Modern technology can add to threat of domestic violence

Published 3:41 pm Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The textbook case of domestic violence is usually one that is documented by physical injuries. A black eye, bruises, broken limbs and in worst case scenarios, death, can leave lasting emotional and physical scars on the victims and their loved ones. As we acknowledge October as Domestic Violence Awareness month, holding abusers accountable and providing assistance to victims should continue to be a top priority.

However, as technology and access to various data applications advances, another growing concern is individuals suffering silently because of abusers who use mobile devices and other electronics to mentally abuse and harass their targets. The emotional scars, mental anguish, and anxiety leave many domestic violence victims feeling powerless and alone.

At the height of relationships when love, mutual trust and commitment are at their peak, a lot of intimate information is shared between romantic partners. This includes secrets, gifts and in some instances, revealing photographs. But, when things go sour, relationships that may have ended only after a few days or weeks can live on forever in the form of digital photographs, videos and private messages.

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Putting all judgment aside, a nude or compromising photograph in the hands of a person with controlling and manipulative tendencies can be nerve-wracking for domestic violence victims. What if he shares the pictures on social media? What if she emails the pictures to my co-workers? What if…?

Time and time again, abusers will use items such as photographs as a way to intimidate victims into staying in unhealthy relationships. Repeated phone calls, text messages, e-mails, Facebook messages and voicemails are used to remind the victim about the “ammunition” at stake. What once may have seemed like undying love and affection now resembles cyberstalking.

The use of technology as a domestic violence weapon is not always fully embraced or understood. Continued education and training for law enforcement officers, social service agencies, those who work in the court system and the general public are key to preventing harm.

Petitions for civil protective orders and pursuing criminal charges for various domestic-abuse related crimes such as stalking, telephone harassment and simple assault are among the ways that victims can seek relief from their abusers. Some victims have even successfully pursued federal copyright infringement claims against their abusers.

As more people join the world of social networking, the potential audience for revealing or compromising photographs and messages grows. For victims who are trying to maintain peace of mind, the possibility of that information being shared is very frightening. It is easy to tell someone with abusive tendencies to just let it go — delete the pictures and messages and move on — but in most instances, the issues are best addressed by mental health intervention, the justice system or other initiatives.

In the meantime, potential victims of this form of domestic abuse can take proactive steps such as:

1. Carefully consider the dynamics of the relationship before sharing too much personal information including photographs. How long have you known this person? What do you know about this person’s past relationships?

2. Change passwords for bank accounts, email addresses and social media accounts. Make sure your secret questions are not easily answerable by a potential perpetrator.

3. Check your credit report and search for your name on search engines regularly.

4. Talk to a law enforcement officer, attorney or domestic violence advocate such as those at the Haven House Family Shelter to discuss your options for relief through the criminal or civil court system.

Toni Walker Terrett is Vicksburg Municipal Court Judge.