This blog has been written by Emma Pickering, Senior Operations Manager for the Technology-Facilitated Abuse and Economic Empowerment Team at Refuge.
Refuge is the UK’s largest specialist domestic abuse organisation, and the team I oversee is the only specialist team in the UK directly supporting victims and survivors of technology-facilitated and economic abuse. We work to empower women and children to use technology safely and remain online free from harassment and abuse and prevent isolation.
This blog hopes to raise awareness and share insights into the forms of technology-facilitated abuse the team are reporting and how we safely plan with the women we are supporting.
What is technology-facilitated abuse?
Technology-facilitated abuse is a growing threat and a gendered crime that disproportionately affects women and children. It is the misuse of any form of technology that is used to abuse, harass and stalk a victim.
Some examples of the forms of abuse the team have reported are:
- Using location services to locate a victim.
- Using home devices to monitor a victim within the home.
- Using gaming devices to contact a child or victim to harass them.
- Using online financial accounts to create debts in the victim’s name.
- Harassing a victim via social media. This form of abuse frequently happens alongside physical, sexual, emotional and/or economic abuse.
Many women report feeling that they have no choice but to stop using online spaces or their devices, making them feel even more isolated.
Sadly, the number of referrals about technology-facilitated abuse the team at Refuge is receiving is increasing. Between 2018 and 2022, the number of clients supported by the team rose by approximately 258%.
What can we do to support victims and survivors?
It is important to believe and listen to the woman. We need to remember that what sounds impossible may well be possible through the misuse of technology. We can support victims and survivors by:
- Ensuring that the woman can contact agencies safely. This could be by ensuring that they have access to a second safe device if there are concerns around the device they are using.
- We need to ensure we do not send emails to devices and accounts that may be compromised.
- Signpost the victim and survivor to our National Domestic Abuse Helpline for support on 0808 2000 247
- Signpost victims and survivors to the Refuge guide so they can learn how to secure their technology.
The Refuge Tech Safety website features an easy-to-use interactive tool designed to help women spot commonplace smart devices in their homes which could be controlled by an abuser, together with simple step-by-step advice on how to secure them, including cautions throughout where an action could notify an abuser. It also includes an interactive Tech Safety Tool (chatbot) with video guides for securing accounts and devices in English, Udru, Polish and Spanish.