Groups » How Social Media is Extending the Reach and Impact of Domestic Violence

Unless you are a technophobe, the entire existence of the average internet user's day is recorded on one or more social media networks. From Facebook, to Snapchat, Instagram to Twitter and LinkedIn, every facet of our day, experience, mood, emotions and the people we spend time with are captured for an online audience to peruse.

Because the internet (IOT) has become so engrained in daily life, it has also extended the reach and impact for victims of domestic violence. We discuss how digital media, while it can be used to assist and generate emotional support for individuals who need assistance, is a double edged sword that places people at risk for violence, stalking, blackmail and intimidation.

No Hide-And-Seek: How Social Media Networks Dangerously Geo-Map Location

How hard is it to find out the exact location of an individual who shares frequently on social media? Check-in's are geo-mapped to the precise location of the phone, which means that anything from a doctors visit to getting a quick bite to eat is documented online. What few people realize is how readily this information is available on the internet, to people who may mean them harm.
Whenever a social media post is made, unless strict privacy features are followed, the location of the post is broadcast, along with the comment and picture. For most people, tagging their location is second nature, and sometimes required to participate in a free perk like a coffee, or coupon. Over time, social media posts are cached in Google and Bing, which makes them searchable by name. Try Googling your name, and if you are active on social networks, you will see Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts archived on the worlds largest internet browsers.

For victims of domestic violence, this leaves them wide open to being studied for patterns of behavior. Assume that for a man or women who has separated themselves from an abuser, that the abuser is watching for a routine, and taking notes. Do you go to the same coffee shop on the way to work every morning? Do you go for dinner with your friends routinely at your favorite local restaurant? What grocery store do you shop at? Where do you get your car serviced? Every time you share on social media, you are building a very refined profile of your daily activities of living that someone, if they had malicious intentions, could use against you, with violent consequences.

So much is done to make teens and children aware of the potential for abduction or harm, as a result of overs haring on social media. But adults, particularly those who have a history of being victimized by malicious stalkers or domestic violence, may not assess the same risk when they share their status and locations on social media. Who would be willing to take that much time and effort to profile your activities? Someone who is planning to harm you.

How Big is the Problem?When women are stalked or threatened online, there appears to be a general disregard for the seriousness of the threat or potential harm that is being implied by the stalker, not by the potential victim, but by society in general. The concept that something that happens in cyber-space is not as relevant or disruptive as a physical assault is misleading; studies also reveal that cyber-stalking is often a prelude to a violent act, where a woman or man may become victim to a serious assault or harassment that impedes their safety, or normal activities of life.

"Only 40 years ago, sexual harassment and domestic violence were viewed as normal. Today we see the same pattern of subordination in cyberspace. Cyber-harassment is seen as trivial"Danielle Citron, "Hate Crimes In Cyberspace"

The United Nations issued a press release on September 24, 2015 that urged all countries to address what it described as inappropriate complacency with regards to addressing the threat and seriousness of online harassment, stalking and bullying of women around the world. The whitepaper titled "Cyber Violence Against Women and Girls: A Worldwide Wake-Up Call," discussed why domestic violence and battery against women is escalated and even assisted by social media and the internet.

"Online violence has subverted the original positive promise of the internet's freedoms and in too many circumstances has made it a chilling space that permits anonymous cruelty and facilitates harmful acts towards women and girls." - Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations.

The report also identified key factors that increased the risk to women, and discussed the prevalence of online stalking and harassment for women around the world. The report stated that women aged 18 to 24 years were the most likely age group to experience sexual harassment, stalking and physical threats. Additionally, one in every five female internet users lives in a country where online harassment and abuse of women is unlikely to have legal repercussions for the perpetrator. Complicating the prevalence of violence against women online is the fact that many women, realizing that legal repercussions are unlikely for perpetrators, are unlikely to report the activity in fear of retaliation or social reprisals.

In another study conducted by Pew Research in 2014, the proliferation of online violence against women revealed staggering statistics, including:

• 40% of internet users have been harassed online.
• More than half of those harassed online did not know the individual who was threatening them.
• 66% of those harassed online indicated that social media was the leading communication channel where threats were received, not in the comment section of videos or articles, or during online MMORPG's or games.

For women who are victims of domestic violence, social media and internet channels offer another layer of vulnerability and accessibility to perpetrators, who wish to psychologically intimidate or harass their victims. Apps and other settings on smartphones can also be inadvertently used to track the whereabouts of a victim, without his or her knowledge.

According to Boston domestic violence attorneys
, victims should be coached on social media and digital technology best-practice. While it can present a significant safety risk to share publically, there are security settings that can be used to ensure privacy, and methods of disabling geo-tracking of smartphones. Additionally, social media is also a valuable support network and social bridge for individuals who feel isolated by domestic abuse, connecting them to groups and resources to help transition them from threat to safety.

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