Tech, Now + Beyond

Here’s how domestic abuse survivors can reclaim technology

Digital tools should be a source of empowerment, not harm.

Technology seems to permeate every corner of our lives. From communicating with family and friends, to the ways we meet people, technology is intrinsic to how we are connected to and supported by our networks.

Although technology has given us dynamic ways to stay connected to each other, it is also used to isolate and control the most vulnerable in abusive relationships.

Over two million people every year experience domestic abuse. Abusers often use seemingly benign technology to block their partner’s internet use or track their GPS location, text messages and browsing history through spyware.

Amid the harm abusers can inflict with it, technology still has the potential to combat abuse. Digital tools and communications can instead help survivors foster connections and ensure they have the knowledge and resources to find safety and reclaim their independence.

Using technology safely

In a collaborative project called Tech vs. Abuse, researchers found that one of the biggest concerns for survivors is their safety while using technology. In instances where abusers have severely limited their partner’s tech use, browsing the internet to search for resources can be risky. The key is to keep tech hidden so it can’t be used against them.

Browsing the web privately is crucial for victims in getting the resources they need, when they need it. For many, there is only a small window of opportunity to search for these resources and cover their tracks. Private browsing features such as Chrome’s ‘Incognito’ mode or Internet Explorer’s ‘InPrivate Browsing’ allows users to browse the web privately without their browser ever remembering cookies or search history.

Using cloud-based systems also allows users to store content securely that can be accessed on an entirely different device and removed at their leisure. Cloud technology can be useful for storing information that can help survivors who are leaving abusive relationships or in recovery, especially personal information, emergency contact numbers or evidence of abuse.

Vigilance with mobile apps

According to the Tech vs. Abuse study, many people in abusive relationships report coming to a dead-end when doing their own web searches. They often find information that is factual but not helpful. Luckily with the advent of mobile apps, survivors don’t have to feel like they’re alone.

Although mobile apps are an accessible way to find resources and establish quick lines of communication with emergency contacts, how easily one is able to use these apps varies. When using an app, its important to consider your safety and privacy when communicating and accessing information and how to mitigate the risks.

In a mobile app disguised as a news app, Aspire News helps survivors find domestic abuse resources and build an emergency contact list, without their partner questioning it. The app cleverly contains news headlines upon opening it, but when clicking the ‘Help’ page, users get access to 24-hour domestic abuse hotlines, contact information for domestic abuse organizations, and a personalized emergency contact list.

Although the Tech Safety app doesn’t have the same discrete interface as Aspire News, it’s nonetheless a valuable resource for domestic abuse survivors. This educational app was created for anyone who thinks they might be experiencing abuse and needs access to dynamic resources. Through the app, users can also learn how to increase their privacy and security while using technology.

With encrypted messaging apps like Signal Private Messenger, users can communicate with emergency contacts without interference. Signal encrypts both your messages and voice calls without interception from outside parties. Users can also enable their messages to disappear so no history is left behind.

Taking steps to use technology to seek help is no easy feat in abusive environments, and domestic abuse survivors should be commended for every step they take in doing so. Survivors can use technology to educate themselves and move toward living a fully independent, healthy and loving life. After all, technology should be a tool to empower, not harm.