Cindy Southworth, M.S.W.
Safety Net Technology Project Director
National Network to End Domestic Violence
Cindy Southworth: The victims of stalking and domestic violence . Technology is a new tool that abusers are misusing in their harassment, threats and stalking. And what we recommend for victims is if you think that someone's monitoring your activities, your computer activities, perhaps your location, maybe your communication vehicle, such as, like your phone, is trust your instincts. If you think someone's surveilling you, they probably are. And don't do the investigation on your own. Don't try to find the device on your car or the spyware on your computer. If you think you're being monitored, talk to a trained victim advocate about safety and, and evidence. Because if you try to remove the device, you may destroy important evidence that the prosecution and law enforcement need.
The recent stalking and victimization report that just came out in January of 2009 shows that stalkers are indeed misusing technology as part of their stalking strategy. What we don't quite know is the accurate numbers yet. The numbers in the report are fairly low. And part of that is you don't know you're being stalked. It's hard to tell a researcher that you've experienced spyware. So most of these surveillance strategies are surreptitious. You don't know there's a GPS device on your car or there's spyware hidden on your computer. Therefore, it's hard when you have a researcher call and ask about what's happened to be able to tell them that indeed spyware was misused in the crimes that occurred against you. So we know that the numbers are out there. We're seeing it every week. We get phone calls from victims every day. And the research have demonstrated that it is occurring, but I think it's the tip of the iceberg. I think the numbers are much higher than what we're seeing in the research thus far because a victim can only self report that surreptitious surveillance technology is being misused if she knows that the surreptitious technology was used.
Stalking, domestic violence, sexual violence have happened for millennium. This is not new behavior. Dating violence has happened as long as we've had dating. And what we are seeing is new technologies are being used. So stalkers have an expanded array of tools to misuse, but the technology does not cause the stalking, the dating abuse or the domestic violence. Years ago abusers would check the odometer on a victim's car to see if she had left the house during the day and perhaps gone to the grocery store when the abuser told her she absolutely couldn't leave the house. Now an abuser can put a GPS device on that same victim's car.
Years ago an offender might follow a victim all day long, after she leaves the school yard and before she goes home. Now they can give her a gift of a cell phone and contact and text her 24 hours a day. But again the cell phone's not causing dating violence. We're also seeing crimes like cyberbullying, which really is an age-old crime. It's called "being mean to each other." Most cyberbullying occurs by kids to other kids. And so as a community, we need to address it by helping kids understand that harming each other is not the way to go. But the technology is not causing the bullying. People are causing the bullying. And then "sexting" is a new term meaning sending sexually explicit text messages. And young folks may take pictures of themselves at a pajama party and send them to friends and "A," that's not advisable, so we really want parents and teachers and community members to talk about that behavior. But it should not be put in the same category as child pornographers and people who are raping children. So we really want the community to take this seriously and also take a deep breath and look at it from a holistic community response standpoint.
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Cindy Southworth, Founder and Director, Safety Net: The National Safe & Strategic Technology Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence
Cindy Southworth discusses how technology is a new tool that abusers are misusing in their harassment, threats and stalking.
Date Modified: December 3, 2009