How to Recognize Digital Abuse

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There are several types of abuse. Some are more common and obvious than others. No matter what, digital abuse is not your fault, and you can get out.

There are several types of abuse, and throughout the month of March 2019 you’ll be able to find articles on the following types of abuse:

But first, let’s define what “abuse” actually means.

The word comes from Latin and Old French words that mean “misused” and “to use wrongly.” Basically, something’s happening that shouldn’t be happening! It’s wrong.

If nothing else, the one thing you should always remember is that abuse is NOT your fault.


Digital Abuse

With much of our communication taking place online nowadays, digital abuse is becoming more common, especially among the younger generation. We hear stories of children who are bullied online who then choose to commit suicide, and only recently are those bullies being held accountable for their online words.

Words, after all, can hurt far more than any physical injury. And once you put it online… It’s always online.

What Is It?

Digital abuse is bullying, harassment, the exertion of power and control, stalking, intimidation, and other recognizably abusive behaviors all taking place using technology.

Everything on the internet is a potential platform for digital abuse. People can create hate blogs and use social media to bully others. Others spend all their time being the troll in the YouTube comments telling content creators to kill themselves or doxx people they disagree with. It’s also when people restrict their partner or children from using technology, to their detriment.

The effects of digital abuse are just as deep and damaging as emotional, verbal, and mental abuse. Digital abuse can be a facet of domestic and financial abuse. When an abuser posts nude pictures to the internet without your consent, it ties together digital and sexual abuse.

Cyber-Bullying

Digital abuse, in the context of child suicide, is known as cyber-bullying. Bullying Statistics compiled the stats on the relationship between bullying and suicide, and the results are terrifying:

  • “Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year, according to the CDC. For every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. Over 14% of high school students have considered suicide, and almost 7% have attempted it.
  • Bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University.
  • A study in Britain found that at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying.
  • 10- to 14-year-old girls may be at even higher risk for suicide, according to the study above.
  • According to statistics reported by ABC News, nearly 30 percent of students are either bullies or victims of bullying, and 160,000 children stay home from school every day because of fear of bullying.”

Keep in mind that these stats aren’t just for cyber-bullying; it’s something to really chew on if you’ve got children of your own who may be experiencing such things from their peers.

How to Recognize It

As one of the relatively recent types of abuse, digital abuse can be more difficult to spot for those who don’t realize it exists.

  • Doxxing, or revealing one’s location and personal information on the internet, with the intent to harm or have others harm you
  • Controlling your Facebook account and friendships (and access to other social platforms)
  • Using social media to keep tabs on you and track your movement and activities
  • Using texts, email, voicemail, and other forms of messaging to send threats and abusive language
  • Recording you without your consent (audio and visual)
  • Posting revenge porn on the internet
  • Demanding access to or control over your passwords
  • Blowing up your phone all the time so much that you feel chained to it—any missed call or message is a cause of fear of punishment
  • Not letting you have a phone
  • Snooping through your phone, computer, and emails
  • Unsolicited sexting and pressure for you to sext back
  • Spreading lies and gossip about you on social media
  • Insulting or bullying through status updates

There are several types of abuse. Some are more common and obvious than others. No matter what, digital abuse is not your fault, and you can get out.

Why Didn’t I Notice???

Once you do recognize digital abuse, you might wonder “why didn’t I notice it before??” because it turns out to be quite obvious once you know what’s going on.

Children who don’t want to go to school could be dealing with a bully, perhaps both online and in-person. If you feel trapped by your phone or your email, you could be dealing with digital abuse from a partner, boss, or coworker.

Recognizing digital abuse is important, but you also need to know what to do about it. You need to know how to preempt it from happening to begin with.

What to Do About It

The Hotline has a summary of your “digital rights” which includes things like your right to turn off the phone and enjoy peace and quiet without upsetting your partner.

That and the right to online (and password) privacy are probably the most important on the list.

For protecting your passwords, the simplest solution is to use a password manager like LastPass on your web browser, and then never disclosing the “master password.”

Change your passwords first! Using a password manager won’t help if your abuser already knows some of your passwords. Managers like LastPass have auto-generated password features to help lock down accounts with hard-to-guess passwords.

Taking back control of your digital life isn’t as simple as it sounds. Like most other forms of abuse, the only true way to take back that control is to leave the relationship.

It’s a common theme in what to do about abuse—get out.

Removing yourself from the equation of abuse is the only way to break the cycle and the stranglehold.

Take Back Your Digital Life

However, if you’re not in a position to get out right now, here are a few tips to at least get a better grip on your digital life:

  • Consider giving up Facebook altogether, or reducing the amount of time you spend on it. Lock down your privacy settings. Remove the ability for your abuser to tag you in posts or even see your profile at all.
  • Institute a password manager like LastPass to protect your passwords (after changing them).
  • Disable location services on your phone in case your abuser has downloaded a geo-tracking app. In fact, you should go through your apps and uninstall anything that you didn’t install yourself or that didn’t come with the phone pre-loaded when you bought it.
  • Set up unlock security on your phone: a passcode or PIN—not a pattern or biometrics like your fingerprint. Those are easy to get around by carefully watching the pattern you swipe or using your finger to unlock the phone while you’re asleep.

Keep your eyes peeled for signs of digitally abusive behavior in your relationships. If you can see it before it gets out of control it’s easier to manage and deal with.

Resources & Helplines

The National Domestic Violence Hotline number is 1-800-799-7233. Please give them a call if you suspect you are being abused, including experiencing digital abuse. They can help you with resources and a game plan to get out.

Call to Action

Are you being digitally abused? Can you see some of these warning signs in the relationships of people around you? What tactics or steps would you recommend to people who are suffering from digital abuse? Join the discussion below.

Want a PDF version of all installments of this Abuse Series packaged together for easy reference?

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