Digital domestic abuse

Digital domestic abuse

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - The constant calls, the threatening texts. Brittny said her ex-boyfriend's electronic communication was relentless.

"I was always fearful of not answering my phone when he called and not responding to his text messages," she said.

After months of high-tech harassment, Brittny said she realized she was a victim of "digital domestic abuse"; a new problem psychiatrist Gail Saltz said is growing.

"Now, sadly, people are using digital technology to exert their power, their influence, control 24/7," Saltz said.

Digital abuse is just starting to be recognized by experts and goes beyond constant phone calls and text messages.

At the National Domestic Violence Hotline, many callers report their partner's smartphone and social media surveillance is increasing.

"Things that range from constantly checking to what they're posting on social media, asking for passwords, to more extreme cases as where partners create fake identifies on Facebook to see if they can get their partner to engage with someone else, and then accusing them of cheating and flirting in appropriately," said Katie Ray-Jones, president of the NDVH.

And the popularity of being constantly connected can make recognizing a problem difficult.

"Isn't this what everybody does? You know, everybody is on social networking, everybody is texting, isn't that just normal behavior?" Saltz said.

But Ray-Jones said that normal behavior can turn to obsession and it's important to recognize warning signs.

"Extreme jealousy, monitoring, isolation," Ray-Jones said these are some of those red flags.

Cyber crime specialist Art Bowker warns digital abusers can escalate their surveillance by using apps which monitor their partner's location through their phone's GPS or by installing keylogging software that records what they type on a computer.

"No one needs to be a computer genius to install this software," Bowker said. "This software is very, very easy to install."

Dr. Saltz said that what's even more troubling is that digital abuse can turn dangerous.

"People of all ages are vulnerable to the use of digital technology to basically be abusive and that abuse that starts in that way can often lead to, directly to physical abuse," Dr. Saltz said.

Brittny said when her ex-boyfriend's digital abuse became physical she ended the relationship.

Now she warns others who think their digital boundaries may be violated to reach out for help right away.

"When I was going through this, I felt like I was completely alone," Brittny said. "I didn't tell anybody about what was happening."

Ray-Jones said it's difficult to estimate exactly how many people digital abuse affects, because some victims don't even recognize it.

Experts said in some cases it's a relationship red flag that can be fixed if you work through it, but in others it can rise to the level of stalking or harassment.

If you feel your safety is in jeopardy, you should immediately contact local police.

Click here for a link to the Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which includes contact information for shelters around the state.

For more information on digital abuse, including how to recognize the different types, click here.

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