Technology- Friend and/or Foe?

Irony — my word of the day. During the past few evenings I have been searching for safety devices for my mother who has dementia. Today I have been researching and preparing my notes for an interview with a reporter about how technology can be a significant safety risk to individuals in a violent relationship. Same technology tools, vastly different intent and purpose.

My family is looking for ways to increase my mom’s personal safety and to give us peace of mind. We are terrified of the headline “Missing 83 year old woman”. There is some great technology out there that can help us to minimize the risk of Mom becoming lost or if lost, to allow us to find her much quicker.

This same technology is being used to locate, stalk, harass and terrorize women. A U. S. Department of Justice report (2009) has estimated that more than 25,000 adults in the U. S. are victims of GPS stalking annually. From cell phone GPS, Spyware (and other readily available software programs), hidden cameras, GPS tracking on vehicles and more; it has become inexpensive and easy to track and stalk. In the past an abuser had to dedicate a lot of time to physically monitor their partner or ex-partner. Now they can do this from their desk at work, lap top at a café or simply from their own cell phone.

As an agency, HAVEN is focused on victim safety. We educate victims about the dangers of technology and work with them on developing an ongoing safety and privacy plan. There is some help out there but staying safe requires work — changing passwords/PIN numbers, contacting cell phone providers and internet service providers, removing public information from certain sites, looking at social media applications, getting a “safe” cell phone to use that the abuser has never had contact with, etc.

While we wait for the industry experts and victim advocacy groups to work toward a resolution on this complex issue — educate yourself. If you are in a violent relationship or have recently ended one — don’t forget to include the use of technology as you develop a plan to increase your safety options. Know someone in a violent relationship? Help them get information on safety planning.

Advocate for change within the technology industry.

Donate your used cell phone — these can be used by domestic and sexual violence programs as a “safe phone”.

While my family may be terrified of a specific news headline, we should all be committed to eliminating domestic violence and sexual assault so we are not reading about another woman being killed, raped and beaten.

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