New technologies have found their way into intimate relationships. Unfortunately, this also includes abusive relationships. Victims of Domestic and Family violence have attested to the digital dimension of abuse now made possible. The term ‘coercive control’ describes those patterns and behaviors by which an abuser controls their partner. In the context of intimate abuse, technology is often a means to coercive control.
Douglas, Harris, and Dragiewicz explored the role of technology in domestic and family violence by examining interviews with survivors of domestic abuse. In examining interviews collected from sixtyfive women between 2014 and 2017, the subjects were asked to recall instances of domestic and family abuse. Even though they were not explicitly asked about technology-facilitated violence, survivors identified instances in which connected devices, communication networks, and digital media were used as a means of coercive control.
Eighty-three percent of women reported negative experiences involving these technologies. Harassment, monitoring, stalking, isolation (especially though constrained use), social-media-facilitated abuse, and image-based abuse were the forms of violent behavior that were most discussed. Women’s recollections involved more than one type of technology. Even though smartphones were overwhelmingly cited, computers, texting, cameras, recording devices, software, and online accounts were also mentioned. Technology was used to monitor the activities, whereabouts and communications of a partner allowing the abuser to invade the private spaces of their victim or confront them post-separation. Alarmingly, the children of victims were also sometime involved as unwitting participants.
Current understandings of intimate violence tend to focus on the physical rather than digital forms of abuse. The facilitation of violence and coercive control through technological means is clearly an issue that justice and victim support services will have to understand in order to serve those affected by domestic and family violence.
Digital forms of abuse have become a part of intimate partner violence. Support services should be aware and equipped to deal with technology-facilitated domestic violence.