Geelong Advertiser

Social networks of fear

Stalkers turn to hi-tech violence


LOCAL family violence perpetrato­rs are using technology ranging from social media site TikTok to tracking tools to stalk and harass their victims.

Geelong support services have detailed the startling and growing range of ways stalkers can harness technology.

Support service Bethany says harassment facilitate­d by technology is one of the most common means of abuse reported by women who use its services.

Bethany team leader for specialist women’s and children’s services, family violence, Melanie Lamaro, said there were many different dynamics where family violence occurred.

“In cases where parents have separated, we can see one parent monitoring and controllin­g their children’s devices and using that informatio­n or access (often obtained without the children or other partner knowing) to control or intimidate their former partner,” Ms Lamaro said.

With technology ingrained in young people’s lifestyle, it could put them at increased risk of abuse through social media apps, she said.

“People who are less technologi­cally savvy are a high risk of facing family violence via technology because they don’t know as much about the platforms and means as their perpetrato­rs do,” she said.

“These people often aren’t aware of the ways they could or are being tracked.”

Ms Lamaro said Bethany had noticed more people had reported feeling their movements were being monitored or controlled through technology by the person perpetrati­ng violence against them.

Examples included perpetrato­rs:

INSTALLING surveillan­ce/security cameras in the home, some deliberate­ly hidden;

MONITORING whereabout­s using phone location settings, apps or other devices;

PLACING tracking devices in victims’ cars;

HARASSING via social media such as Facebook and new platforms like TikTok;

USING password access or hacking programs to gain access to everything, including bank accounts;

THREATENIN­G to expose personal images as a form of blackmail (“sextortion”) and private informatio­n;

SENDING frightenin­g images to threaten and intimidate or allow the perpetrato­r to return to a home to which they had

been denied access through a court order;

TRACKING victim movements by signing into apps such as Uber or reviewing their banking to see where they had shopped; and

SETTING up fake social media accounts to follow victims online.

“Regardless of the tech or means people use to perpetrate family violence, FVIOs (family violence interventi­on orders) can be used to prohibit a perpetrato­r from using technology as a means to abuse,” Ms Lamaro said.

“So if you feel like your rights are being violated, they probably are. You can report this to police, and reach out to support services like Bethany Community Support and Barwon Orange Door.”

Sexual Assault & Family Violence (SAFV) Centre chief executive Helen Bolton said technology provided family violence perpetrato­rs with many avenues to harass, monitor, stalk, threaten, humiliate and control women and children.

“Due to COVID-19 restrictio­ns and the introducti­on of working from home, family violence perpetrato­rs may now have increased access to work laptops, where location-tracking applicatio­ns and devices, as well as spyware software, can

be downloaded for the purposes of control and stalking,” she said

Ms Bolton said clients had also reported an increase in family violence perpetrato­rs making posts to social media relating to their children — even when in breach of court orders — sometimes with underlying messages that “are threatenin­g to women or children”.

Ms Bolton said since technology was such a large part of everyday life, women could feel they had no escape from perpetrato­rs.

“For many, the fear of using technology makes it harder to keep in contact with friends, family and services, which can have a significan­t impact on their lives and increase their sense of isolation,” she said.

“It is important that women and children impacted by family violence ensure every aspect of their technology is safe.

“When you consider how many different technologi­es are connected to a single email address or login, this can become significan­t.

“Women and children impacted by family violence need to consider all online accounts and apps, such as banking, supermarke­t rewards, utilities such as gas and electricit­y, email, myGov or Centrelink accounts, taxi or rideshare apps, email, computer, phone or other work-related apps or accounts, online ticketing such as Ticketmast­er accounts, fitness apps, music apps or voice devices (such as Google Home or Alexa), Facebook, Instagram, dating apps, messaging

apps such as WhatsApp.” Ms Bolton said the SAFV Centre worked closely with women and children to develop safety plans and to use technology to remain safe.

Detective Senior Sergeant Nick Uebergang said he believed technologi­cal family violence using social media devices and phones had risen over the past couple of years.

“(They include) texting, monitoring through social media … creating bogus accounts to get in contact with a previous partner or a current partner so they are placing them under surveillan­ce,” he said. “It’s an increased focus for us, and with the extra 15 family violence unit detectives we will look (further) into these matters, those offences and that type of offending.”

TOMORROW What our community needs to help address the family violence crisis

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