidence and write victim impact statements
  • Requesting special measures in court including, for example, screens in court to conceal survivors so they don’t have to face their abuser
  • Access to refuge accommodation
  • Improving security in their property so that they can continue to live safely at home
  • Providing emotional support and referring victims to counselling or mental health services
  • Liaising with social workers on child protection issues
  • Culturally specific services: Refuge recognises that all survivors have different needs, some of which may relate to their ethnic background or identity.
  • Understand their rights and feel empowered
  • Review access to public funds
  • Keep themselves and their children safe
  • Access immigration solicitors and apply for immigration status in the UK
  • Report abuse to the police and access the criminal justice system
  • Access ‘first-responder’ organisations for support services within the National Referral Mechanism following human trafficking or modern slavery
  • Attend English classes and reduce their isolation
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