What is Digital Abuse?

In the age of smartphones and smart homes, using technology to harass and abuse has become increasingly common.

Digital abuse, or the use of technology to harass or intimidate someone, can take many forms. It can occur at any stage of a relationship and to people of all ages, though it is especially common among teens and young adults who use technology more often. It can also occur outside of intimate partner relationships, such as experiencing harassment from someone on a dating website.

Digital abuse can also accompany other forms of domestic violence96% of teenagers who experienced digital abuse also faced psychological, physical, or sexual abuse from their partners. Like other types of abuse, digital abuse is about control.

Signs of digital abuse may include:

  • Bullying and harassment: Sending insulting or threatening texts or social media messages; putting you down in social media posts; tagging you in hurtful posts or photos; posting embarrassing photos of you
  • Monitoring and stalking: Stealing or demanding to know your passwords; looking through your phone or computer without permission; using location tagging or spyware to monitor and track you; posing as you online; remotely controlling your smart home devices to intimidate you
  • Sexual coercion: Demanding you take or send explicit photos or videos you aren’t comfortable with; sending you explicit photos or videos without your consent; sharing your photos or videos with others; taking photos or videos of you without your knowledge
  • Possessiveness and control: Deciding who you can follow or be friends with online; controlling who you can text or message; demanding your constant attention through technology; making you feel unsafe for not responding to messages immediately

If you are facing digital abuse, know that it is not your fault. You have the right to privacy online and offline. You also have the right to decide for yourself how you use photos, social media, and smart home devices and other technology, as well as who you communicate with and how often. Above all, you have the right to feel safe and respected in your relationship.

There are also steps you can take to keep yourself safe online. Most social networks allow you to adjust your privacy settings to determine who has access to your profiles. Remember that abusers might save and share anything you post online. Also, be mindful of whether your loved ones may be experiencing digital abuse; always ask before posting a photo of someone online or tagging their location on social media.

While it may be difficult to seek help for digital abuse using your own devices, it’s possible to use alternative methods to access supportive resources. You can visit a local library or community center where computers may be available to reach resources like the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which offers a chat service. You can also ask a trusted friend or family member to find help for you.

Though dealing with digital abuse may be daunting, Joyful Heart’s resources section has information that can help you ensure your safety on and offline.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual or domestic violence, please know you are not alone. For support on domestic violence issues, including digital abuse, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224. For resources on healthy relationships for teenagers, including a live chat service, visit loveisrespect.org. Si necesita ayuda en Español, visite nuestras páginas. Learn how you can support a survivor.

By: Joyful Heart Foundation

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