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Domestic Violence During COVID and Tips to Counter Electronic Surveillance

April 13, 2020
Family Law Advisory

Camera surveillance display on a laptopA scary and unintended consequence of stay home orders is a marked increase in incidents of domestic violence. Hotlines around the world are reporting a huge surge in the number of calls reporting both physical and psychological abuse. People often assume that domestic violence only refers to physical violence, but other common forms of abuse include: isolation from friends, family and employment; physical and electronic surveillance; and restricted access to money, food, clothing and sanitary facilities.

Being isolated in homes nearly 24 hours a day provides abusers with the perfect opportunity to exert power and control. Survivors – often women and children – no longer have jobs, school, friends/family or even daily errands to provide cooling off periods or support. To make matters worse, abuse can often be intensified when abusers face financial strain. What resources are available while we are all stuck at home?

Legal Action

Though most courts are essentially closed to civil matters, they are all addressing emergency motions and petitions for personal protection orders. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

Community Support

Community organizers, religious leaders and mental health workers and doctors are often available for support remotely, and many are mandatory reporters. You can call 211 for local resources, including shelters and hotlines, or have an online chat at www.m211.org – both provide free and confidential assistance 24 hours a day. The call traffic is busiest from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., but the operators are available 24 hours a day.

Tips to Counter Electronic Surveillance

As we become more dependent on electronic devices and social media, abusers have increasingly used these mediums to control their partners.*

  1. Be aware of all devices that an abuser could be using to control you – phones, laptops, tablets, cameras, thermostats, smart speakers, newer car models and your children's devices.
  2. Do not keep notes or passwords in your phone's notepad feature, as login information could be synched to the cloud, and your abuser could be reading them.
  3. Secure all email, social media and cloud accounts with a password manager and two-factor authentication. Use passwords suggested by your device, not anything personal that can be guessed. For security questions, such as your mother's maiden name, make up a random answer.
  4. Use burner phones that are not attached to any shared credit cards.
  5. Do not use shared accounts for iTunes, Google or iCloud, where your abuser can access your location, emails, photographs, web browsing history etc.
  6. Check privacy settings on all social media (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), Venmo, WhatsApp, YouTube and Google (including Google Maps) accounts. Set up alerts for when someone else logs into your accounts.
  7. Your phone can be a critical aide for you but also the source for most of your abuser's information. Certain changes can help keep you safer:
    • Secure your smartphone by using a six-digit passcode instead of fingerprints and or facial recognition, which some abusers use to try and unlock phones when you are sleeping.
    • Turn off notification options for your texts, emails and apps.
    • Turn off location services on your apps. On Android phones, open Settings/Location/App permission. On iPhones, open Settings/Privacy/Location Services.
    • Delete any unknown apps.
    • Update the operating system to improve security and possibly wipe out certain types of stalkerware.
  8. Check out sites such as www.techsafety.org and www.WomensLaw.org for valuable information and counselors who can walk you through how to create secure passwords, turn off location sharing as well as disable cameras and microphones on devices.

*Contains information from April 6, 2020 article on Wirecutter – "Domestic Abusers Can Control Your Devices. Here's How to Fight Back"

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