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Technology & Safety: Digital Security in Domestic Abuse Shelters

Woman lying on the floor while looking at cell phone.

 

For many facing domestic abuse, technology and the internet are more than just tools — they are lifelines.  

 

Technologies offer ways for survivors of domestic abuse to reach out for help, find vital information, and connect with those who care. 

 

But it's important to recognize how abusers can use this same technology to harm.  

 

Domestic abuse shelters understand these risks very well. They are committed to keeping people safe – not just in their physical spaces but also in the digital world.  

That’s why shelter staff take privacy and confidentiality very seriously, handling digital information with great care to ensure digital safety. 

 

In this article, we're going to talk about how technology can help and harm, and how shelters are helping to keep people safe in the digital world.  

 

At ShiftLink, we know your time matters. We know your work matters. Interrupting your focus on caring for others to perform the time-consuming task of filling shifts in a pinch is frustrating at best. ShiftLink is not a band-aid fix. It is a response to your deepest need — to spend more time on what truly matters. We have created a software that will ease every pain point related to shift scheduling. Request a demo today or send us an email to learn more.   

 

 


 

If you are experiencing domestic abuse, know that help is available. The National Domestic Abuse Hotline offers free, confidential support 24/7. An important feature of their website is the ability to quickly exit by pressing the ESC key twice, which immediately navigates away from the site and erases it from your internet history. This helps ensure that your search for help remains private. 

 


 

 

The Risks and Benefits of Digital Technologies 

The internet connects survivors of domestic abuse to essential information about shelters and other resources that can help them find safety. With most people having access to mobile phones, help and support are often just a few taps away. 

 

The digital world also offers survivors supportive communities who understand what they're going through. Whether it's a dedicated support forum, a small community on Reddit, or a Facebook group, these online spaces offer a chance to share stories, find understanding, and get emotional support.  

 

Movements like #MeToo, which gained momentum across social media in 2017, are powerful examples of how these platforms can help survivors share their experiences and find solidarity. 

 

However, it is just as important to recognize how abusers can leverage this same technology to stalk, harass, and cause harm to survivors in other ways. 

 

 

Looking for Help Leaves a Digital Paper Trail 

Often, the most dangerous time for domestic abuse survivors is when they are planning to leave their abuser.  

 

In these moments, survivors might use the internet to research where to go and what steps to take.  

 

But every action taken on a phone or computer leaves a ‘digital paper trail’ that, if found by the abuser, could put survivors in serious danger. Most people don’t understand just how much of this data is stored or how to delete it.  

 

 

Smart Home Tech is Dangerous in the Wrong Hands 

From smart thermostats to smart TVs, smart devices designed to make life easier can be manipulated to harass and intimidate survivors of domestic abuse. As documented by DomesticShelters.org

 

  • One survivor noticed that her home was heating up unexpectedly on hot days. It turned out that her abuser kept turning up the smart thermostat from outside the home to make her uncomfortable. 

  • There have been several cases of abusers spying on survivors through Wi-Fi home security cameras while the abuser is away. 

  • Smart speakers, like Amazon Alexa or Echo, have been used to eavesdrop on survivors, likely by hacking the device or using the Amazon “Drop-In” feature. 

  • In one case, an abuser had access to the smart lock on the survivor’s front door, and was able to open the door and repeatedly enter her home without her knowledge or permission

 

 

Harassment and Abuse Can Continue Online 

When we talk about domestic abuse, it's important to recognize that the danger doesn't always end when a survivor leaves their abuser.  

 

The internet, which offers so much in terms of connection and support, can unfortunately also be used to perpetuate harassment and abuse as well. These methods include: 

 

  • Defamation: Posting false and harmful statements online to damage someone's reputation. 

  • Doxing: Sharing private information like addresses or social security numbers online, exposing individuals to further harassment or crime. 

  • Financial Abuse: Manipulating online banking and accounts to control or steal a survivor's finances. 

  • Harassment: Using social media to intimidate or upset victims through messages, calls, or public posts. 

  • Google Bombing: Manipulating online search results to make defamatory content appear when someone searches for the survivor’s name. 

  • Online Impersonation: Creating fake accounts or hacking into existing ones to send harmful messages or disrupt the survivor's relationships. 

  • Non-Consensual Image Sharing: Sharing intimate photos or videos without consent, often obtained during the relationship or through hacking. 

  • Stalking: Monitoring the survivor’s location through online check-ins or GPS device tracking. 

  • Threatening: Using the internet to make threats, which can cause real fear and anxiety. 

 

 

How Domestic Abuse Shelters Create a Digital Safe Haven 

Since our lives are so deeply intertwined with technology, domestic abuse shelters have evolved to become more than just a place of physical safety.  

 

Today, shelter staff recognize the risks that technology can pose for survivors of domestic abuse and work hard to extend their protective embrace into the digital world. 

 

 

Empowering Survivors with Knowledge 

 

Many shelters have educational materials and programs to empower survivors with important knowledge about digital safety. This education is crucial because understanding the potential dangers of technology is the first step in safeguarding against them.  

 

Woman speaking in group of women with microphone.

 

Survivors learn how their digital footprints can be traced and how to cover these tracks effectively, using technology as a shield rather than allowing it to be used against them. 

 

 

Creating a Digital Strategy for Safety 

 

Shelter staff often work with survivors to create a digital safety plan. This plan may include steps like securing online accounts, changing passwords, and being mindful of shared devices.  

 

It's a comprehensive approach, ensuring that each survivor's unique situation is addressed, providing them with the tools and strategies they need to stay safe both offline and online. 

 

 

Providing Support and Understanding Online 

 

Finally, shelters foster a community of understanding and support, with many extending that support to forums, websites, and social media platforms.  

 

In these safe spaces, survivors can connect with others, share experiences, and build a network of support, all while being guided on how to do so securely.  

 

It’s about creating a balance – maintaining connections and accessing resources without putting oneself at risk. 

 

 

Digital Security in Domestic Abuse Shelters 

Many domestic abuse shelters have specific guidelines around technology use, designed to protect both the individual survivors and the shelter itself from potential threats.

 

These may include: 

 

  • Thoughtful Cell Phone Use: Personal cell phones can be a link for abusers to track movements or communication. Shelters understand this risk. They often advise against using personal phones and may provide safe alternatives, like emergency phones available at the shelter or suggestions to use prepaid, disposable phones, which leave no digital trail. 

  • Recording Devices and Privacy: Modern devices, with their cameras and microphones, can accidentally reveal locations or other sensitive details. Shelters carefully manage the use of such devices. There might be areas where these devices are not allowed, or guidelines on how to use them without compromising anyone's safety. This care is all about making sure no information gets out that could put anyone risk. 

  • Navigating the internet and Social Media with Care: Shelters guide you on how to use the internet and social media in a way that keeps survivors safe. This advice includes being cautious about what is posted, especially regarding location or details that might hint at where a survivor is staying.  

  • Disabling GPS and Location Services: Device location services can unwittingly give away a person’s whereabouts. Shelters often recommend turning off these services to prevent any chance of an abuser tracking them. This simple step is a powerful way to maintain privacy and safety. 

  • Email and Digital Communication: In our digital age, even emails can be a vulnerability. Shelters may advise on setting up new email and social media accounts that aren't connected to the survivor’s past life. 

 

 

Final Thoughts 

While technology offers many valuable resources for support and connection, it also poses unique dangers. With awareness and the right guidance, survivors can navigate this digital landscape safely. 

 

Woman smiling while looking up from cell phone.

 

Today, domestic abuse shelters play a vital role in this journey. Through their thoughtful guidelines on technology use, these shelters empower survivors with the knowledge and tools to use technology to their advantage without compromising their safety. 

 

At ShiftLink, we know your time matters. We know your work matters. Interrupting your focus on caring for others to perform the time-consuming task of filling shifts in a pinch is frustrating at best. ShiftLink is not a band-aid fix. It is a response to your deepest need — to spend more time on what truly matters. We have created a software that will ease every pain point related to shift scheduling. Request a demo today or send us an email to learn more.   

 

 

 

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