Behind the Screens: What is Digital Abuse?

forms of abuse

Behind the Screens: What is Digital Abuse?

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

The prevalence of digital abuse has been gaining traction in the media lately, and our advocates frequently field questions from callers and chatters about it. Still, many people don’t know what constitutes digital abuse and are not able to recognize the signs. It is especially common among young people who are typically using technology in almost every aspect of their lives, but anyone can be a victim of digital abuse.

Digital abuse is the use of technologies such as texting and social networking to bully, harass, stalk or intimidate a partner. In most cases, this type of abuse is emotional and/or verbal and though it is perpetuated online, it has a strong impact on a victim’s real life. According to advocates at loveisrespect, your partner may be digitally abusing you if he/she:

  • Tells you who you can or can’t be friends with on Facebook and other sites
  • Sends negative, insulting or even threatening emails, Facebook messages, tweets, DMs or other messages online
  • Uses sites like Facebook, Twitter, foursquare and others to keep constant tabs on you
  • Puts you down in their status updates
  • Sends unwanted, explicit pictures and demands you send some in return
  • Pressures you to send explicit video
  • Steals or insists to be given your passwords
  • Constantly texts you and makes you feel like you can’t be separated from your phone for fear that you will be punished
  • Looks through your phone frequently, checks up on your pictures, texts and outgoing calls
  • Tags you unkindly in pictures on Instagram, Tumblr, etc.

Digital abuse, like other forms of abuse, is an attempt to control a partner’s actions. As part of maintaining a healthy relationship, we recommend that partners create a digital contract that outlines what is and is not acceptable behavior online. Additionally, it’s important to know and exercise your “digital rights”:

  • You have the right to turn off your phone and spend time with friends and family without your partner getting angry
  • You have the right to say no to sexting, or sending pictures or information digitally to your partner that you are not comfortable with
  • You have the right to keep your logins and passwords private
  • You have the right to control your own privacy settings on social networking sites
  • You have the right to feel safe and respected in your relationship, online or off

Exercising these rights and feeling safe are important aspects of every healthy relationship. If you have questions about digital abuse, call the hotline 24/7 or chat with an advocate here on the website from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Central time.

Comment section

6 replies
  1. Necesito ayuda pensaba que lo que me paso y sigue pasando no era violencia doméstica pero si lo es mi es esposo me sigue asiendo daño con no dejar que mis hijos viajen a los Estados unidos me trajo con engaños para que yo vuelva con el y que traía a los niños y no lo hizo porq yo no quiero seguir con el necesito ayuda por favor soy una madre desesperada que paso por Muchas cosas cuando era pequeña y no quiero que mis hijos sufran

  2. Karina,

    Gracias por informarnos de su situacion. Se oye que es una situacion muy dificil. Desafortunadamente, sabemos que las personas abusivas usan diferentes maneras de control a su pareja, aunque ya se ha terminado la relacion. En este caso, su ex esposo esta usando a sus hijos para obtener el control. El sabe que usted quiere estar con sus hijos y va usar eso contra usted. Tiene cada derecho de decidir si quiere seguir en la relacion y no es gusto que el esta tratando de controlar esa decision. Se oye que es una situacion muy complicada, pero no tiene que pasar por esto sola. Si gusta hablar con alguien sobre sus opciones o buscar apoyo en su area, nos puede llamar a la Linea Nacional Sobre Violencia Domestica, 1800-799-7233. Su llamada es completamente anonima y la linea se contesta 24 horas al dia en ingles y espanol.

    Gracias, y ojala que nos pueda llamar.


  3. Is it possible to rape someone via the internet? I understand that you can sexually harass someone by sending the unwanted images, texts, etc. I can also understand that receiving this kind of material could make a personal feel violated, and that is a valid thing they have to deal with. But like you said here, people can turn off phones and chat programs. They can walk away. I don’t understand how accusations of digital rape are possible, yet I see these kind of accusations being made on the internet. Can you explain this to me?

  4. Bewildered,

    Thank you so much for reaching out to our blog community. Abuse is such a complex situation and people who are abusive find so many different tactics to maintain power and control over their partners, as the post has described. Staying off of social media and turning off your phone are some helpful strategies to feel safe but we know that it can also be dangerous if someone completely walks away from their online life. Many times, the only way a person can reach out to their support system is through technology. I am not familiar with the term, digital rape. It is not something we are trained to address, but we know that there are different definitions of rape.

    If you have any more questions about this, I encourage you to give us, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, a call at 1800-799-7233. Advocates are available 24/7 and your call is completely anonymous and confidential.


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