Find out about how someone using family violence could also use technology to perpetrate abuse, how to stay safe online and what to do if you’re not feeling safe.
We use technology to stay connected with our loved ones, do our banking, make appointments, and much more. This is fine in relationships where there is mutual trust and respect with appropriate boundaries for our loved ones and their privacy.
However, someone using family violence, or an ex-partner, can also use technology to harass, monitor, stalk, impersonate or make threats to control, frighten or humiliate.
This is a form of abuse and it’s never OK. Examples include:
- Attending, or sitting outside, your house, workplace, social gatherings or outings uninvited. Following you in their car.
- sending abusive text messages or emails to you or loved ones or new partners
- making continuous threatening phone calls to you or loved ones/new partners
- spying on and monitoring victims through the use of tracking systems or even surveillance equipment (eg cameras can be hidden in a variety of seemingly everyday items around the house or in/on your car)
- going through your phone, accessing your social media accounts or internet history (if you are still in a relationship)
- asking children, your workmates, family or friends as to where you are working, your social life or activities
- installing spyware on your computer or phone that can even have ‘keystroke identity’ so it is known what you type/message and to whom
- abusing victims through social media sites
- sharing intimate images of someone without their consent (also known as image-based abuse or ‘revenge porn’)
- using ‘Smart’ technology such as Google Home and Alexa to control or manipulate security systems, home appliances, locks and other connected devices
- keeping track of you on Facebook by accessing friends or children’s accounts who are part of your friend network or setting up false identities to ‘friend’ you
In Victoria, the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) provides that stalking is a criminal offence punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment. Stalking is defined by actions by a perpetrator setting up circumstances to include keeping a person under surveillance and tracing a person’s use of the internet, email or other electronic resources, causing their computer to undertake an unauthorized function together with physical activities including following, approaching and contacting a person by phone, email and text.
The Commonwealth Evidence Act 1995 provides that evidence taken improperly or in contravention of Australian law is not to be admitted unless there is consideration of a ‘balancing act’ between the desirability of admitting the evidence outweighs the undesirability of admitting evidence that has been obtained in the way in which the evidence was obtained.
In New South Wales, the Surveillance Devices Act 2007 (NSW) prohibits the recording of a private conversation without consent and a Court will need to find whether the audio or video recordings have been illegally obtained if a party in family law proceedings wants to have them admitted as evidence.
In Victoria, the Surveillance Devices Act 1999 (Vic) provides that persons found guilty of communicating or publishing recordings of private conversations may be imprisoned for up to 2 years or fined up to $3700. Corporations may be fined up to $182,000. Recordings include results taken from tracking devices.
Things to be aware of – are you, or someone you know, at risk?
This list can help you think about the types of behaviour you should be aware of and how someone using family violence could use your personal information to monitor or control you.
Go through this checklist:
- Do they know information about your movements that they shouldn’t? Do they turn up at places unexpectedly?
- Are they constantly asking where you are, checking your phone or web browser history?
- Have they set up monitoring systems such as a camera or security devices around the home?
- Has there been unusual online activity, such as emails that have been marked read, but not by you? Or emails and texts that were sent, but not by you? Have there been unusual financial transactions?
- Has your password been changed and you’ve been locked out of accounts?
- Have they given your children or other people that you spend a lot of time with new gifts, such as a mobile phones, laptops, ipads or smart watches, that could be used to track your location or see personal information?
The Australian Government’s eSafety website has an online tour of the kinds of technology often used as part of family violence.
Now: map your digital world
Follow these steps to list the different types of technology you use that may pose a risk.
Think about how you use technology to manage your information and activity.
- Daily life– banking, supermarket reward cards, utilities such as gas and electricity, email, myGov and Centrelink/Medicare accounts, escripts and pharmacy or vet or other SMS notifications, taxi or rideshare apps. Do you wear a smart watch or other smart device? Do you have a GoPro or NavMan in your car? Do you have a Smart Home device or a remote controlled security system or any other system in your house?
- Work– email, computer, phone or other work-related apps or accounts.
- Recreational activities– online ticketing such as Ticketmaster accounts, fitness apps, FitBits, health monitors, ‘Smart’ watches, music apps or voice devices (such as Google Home or Alexa).
- Social platforms– Facebook, Instagram, dating apps, messaging apps such as WhatsApp. Do you use ‘Cloud’ devices?
Think about who else may be able to access your information. List the shared accounts, devices and any accounts where the password is known to another person or may be easy to guess.
Now think about how others may be able to track your location. Underline or highlight the accounts where location settings are switched on (such as Uber or Google Maps).
With the information you now have on your digital world, the following tips can help you increase your safety.
Tips to increase your safety
First, consider whether changing your digital patterns will alert the person/people using family violence and increase your risk. Sometimes, it may be safer to maintain your online presence on the accounts that the perpetrator is aware of, so you don’t raise suspicion if you set up and use new accounts.
If you think someone is accessing your devices, you could use safer devices that the person using violence does not have access to, such as using the internet at a public library or on your child’s devices (so long as your child’s device is not ‘shared’).
Do not use phones or computers given to you by your abuser or have them wiped to ‘factory settings.’
If safe to do so, set up new accounts, like a new email address, and always log out of accounts on all devices.
Passwords that are easy to guess or saved automatically on your device can mean that the person/people using family violence could monitor your communication and movements, or send messages and post activities from your account.
When creating a password, avoid using information that someone will know such as a date of birth or pet name. You should use a combination of letters, numbers and special characters (? ! or @), and try not to use the same password for multiple different accounts. A password based on the first letters of a sentence can make it easier to remember. For example, you could refer to a holiday: I go to Tasmania 2021! would be IgtT2021!.
You could also consider not telling the truth for security questions. Try choosing a theme you can easily remember, such as the example below which uses fruit and colours as themes:
Mothers’ maiden name: green pineapple
First pet: yellow pineapple
School: purple pineapple
Do not write your passwords down unless you know that they are in a safe and secure place.
Ensure your location settings on your devices are switched off. The eSafety website has a video to show you how to do this.
Safe web browsing
Use ‘private’ or ‘incognito’ mode when browsing the internet, so your browser history is not recorded. You can also delete the browser history of particular websites that might make the person using violence suspicious. Some websites have a ‘Quick exit’ button, usually at the top of the page. This will instantly close the website you’re on (but it will still be in your browser history).
Similarly, you can see from your devices if someone has been accessing your history if it is a shared computer.
Don’t open attachments unless you are sure they are safe.
Let your friends/family/workplaces know not to share information
You may need to tell family, friends and your employer about the conduct of the other person and not to pass on or share any personal information regarding you. You have nothing to be ashamed of. Just let them know this is an issue so that they can take extra steps to protect your information. You may also wish to tell family doctors, vets, accountants, your pharmacy or other professionals if, or when, you separate.
Find out more
More information, including instructional videos, can be found on the Australian Government’s eSafety website: https://www.esafety.gov.au/key-issues/domestic-family-violence
If you need help
- If you are in immediate danger call 000.
- You can also contact the police in your state or territory by visiting a police station: make sure you obtain the police officer’s name and service number and obtain an ‘incident’ number of your report.
- For confidential crisis support, information and accommodation please call the safe steps 24/7 family violence response line on 1800 015 188. If it is unsafe to call, email sa*******@sa*******.au.
- For confidential phone help and referral in Australia, please contact 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732, the National Sexual Assault, Family and Domestic Violence Counselling Line.
- For a specialist LGBTIQ family violence service, please contact W|Respect on 1800 LGBTIQ (1800 542 847) or visit withrespect.org.au or Switchboard (3pm to midnight 7 days a week) 1800 184 527.
- For support for men, call Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491 or check the resources on MensLine Australia or call: 1300 78 99 78.
- For children: 1800 551 800 Kids Helpline
- Victims of Crime Helpline 1800 819 817
- Office of the Public Advocate provide services to people with a disability talking to, or giving a witness statement/interview with the police: 1300 309 337
- InTouch: Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence: 1800 755 988 (interpreters available)
- Senior Rights Victoria: 1300 368 821 for rights and services to protect our elderly
- Aboriginal Family Violence Legal Service (Djirra) 1800 105 303 in Victoria
Need legal help?
If you need assistance in your family law matter, or you think you are the victim of stalking, monitoring or tracking, or need to seek or defend an intervention order, or are a victim of crime/seeking compensation: please contact us on 03 9069 1033, or by email ra****@st*********.au to make an appointment with our understanding and responsive team.
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