How would you feel if a partner said, “If you didn’t have something to hide from me, you wouldn’t care about me reading your messages...”?
What about: “I’d just feel more relaxed if I could check where you are at any time – there's some scary people out there!”?
What if they said: “If you don’t let me do this, I’ll send that video of you to everyone...”?
If these statements put you on your guard – trust those feelings. These are examples of tech abuse.
Tech abuse – or tech facilitated violence – is a type of violence that can feel hard to get away from. It can also be hard to notice when it first begins, especially when it’s explained away as caring about you.
The eSafety Commissioner describes tech abuse as something that’s become a key part of family violence, with more than 99% of Australians who have experienced family violence also experiencing tech abuse (1).
So what does tech abuse from a partner or ex look like? Broadly speaking, it’s using technology to harass, stalk, impersonate or threaten. It can include:
- sending abusive or threatening messages
- persistently calling you, even when you’ve made it clear you won’t or can’t answer their calls
- tracking your location, with or without your knowledge
- hiding cameras to watch you
- gaining access to your online accounts – like email, social media and bank accounts – to monitor what you’re doing, impersonate you or lock you out
- sharing (or threatening to share) intimate videos or photos of you.
Is tech abuse just a red flag?
Tech facilitated violence is abusive and unlawful behaviour by itself – and it’s also a red flag of increasing and escalating physical abuse.
It’s dangerous because technology is part of all our lives – it surrounds us at home, work and play. We carry our technology with us everywhere we go. It also makes it harder to have a clean break after separating from an abusive partner – whether you need to stay contactable to comply with custody arrangements, or they keep contacting you from different phone numbers or online accounts.
What are the early red flags of tech abuse?
Like all forms of intimate partner violence, extreme tech facilitated violence is less likely to come out of nowhere. Keep an eye out for the early red flags, which may be a test of how much they can push your boundaries. They might look like:
- insisting on access to your devices and accounts (extra red flags when you don’t have the same access to theirs)
- getting angry or acting irrationally when you don’t respond to calls or messages immediately
- wanting to always track your location
- pushing you to take intimate images when you don’t want to, or sharing intimate images of you without your consent.
Attempting to drive you off your devices and accounts can also be a way of isolating you from your friends, family and support networks, contributing to their manipulation.
How to talk to your friends about tech abuse and tech facilitated violence
If you’re worried that someone you love is experiencing tech abuse from their partner or ex, there are a number of ways you can support them.
Remember that being too direct about your concerns, or what you think they should do, can actually be unhelpful and push them away. Prioritise listening to and believing your friend. Make it clear that you care and will be there for them, in the ways they ask.
When they are ready to hear it, remind them that tech abuse is abuse. They do not have to wait for something “worse” or physical to happen to seek help from specialist support organisations, the eSafety Commissioner or the legal and justice systems.
If they are worried about their online activity being tracked, help them safely access the eSafety Commissioner’s tips for protecting themselves. Offer to let them use your phone or computer when needed, and agree on “passwords” or “codewords” that their abuser wouldn’t recognise if intercepted.
Across Australia, we have a skewed view of what violence in intimate relationships looks like. What comes to mind is physical violence, or sexual violence – something that is much easier to categorise as “not OK”. But that type of behaviour typically doesn’t appear out of nowhere. It usually follows non-physical violence – insidious behaviour that breaks down a person’s boundaries, instincts and self-esteem to gain control over their independence, autonomy and judgement.
This post is part of a series getting to know the common types of non-physical violence against women in intimate relationships (red flags), how to spot the warning signs, and how to look out for yourself and your friends.
Learn more about tech abuse from our former CEO Em Maguire on the Life Uncut podcast. You can also hear from people with lived experience of tech facilitated violence on the There’s No Place Like Home podcast.