Increase in women being stalked, abused through technology

23 Jun 2010

Charity group Women’s Aid has reported that there has been an increase in disclosures of women being abused, controlled and stalked through technology.

Callers to the Women’s Aid National Freephone Helpline disclosed over 14,613 incidents of physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse in 2009.

Many callers disclosed that their current or former boyfriends, husbands and partners were using many forms of technology – old and new – to control, coerce, and intimidate them. This included a variety of telephone, surveillance, and computer technologies.

Women disclosed that their home and mobile phone calls were monitored, as well as all of their texts. Some spoke of how their phone conversations were being recorded. Others found cameras secretly installed to monitor their every movement at home.

“Domestic violence is a huge problem within Irish society,” Margaret Martin, director of Women’s Aid said on the publication of Women’s Aid 2009 Statistics.

“This year we are particularly concerned about the growing trend of women being monitored and harassed through technology. In 2009 we heard from women whose online use was being tracked and scrutinised and whose partners demanded access to their private email and social networking accounts.

“We also heard from women whose partners and ex-partners had placed lies about them on internet sites. We also heard from women who had been photographed and filmed without their consent, sometimes having sex, and having the images uploaded to the internet.”

She continued: “The use of technology in domestic violence situations is now a key part of the wider pattern of emotional abuse. Women have told us they feel like they are constantly being watched and that their privacy is completely invaded and controlled.

“Quite often it prevents women from seeking help as they fear their partner will see that they have rung a helpline, looked at a domestic violence website or spoken of the abuse to their friends, family or colleagues in an email or text.

“We also know that leaving the relationship does not always end abuse with almost a fifth of women disclosing being abused by their former boyfriends, husbands and partners to the Women’s Aid Helpline in 2009.

“For many, technology played a part in the stalking and harassment they experienced. This included women being bombarded with texts and calls often telling them in explicit detail how they will be attacked or even killed. Younger women reported that their current or former boyfriends were stalking them on social networking sites.

However, Martin stressed that technology can also be used as a tool to control and abuse women, it can also be their lifeline.

“89pc of calls to our Helpline in 2009 were made from a mobile phone and our website received over 39,000 visits. That is why we are also delighted to launch our brand new website along with this report.

The new website, made possible by the kind support of the ‘Avon Speak Out against Domestic Violence’ programme, is a very informative, modern and user friendly resource for women experiencing domestic violence and their family and friends. The site also promotes and encourages online safety for women.

“We hope that for the many women who access our website for support and information it continues to be a lifeline, online,” Martin said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years