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By Susan Hoffman
For an abuser, domestic abuse is an expression of power over a weaker victim. A typical abuser revels in exerting control over all aspects of the victim’s life, such as finances, communication, employment, and interactions with friends and family members.
Many domestic abusers often “gaslight” their victims, accusing the victim of perceiving reality in the wrong way. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the term “gaslighting” comes from the 1938 stage play “Gas Light,” in which a husband attempts to convince his wife that she’s going insane by performing various tricks, such as secretly lowering and raising the gas lamps in the house to convince her she’s going mad. There is also a 1944 film adaptation titled “Gaslight,” starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer.
Unfortunately, the Internet of Things and smart devices have made it easier for tech-savvy domestic abusers to play nasty power games with their victims. Gizmodo reports that “domestic abusers are using….internet-connected thermostats, doorbells, speakers, lights and other smart home devices to establish their power or harass their partners.”
Electronic Devices Have Become a Psychological Warfare Tool
This misuse of smart devices has developed into a psychological warfare tool for abusers. For example, an abuser may use an iPad or a similar mobile device to keep track of a victim’s smartphone that has its location services turned on. Similarly, the abuser can turn off household lights remotely from a smartphone’s app. Abusers may even install a spy camera in a household and view video footage from that camera via a smartphone app.
This type of activity allows an abuser to easily demonstrate control over the victim, no matter where the abuser may be. It is another method that the abuser uses to slowly chip away at a victim’s self-esteem and further exacerbate the victim’s stress.
Coping with Digital Gaslighting
According to a 2014 NPR survey of shelters for domestic abuse victims, 85 percent of the shelters work “directly with victims whose abusers tracked them using GPS.” But there are multiple ways for domestic abuse victims to cope with digital gaslighting. Some methods include:
- Changing passwords, especially on smartphones
- Disconnecting smart devices
- Shutting off GPS and Wi-Fi technology
- Getting a computer expert to check desktop computers or laptops to see if keylogging software has been installed
- Turning off smartphone location services and turning them on only when absolutely necessary
- Checking security settings on smartphones
- Tightening up security settings on social media accounts or staying off social media sites
- Using greater caution about posting locations on social media
- Getting a new smartphone if that is an affordable option
- Ensuring that smartphones are not given to the children to track a parent’s activities through spyware
According to the Women’s Law website, many states have laws that make behaviors such as harassment, stalking, eavesdropping and surveillance illegal. Victims also have the option of collecting evidence to provide clear proof of the abuse, such as:
- Keeping a log of incidents as they occur
- Saving voicemails, emails, texts and photographs
- Taking screenshots of unpleasant social media posts
If an abuser crosses the line into illegal activity, this evidence can make a crucial difference in court. It can also be helpful in convincing law enforcement of an abuse problem.