Behind the Screens: Spyware and Domestic Violence

forms of abuse

Behind the Screens: Spyware and Domestic Violence

behindthescreens-spywareThis is a post in our Behind the Screens series, which explores issues related to digital 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:

    • NNEDV offers great information about safety and technology – this PDF contains some important tips

Comment section

18 replies
  1. It’s about time I see this topic brought up in full light . People can’t possibly understand the terrorizing possibilities that technology used maliciously can cause. Another thought to ponder: the abusive technology professionals . I pray you actually don’t understand this nightmare .

  2. Hi Bren,

    Thank you for being a member of our online community. We hope that our blog posts bring light to situations that people are facing, and that need higher awareness. In our experience, there are so many different ways that people find to manipulate and control others, and technology is definitely one of them. As technology changes, so do the ways people use it to be abusive. It sounds like this blog resounds with you in a very personal way. If you’d like to talk about the situation further, please know that our advocates are available 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential and anonymous conversations.

    Everyone has the right to be safe.

    Hotline Advocate AS

  3. I hope they can hold the abusers accountable one of these days. i have lost everything due to my x-husbands ability to see and hear everything i am doing for the last year. My credit is ruined, my relationship with my family and friends, and my relationship with my children are all compromised. He was able to take bits and pieces of my life and twist and turn them into a picture of a monster. it is all lies. I cannot get him out of my devices and i have filed 5 police reports, fbi reports, fcc reports, ftc reports, and to every internet and phone company. 6 computers, 4 iphones, 40 pay as you go phones, and 3 routers have all been compromised. I am depressed and sick of the stalking and no help.

  4. Sam,
    I’m so sorry to hear all you’ve been through because of your ex-partner. If you’d like to talk to an advocate about what’s been happening please don’t hesitate to give us a call anytime.

    1.800.799.7233 – We are completely confidential and anonymous.

    – HotlineAdvocate_KK

  5. This happened to me. My husband bought a new router because he destroyed the one we had before in a fit of rage. He went out and bought a new one with spying features that I was not aware of until one day he flew into the living room where my computer was, in a rage because he got upset at what I was talking to a friend of mine about. It happened so fast I wasn’t even sure what happened. He slapped me hard enough to make my neck hurt for days and smashed my screen. He had the router set to take pictures of anyone’s computers screen that’s on, every 15 mins. And he also had a history that was sent to his email everyday of what sites and programs were used. We’ve just moved recently and have gotten a different router but I lock my computer every time I leave my room because I know he’s still the same. I am also very depressed because I have nothing for myself and I’m constantly afraid even though it’s been a few years since he’s hit me.

  6. Hi luthien,
    Wow, that sounds like such a scary situation. No one ever has the right to spy on you. You have every right to have privacy and to be treated with respect. You also had every right to talk to your friend about the abuse. Abuse is all about power and control, so whenever an abuser feels like that is threatened then they escalate. I’m so glad that you are taking extra safety precautions, even though that shouldn’t be necessary in the first place. You should be able to use your computer without worrying about him trying to spy on you.

    Many of the people that we talk to feel depressed and anxious because of the abuse. You’re not alone in feeling that way. We’re here to offer you support and to help you safety plan. If you ever need to talk or want referrals, I would encourage you to call us at 1-800-799-7233. We’re completely anonymous and confidential.

  7. Thank you for writing back. It’s a great feeling knowing someone is listening to me. Unfortunately I’ve lost most of my friendships along the way and find it really difficult to talk to anyone about my situation. I would really like to be able to speak with some one on the number you posted but I’m in a difficult position to do so. I’m currently an American citizen living overseas as my husband working as a contractor for the military. He checks out telephone bill every time we receive it, and 800 numbers are not free where I live. I have actually contacted social workers here but found the support difficult to get unless I’m in a life threatening situation. I have considered divorce but would have to go through the country’s court system which I’ve found would not be helpful with my financial situation at the moment. I also have kids, which makes leaving even more difficult. It took me weeks to write anything here but I’m so lonely and some days get so bad for me I can’t even bring myself to do anything but cry or sleep. But that makes things worse because the first thing he does when he gets home is check to see what’s been done in the house. Everyone gets tense and angry about an hour before he gets home because we all know he’ll find something to get upset about.

  8. Hello Luthien,

    It can be even more difficult to deal with an abusive situation when you’re overseas, with different cultures, laws, and resources. You deserve the support and help you need, especially when your husband is being as controlling and isolating as he is. We know that leaving can be a very hard choice and there are often many important factors like children and finances to consider. Thinking about not only leaving and getting safe, but being able to stay safe is incredibly smart and thoughtful.

    If it’s a safe option, you may be able to chat with one of our advocates on our website. Our chat services, found here at thehotline.org, are open 9 AM to 7 PM CST. There is also a resource specifically for Americans living overseas that may be of help. The Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center can be reached toll free internationally by calling the local AT&T operator from the country you are living in and asking to be connected to 866-US WOMEN.

    I hear that you feel lonely and depressed and overwhelmed. I also see that you have incredible strength and courage, reaching out for help from so many people. It can be discouraging when you don’t find the help you’re looking for, and it shows how resilient you are to continue reaching out.

    We’re here when you need us. Take care.

    Hotline Advocate AS

  9. I don’t have any small children, most shelters screen you over the phone, they serve people with children first, you have to qualify for the place that may have room for you, you have to get there on your own fir a face to face meeting in a safty zone place they tell you to meet them at, but if you have diabilities, take medication, have illnesses like Diabetes, severe asthma, severe obstructive sleep apnea, or you use crutches, a walker etc… Well you get the run around, a person who is going through domestic violence, the last thing you want to hear is no we don’t have any room for you, or we only take families here, or we feel this is mot a good place for you because you are on crutches, or we don’t special diets here for diabetics, seems like I have heard all the excuses. So I gave up and stayed in my terrible situation, which of course is not safe. My family can not take me in, and I just don’t have money to moved away, or to disapear. It’s not as easy as most people think it is. Some boyfriends will kill you if you try to get away from them, they will beat you up so bad just to warn you if you even think you are leaving them that the next beating will be worse. I am on crutches, and can barely walk due to a very serious injury to my knee, he beat me up, and hit me on my injured leg while I was screaming for the 911 operator to send the police to my apt which is 2 blocks from where we live. All the operator kept saying was calm down, I have to ask you some questions, she could hear him beating me up, but still wanted me to answer questions over the phone, I felt like damn I have to be screened to get help? No wonder why so many people get killed before the police arrive. So don’t judge anyone who hasn’t left their abusive situation yet, because it’s not a smooth and easy to get away especially if you don’t have a car, or money.

  10. I think I will be killed before I can get out of my situation, no money, no car, I’m on crutches, and waiting to get major surgery on my leg, and with someone who loses control easily, he take out his problems on me, I don’t have anywhere to go, to get away from him. This is scary. I wish I knew someone who could really help me get out of this situation, I feel trapped.

  11. Hi Taimi,

    I’m so sorry that the help in your area has failed you. You deserve to feel safe and be able to get help. The abuse you are going through is so scary and dangerous. It’s true that abuse does escalate during the break up period and it can be one of the most dangerous times. It’s the reason many don’t leave.

    You should not have to go through this alone. I encourage you to call us at 1-800-799-7233 and we can see if maybe there are other options or ideas. We’re completely confidential and anonymous.

    Take care,
    Hotline Advocate VG

  12. Hello,

    This post has been modified to remove any personal information per our community guidelines.

    Thank you for your support of our website. We really appreciate your positive feedback and that you are sharing this resource with your friends. If you or anyone you know would like to speak to an advocate, please contact us 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or chat online at http://www.thehotline.org everyday, 7am-2am CST.

    Take care,
    Hotline Advocate RG

  13. My husband use to use google latitude to see where I was all the time. Once it was gone I was very happy. Then he kept pestering me about getting another app that did the same thing. I put it off as long as I could then he sat there till I found one. He would track where I was at all times. I finally have a new phone and never put it back on. He always tracks how long it takes me to drive from work to home and ask me what took me so long.He will also track me if I go food shopping or to go pick a few things at the store and how long it takes me to do that. I don’t go out with friends. I really don’t have any friends. When I use to go out with friends he would pout like a two year old and make me feel guilty about hanging out with friends. Yet he can go do what ever he wants anytime. Lucky for me he doesn’t know much about computers so and I know a lot more than him. He can’t pull the wool over my eyes on spyware. I keep my phone locked and change the password every so often. If I get a phone call he will sit there and ask me a hundred time who it is. He gets mad if I tell him one minute. I can’t have a conversation with him around. I have no social life at all.

  14. Hi Cheryl,

    Thank you for reaching out about what you are experiencing. Your husband’s behavior is very controlling and he isn’t treating you like an equal in the relationship. Being married or in any committed relationship doesn’t sacrifice your right to a fulfilling life outside of the relationship that you determine. For him to try to prevent you from spending time with others and tracking your movements is an abusive behavior. Having someone you care about treat you with abuse is a very difficult thing to experience. If you would like to reach out to an advocate about the abuse in your relationship, we are here 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233 and reachable on chat from 7am to 2am CST.

    Take care,

    Hotline Advocate LC

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