25 Ways to Combat or Protect Yourself from Online Abuse
Contributing Author: Tracy Prior, San Diego County Chief Deputy District Attorney
Are you aware?
· That GPS or tracking devices can be placed on your car, in your purse, or in your cell phone without you even knowing it?
· That email is like a letter in the mail and can be “intercepted” by an abuser?
· That when you surf the internet, the places you visit are stored on the computer you use?
· That an abuser can monitor your cell phone if you are not careful?
· That your cell phone can serve as a real-time tracking device, tracking your exact location at all times?
Intimate partner abusers don’t discriminate when it comes to using many different methods of abuse. Using technology such as social media and electronic devices to threaten, stalk, or control a victim is a common tactic. The good news is that there are ways you can stay safe online and with your electronic devices. Victims and survivors can benefit from empowering and arming themselves with the information, tips and strategies listed below.
Bulletproof your online social media and email accounts.
· Email is like a letter in the mail and is not a private form of communication. Emails can be monitored or intercepted by an abuser with spyware or getting access to your password.
· Change passwords on all online accounts to something your ex will not be able to guess (not your pet or children’s name or dates of birth) and make the password for each account unique so that if one is compromised, the rest are safe. The longer the password, the better. The best passwords are 12–15 characters long. Consider your password being a short sentence (Mysafetyisfirst) instead of random numbers or symbols.
· Setup two factor authentication for logging in to accounts, this means that in addition to your passcode, you will need to enter a code that is texted to your phone.
· Use account settings to restrict who can view your account and if you have a public account, limit who can post on it and what information is public.
· Consider setting up a Google Alert with your name so that if your name is associated with something negative online (i.e. revenge porn), you will get an alert.
· Consider obtaining a new email address that your abuser has no knowledge of and use that email address for communicating sensitive information, such as the dangers you are experiencing or your desire to leave the relationship.
· Tell people you know not to post any personal information about you without getting your permission first. Let them know this could jeopardize your safety.
· Plan your secret questions and answers related to any login information carefully. Someone who really knows you (like an abuser) will easily guess the answers to those “security” questions. Give answers that the abuser won’t anticipate.
Protect your electronic devices.
· Install anti-virus protection on your devices and run it to scan for any installed spyware. If your partner had access to the device before, consider taking it in to have it looked at by a professional to ensure that there is no installed spyware.
· Change passwords repeatedly and put a passcode on your phone.
· Turn off the location sharing setting on your devices so the abuser cannot pinpoint your exact location.
· If you are still living in the residence, change the Wi-Fi SSID, (the name of the Wi-Fi) and change the user and administrator passwords.
· If you are still living in the residence and have a home surveillance camera, reset the device to the factory setting and set it up so that only you can access the camera feed.
· Consider using “safe computers” that can be found at the local library, internet café, shelter, work or computer technology center when researching things such as how to escape the relationship or where to go to get away from the abuser.
· Go through your mobile device settings and change privacy settings to make sure that other devices or accounts are not connected to yours.
· Make sure that device to device access like Bluetooth is turned off when you are not using it.
· Consider getting a new device altogether that the abuser does not have access to such as a pay-as-you-go phone, and don’t link it to your old accounts like iCloud or Google in case the abuser has access to those accounts. You might also want to consider keeping the old device so the abuser thinks you are still using it and doesn’t try to get access to the new device.
· Turn the “find my iphone” setting to “off” so an abuser cannot readily find you via your phone.
Documenting any incidents of harassment or online abuse.
· Keeping a log of all incidents can help law enforcement later assess and prove criminal activity, should you choose to involve police.
· Documentation of incidents of online abuse will give you a record of what is happening so you can detect whether there are patterns or escalation of the behaviors or abuse.
· Taking a screenshot (for an iPhone: press the home button and the on/off button simultaneously) of abusive text messages and of the contact page (the page which associates the abuser with his or her phone number) can provide proof and evidence needed by law enforcement to prove stalking or other criminal charges.
Always consider your own safety first and enlist your village to do the same.
· When victims are abused via technology, a first instinct is to discard the device or close the account to defeat the trauma itself. Because some abusers escalate their violence when they feel ignored or “cut-off” by their victim, it is important to think through how the abuser might react. Consider using a safer device (library computer or a friend’s phone) for certain interactions with the abuser, but use the monitored device as a way to collect evidence.
· When sharing information or interacting with any court or governmental agency, ask if there is an option to be referred to as a “Jane Doe” or to protect your identity in any way.
· Ask family, friends, schools, or other organizations not to post pictures of you, tag you or mention you online.
· Trust your instincts. They’ve helped you survive and will continue to keep you safe.
If you feel abused or harassed online, get help offline.
· Report activity to your local police department, local domestic violence victim advocate or nonprofit to learn about your options.
· Call the National DV Hotline at 1–888–656–4673 or the National Human Trafficking hotline at 888–373–7888 to be connected with an advocate near you.
Knowledge and information helps survivors take the power back. Hopefully these tips can help prevent online abuse and empower victims to thrive and stay safe.