Tech safety planning principles for service providers supporting survivors
Women have the right to use technology
Eliminating the use of technology will isolate her from friends and family and limit employment and access to information and services. Tech safety planning helps a survivor use technology strategically.
Make it a personalized tech safety plan
Just as an off-line safety plan is personalized for a woman’s specific circumstances, her tech safety plan needs to look at her specific devices and tech-related activities, as well as her personal circumstances. For example:
- A woman might not use a computer, but has a smartphone.
- A woman’s job might require her to be active online.
- A woman’s child might insist on using Instagram, etc.
The woman leads the planning
You know the woman is the expert on her off-line safety planning. She also leads the tech safety planning.
- Her level of fear will be an excellent indicator of the seriousness of his actions.
- She knows her comfort level with technology and how she uses it.
- It’s her choice about how to change her online activities. Technology may be an important and empowering force in her personal and professional life.
Be specific with tech safety planning
Ask detailed questions as you explore her use and risks. People’s technical skills vary. Careful questioning is especially important if you are using an interpreter.
- Cover the wide range of activities affected by technology:
- Financial – online banking, tax submissions, donations, shopping
- Personal – texts, social media, messaging apps, FaceTime/Skype, email, photos, calendar, journaling, games, etc.
- Professional – remote access to employer’s network, work accounts including email and social media like LinkedIn, e-bulletins, online training/schooling, job searches and online resumes
- Related to children – their social media accounts, email lists with teachers and coaches, photos posted to teachers’ and extra-curricular websites
- The jargon can be confusing. Try specific names like “Facebook”, “Snapchat”, “WhatsApp”, rather than general terms like “social media” or “messaging”.
- It will be helpful to have a safe device (workplace computer or smartphone) with internet access handy for this discussion so that she can demonstrate.
Consider the children’s use of technology
If there are children, the abuser will likely involve them in technology abuse. When there are safety issues, children must be informed, supervised and involved in safety planning.
What are his patterns of behaviour and level of risk?
- Does he appear to know things about the woman that he shouldn’t?
- Is he jealous, possessive, controlling and/or abusive? Has he been that way with previous partners?
- Has he used technology to harass and/or abuse the woman in the past?
- Does he have access to her devices and/or the children’s devices? Did he in the past?
- Does he have technical skills or a friend or relative with these skills?
- Does he involve the children in the abuse? If so, how does this apply to technology?
- Is his abuse escalating? Is his use of technology for abuse escalating?
- Are the abusive tactics involving technology triggered or changed by certain conditions?
- What is the status of the relationship? Is the relationship ending? Technology abuse tends to increase after separation.
- Is there a family court case? Could he be trying to gather evidence about the woman? Does he try to manipulate her to do or say incriminating things online?
Help her maintain connection
A common abuse tactic is to isolate a woman, cutting her off from friends and family. Just as the abusive person will attempt this off-line, he will do the same online.
- He will use their shared contacts, including children, to monitor and harass her.
- However, her social network can provide essential emotional support and a sense of security. Explore ways she can safely maintain contact with key support people, such as through a safe email account.
- Safety apps, 911 speed dial, GPS and other technology can give a woman great comfort when used safely.
Abuse moves out of the home and into the workplace
Once a woman separates from an abusive partner, he will find ways to continue the abuse outside the home. Technology is essential to many jobs, which presents him with other opportunities to monitor and harass her.
- What are her work-related tech safety issues and how can they be managed?
- Should her employer become involved in tech safety planning?
Change is necessary
Just as you helped her identify changes to make in the off-line world, like changing locks and routes home from work, provide her with strategies and tips on changes she can make online. Some changes will be harder than others.
Help her make informed decisions about technology.
- Share examples of ways abusers use technology.
- Share examples of how the courts use electronically stored information as evidence for and against women.
- Explain the law. For example, these are illegal activities:
Give her hope and ways to take action.
- Provide tips on safe ways to use technology.
- Prioritize activities. Identify areas of high concern and those of lower concern, actions that can be done quickly (e.g. creating a safe(r) email account) and ones that will take more work (e.g. making sure her devices are “clean”).
- Explain that his online abuse leaves a trail of evidence that can be used against him in court.
- Help her get a replacement phone.
- If she has limited technical skills, walk her through basic tech safety tips, such as changing passwords and privacy settings on her phone. Or encourage her to find a friend or relative who is comfortable with technology for this kind of support. Some of her allies may be happy to play this role because it involves concrete action.
- Remind her of ways to communicate and get support that don’t involve technology, such as using a landline phone, meeting friends for coffee and attending peer support groups at women’s organizations.
Just like “regular” safety plans, tech safety plans must evolve as circumstances change.
- Circumstances that indicate the need for a tech safety plan update include:
- The abuser has information about the woman that suggest he is monitoring her somehow
- His online abuse tactics escalate
- “Stalking by proxy” (using a third party, such as his friend or family member) occurs for the first time or increases
- The abuser gains access to the woman’s or her child’s device
- A shared contact shares information with the abuser about the woman
- A child reveals that they are communicating secretly with the abuser
- The woman or her child gets a new device or software
- Privacy settings with social media website change
- The woman slips up in her online communication (e.g. Sends a nasty text, reveals her safer email account)
- Incriminating (for the abuser or the woman) online evidence emerges
- The abuser posts embarrassing or upsetting information about or photos or videos of the woman
- The abuser impersonates the woman online
- New technology becomes available that enables abusers to monitor/harass women in new ways
- Off-line changes in circumstances will also require a review of the tech safety plan, such as an escalation in off-line violence, upcoming court dates, court decisions, new partners, crises with children.