Behind the Screens: Spyware and Domestic Violence

behindthescreens-spywareThis is a post in our Behind the Screens series, which explores issues related to digital/online abuse.

Technology opens up so many possibilities to connect with people around the world, but unfortunately the other side of the coin is the potential for abuse. As we’ve been discussing in our Behind the Screens series, mobile devices and computers can become tools for an abusive partner to manipulate, control, and shame a victim. They can also be used to spy.

According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, “spyware is a computer software program or hardware device that enables an unauthorized person (such as an abusive partner) to secretly monitor and gather information about your computer [or cell phone] use.” Spyware can track everything you do, from keystrokes, to the sites you visit, to documents you print, to messages you send. In some cases, a person does not need physical access to your device to install spyware, and it can be very difficult to detect.

Spyware is starting to play a larger role in cases of digital abuse, thanks to easy-to-install and inexpensive technology. Much of the spyware software and apps available today are aimed at parents for monitoring kids and teens, but there are companies that market their products specifically for spying on spouses or partners. This issue has become so prevalent in domestic violence cases that Senator Al Franken (D-MN) has introduced legislation that would ban mobile spying apps.

How can you tell if spyware is being used on your devices?

As we previously noted, spyware can be difficult to detect. However, if you think your activities are being monitored by your abusive partner, there’s a good chance you are correct. For example, your partner might:

  • know your whereabouts when you haven’t told them specifically where you’ve been

  • know things about your online search history even after you’ve deleted it

  • know about conversations with or messages you’ve sent to others

  • question you about topics you have personally researched but never discussed

Additionally, on a cell phone you might notice that the battery drains quickly or data usage spikes. These can all be signs that your devices are being monitored.

What can you do if you discover (or suspect) you are being tracked by spyware?

You might be tempted to get rid of your device or try and remove the spyware, but be aware that your abusive partner might retaliate as a result. Do not use a computer or cell phone that your partner has access to in order to research shelters, escape plans, or to call/chat with hotlines. Use a computer at a library, at a friend’s house or at work, or borrow a friend’s cell phone or work phone to make calls. Use your own devices for innocuous tasks (such as looking up the weather) so that your partner does not get suspicious of inactivity.

If you believe you are being monitored, or even if you’re not sure, try to find a safe phone or computer and call us at 1-800-799-7233 or chat online every day from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. CST. We can help you safety plan and direct you to local resources.

Additional Resources:

firearms and dv

New Toolkit Released to Help Local and State Leaders Protect Women from Gun Violence

firearms and dvAmericans for Responsible Solutions (ARS), the gun violence prevention organization founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, retired combat veteran and NASA astronaut Captain Mark Kelly, and the National Domestic Violence Hotline today announced a new report and toolkit, Saving Women’s Lives, to serve as a resource for state and local leaders to adopt best practices that will help protect domestic violence victims from gun violence.

In conjunction with release of the toolkit, ARS Co-Founder Gabrielle Giffords also announced the #ProtectAllWomen campaign urging women at state and local levels to work with leaders on the ground and encourage them to use the toolkit and resources to strengthen laws that keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and stalkers. The campaign will include targeted digital outreach and leadership training  around the country.

Read the full press release and download the toolkit here.

firearms and dv

Hotline Focus Survey Provides Firsthand Look at Intersection of Firearms & Domestic Violence; Highlights Need for Stronger Laws and Equal Protection

firearms and dv

June 18, 2014, Washington, DC – Today in Washington, DC, Rob Valente, National Domestic Violence Hotline policy expert presented highlights from a recent focus survey conducted by The Hotline on the use of firearms in domestic violence situations.  The survey revealed how the presence of a firearm in an abusive relationship intensifies the fear of abuse victims and escalates the violence directed towards them, regardless of whether or not the survivor is married, dating or being stalked by the abuser. Current laws offer protections for married victims of intimate partner abuse, but the same protection is not afforded to those who are in a dating relationship or those who are being stalked. Valente provided the preliminary results of the survey at a panel featuring Former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords and Captain Mark Kelly, co-founders of Americans for Responsible Solutions, as well as U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and Saundra Rhodes, Chief of Police of Horry County, South Carolina and domestic violence survivor, Sarah Engle.  Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress, Counselor to the Center for American Progress Action Fund moderated the panel which discussed the intersection between gun violence and violence against women.

One in four women and one in seven men 18 and older in America report they have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. When the abuser has access to firearms, the survey confirmed that victims’ fears intensify and the violence escalates. Statistics show that it also turns deadly. According to research published in the American Journal of Public Health, the presence of a gun in domestic violence situations increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent. More than half of women murdered with guns are killed by family members or intimate partners.1

Survey Findings

The findings from the eight week survey conducted this spring by The Hotline shows how guns are being used to coerce, intimidate and inflict injury.

Of those whose partners have access to firearms:

  • 22% said their partner had threatened to use their firearm to hurt themselves, their intimate partner, their children, family members, friends and even pets with a firearm.
  • 67% believe their partner is capable of killing them
  • 52% said they would feel safer if law enforcement took their partner/spouse/ex’s firearms
  • Only 34% said they were aware that the court may be able to order their partner to surrender their firearms and ammunition

Of those who said their partner had threatened them with a firearm:

  • 76% said their partner made verbal threats to use the gun
  • 24% of them said their partner waved the gun around
  • 25% said their partner pointed the gun at them or others
  • 30% said their partner left the gun out to create a feeling of fear
  • 54% said their partner had threatened suicide with the gun

Below are some of the anonymous stories told to The Hotline advocates during the eight week survey:

Hotline Survey Anecdotes:

One woman said that during a fight, her partner shot a gun at her. Someone called the police. Her partner was arrested on a violation of a restraining order, but the gun charges were dropped.

One participant in the survey said her partner sexually assaulted her with his gun by putting the gun inside her when she refused to have sex with him.

One caller said her abuser told their young child he would shoot the entire family and maybe others.

One woman’s partner shot her while she sat in her car, another said her husband threatened to shoot her in the face.

One of the women said her partner put a gun in his mouth while talking to her on an internet service. In another case, a husband recorded a video of how he would kill himself with his gun if she left him.

One caller told The Hotline advocate about her husband who sleeps with loaded guns under his pillow. Not long ago, she woke to the sound of him releasing the safety next to her head. His guns, she said, are regularly used to threaten her and abuse her.

Changes to Legislation Needed

Urging policy makers to take immediate action, National Domestic Violence Hotline policy expert, Rob Valente says, “We need stronger protections for victims now. The people who call the Hotline are brave and they are survivors. They’ve managed to stay alive. Every day at The Hotline, advocates listen to their stories and we hear them and we help them. Today, we must act as their voice, because if they were able to do so, they would tell lawmakers they’re scared, they want the fear and pain to stop and they need help.” The National Domestic Violence Hotline believes that in order for survivors to find safety and live lives free of abuse, changes are needed. Some of the specific ways in which the current legislation should be strengthened:

  • Protecting victims of dating violence and stalking from firearms violence—in addition to the existing protection for victims of domestic violence
  • Protecting victims at the time when they are in greatest danger—when they first go to court to seek help
  • Giving law enforcement the authority to seize firearms when there is probable cause to believe the firearms were used to commit domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking
  • Giving courts the authority to order that firearms used to commit domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking be removed from the abuser
  • Improving the entry of state data concerning domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking into the National Crime Information Center databases, so that the FBI has the information it needs to prevent adjudicated abusers from getting access to firearms

Domestic violence offenders commit more than a million acts of domestic violence each year, resulting in hundreds of deaths2, approximately 22 percent of which are gun-related.3

“Doing nothing is not an option. Right now, women are being terrorized in their own homes,” Valente said.

1J.C. Campbell, D.W. Webster, J. Koziol-McLain, et al., “Risk factors for femicide within physically abusive intimate relationships: results from a multi-site case control study,” 93 Amer. J. of Public Health 1089-1097 (2003).

2U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, J.Truman, L. Langton, & M. Planty, Criminal Victimization 2012 (Oct.2013) (Table 1) (1,259,390 incidents of domestic violence in 2012),



Celebrate Father’s Day with the Hotline

fathersday-blogThis Father’s Day, we want to spread the message that male victims of domestic violence deserve support, resources, and hope for a healthy future. We know that regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation, men suffer from domestic violence. According to the CDC, one in seven men will be a victim of intimate partner violence – including emotional, verbal, and physical abuse – in his lifetime. At the Hotline, we believe that all people have the right to feel safe, happy, and respected in their relationships.

We also want to honor the many men who work to end abuse and serve as positive role models for their families and communities. Male voices can play a crucial role in the movement to end domestic violence – in fact, they are often on the other end of the line when people contact the Hotline or our partner organization, loveisrespect. Andrew, one of our advocates, had this to say when asked about his role:

The gift of doing this work as a man is that you find that you can be a source of strength and a trusted ally. No matter what we are told (or what we believe about ourselves, our male voices, or our masculinity), we can be among those empowering voices of care, compassion, and support. No one can ever truly walk in anyone else’s shoes, but we can learn to see things we hadn’t seen before. What I think we start to see as more men get involved in [this] work is that common ground is always out there to be found.

Evan, also an advocate at the Hotline, says:

“I think being a male advocate can be helpful to women who contact us because it lets them know there are men who are on their side, working to end domestic violence. It is also important for male victims and survivors, because they have a safe place to share their stories without the fear of judgment from family and friends.”

Is there a man who has made a positive difference in your life? Celebrate him during the month of June by:

  • Sharing on social media. If you tweet at us (@ndvh) about a male friend or family member you respect and admire, we’ll retweet you!
  • Making a donation to the Hotline. Your generosity will help ensure that our advocates are on the other end of the line for men and families who need assistance. Donate directly to the Hotline here.
  • Shopping with AmazonSmile. Need a Father’s Day gift? Shop through the AmazonSmile program and Amazon will donate an extra $5 to the Hotline.

Additionally, we’d like to acknowledge the numerous organizations that are dedicated to engaging and supporting men in healthy ways, including:

  • A Call To Men works to “create a world where all men and boys are loving and respectful and all women and girls are valued and safe.”
  • White Ribbon is “the world’s largest movement of men and boys working to end violence against women and girls, promote gender equity, healthy relationships and a new vision of masculinity.”
  • GLBTQ Domestic Violence Project envisions “a future where individuals, communities, institutions and policymakers are all working together to increase awareness, reduce the incidence of domestic violence, and foster an environment in which all survivors have equal access to quality services regardless of their gender identity/expression and/or sexuality.”
  • Men Can Stop Rape’s mission is to “mobilize men to use their strength for creating cultures free from violence, especially men’s violence against women.” Their website also has a list of men’s anti-violence organizations across the country.

Please join with us this Father’s Day to support the men and fathers suffering from domestic violence, and honor those who work to create a world free from abuse.