The Internet has infiltrated every aspect of our lives. It has become both the most useful and productive and the most abused and destructive tool in human history.
Domestic violence in our society has become epidemic. The Internet has become the latest weapon to inflict the deep psychological scars that the victims of domestic violence suffer. Social media, GPS tracking, spyware and email has become the weapons of choice for the abuser. Its the deadly Internet. The deep, dark and dirty web.
Cyberstalking, Tracking and Spying
Spyware has become one of the most insidious tools at the hands of an abusive spouse or relationship partner. A survey by domestic violence charity Women’s Aid determined that 41% of abuse victims had been harassed using electronic devices or spyware. This technology has been used to trap and sometimes even enslave victims. Electronic surveillance can make the victim feel constantly watched and controlled. A second survey by Digital Trust claims it found that 50% of abusive partners had used spyware or electronic devices to snoop on their victims.
What is spyware? Spyware is software that enables a user to obtain covert information about another’s computer activities by transmitting data covertly from their hard drive. An abusive spouse who uses spyware can track web movements and even steal passwords to read emails and instant messages from their victims accounts. They can also steal user names and passwords for bank accounts. This can make the victim feel that the abuser knows what they are thinking and doing at all times. Spyware can even be installed on cellphones allowing the abuser to know who the victim calls, talks to or text.
This form of domestic violence and control has taken hold in our society to the point where the courts have seemingly legalized tracking your husband or wife. In 2011 a New Jersey judge declared that using GPS technology to track a husband or wife suspected of cheating to be legal. A search of the Internet will reveal an entire industry that specializes in selling tracking technology to suspicious husbands and wives as well as advice on how to use it most effectively. You can also find information on how to track a person using their cell phone. Another website gives detailed instruction on how to set up your spouse’s computer to spy on them.
Victims are left feeling powerless against abusers who seem to be acting legally to keep them under constant threat and surveillance. An abusive spouse can claim that they are keeping track of their partner to prevent or detect cheating and be within their rights when actually they are using the technology to create a psychological prison. Its called cyberstalking and its used to continue to maintain rigid control and instill fear into a domestic partner even when he or she has escaped the relationship. Cyberstalking is not just for troubled marriages. It occurs between unmarried couples, dating couples and even between people who barely know each other such as online dating relationships. It is also just as prevalent among gay relationships.
Cyberstalking occurs on the Internet and the stalker can attack the victim in numerous ways. Stalkers have have been known to send the victim endless harassing emails and instant messages. One victim reported having received 1,600 emails messages in a single week from a man she met on an online dating site and rejected his romantic advances. The man continued to send her messages until she removed her profile from the site. Another victim, a man, was harassed online and then followed home from work by a woman he met online. Other victims report harassing phone calls and text messages to their cellphone. One man in Indiana sent a virus loaded email to his estranged wife’s workplace email hoping to get her fired.
Nearly every state has instituted an anti-cyberstalking law and they are enforced. In December of 2014 the Supreme Court of the United States heard the case of Elonis v. United States. According to court documents, Anthony Elonis was sentenced to 44 months in prison for threatening to kill his (now ex-) wife, via violent Facebook postings. Elonis wrote in a 2010 message; “There’s one way to love you but a thousand ways to kill you. I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts.” Elonis claims the message were rap lyrics. The court will have to decide.
In other examples women have been sexually harassed by men they have met online including unwanted sexual images and even threats of rape. According to Department of Justice statistics 850,000 American adults, mostly women, have been victims of cyber-stalking each year. And 40% of women have experienced dating violence delivered electronically.
One victim of note was senior vice president of a well known company. He was the victim of a terminated employee who began sending hundreds of emails with Photoshopped pornographic images of the victim to every single person throughout the company for months before it was stopped. The executive was so humiliated he left his job, changed his name and moved to a different state. The Internet has created an easy and effective way of striking at someone through technology. The attacker never has to leave the house.
Research indicates that these determined abusers use even their own children to infiltrate their victim’s home. They use Christmas or birthday presents such as phones, computers and toys pre-loaded with spyware to keep track of their victims. Abusers have also installed wireless hidden cameras in the home of victims and transmitted images over the Internet.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Women’s Aid said “Domestic abuse is about control and perpetrators will use any means available to maintain and increase their control. We increasingly hear stories of abusers adding tracking software to phones, placing spyware on personal computers and using the Internet to gather information about their partner.”
This type of tracking and surveillance can and has resulted in deadly encounters. An abusive husband in Arizona used the GPS in his wife’s cellphone to stalk her before allegedly murdering their two children and shooting himself.
Social media is yet another tool used to stalk and harrass victims. Women especially have been stalked, verbally abused, threatened and even murdered using social media websites like Facebook. Some experts have said that the social media obsession has made tracking a victim fairly easy. The constant need to check in and update your status makes it easier for stalkers to keep track of their victims. Some victims have experienced harassment going from online to face-to-face when stalkers show up at restaurants or other public places the victim visits and posts on social media.
Cyberstalking is the newest form of domestic violence. Its used to isolate and threaten a victim. The scars are as real and painful as those inflicted by physical violence. The Internet and associated technology has become a weapon against women and men who find out too late that a spouse or relationship partner has a dark side.
Now you know