Abusers don’t need to be technologically sophisticated, according to experts. A past or present relationship with the victim can open the doors to many stealthy forms of abuse. Abusers might have set up email or bank accounts and passwords for the victim and continue to enter the accounts even after the relationship has ended.
Or abusers might be able to guess passwords and answers to security questions. “My intimate partner knows my date of birth, my email address, my high school I went to — they know so much about me,” Gibson says. “There’s another level of safety and privacy risk because that person is your family, your partner.”
Sometimes, abusers purchased victims’ devices and pay for the cellphone data plans, which lets them see all call and text logs. Some anti-theft services can map the whereabouts of a phone.
Once abusers have access, they can get information on the victim’s activities or install spyware that allows them to control or stalk victims. The tech abuse ensures they’re always a step ahead of victims, who often say their abusers can always find them or know things that the victim didn’t tell them.
Some also feel frightened inside so-called smart homes. Ferial Nijem moved into her ex-partner’s house “that was equipped with state-of-the-art technology,” she says. “Everything could be controlled by iPad or a smart device, including security cameras that surrounded the property.” The lights, blinds, TVs, and audio system could also be controlled remotely. “He was able to control all these features even from thousands of miles away,” she says.
Nijem, who said she wanted to withhold her current location out of safety concerns, says she felt monitored constantly through the cameras. “If I would go into the backyard and sit by the pool with a glass of water, I’d get a phone call immediately from him, saying, ‘That had better be a plastic glass. I don’t want to have to drain the pool if you break it.’”
Nijem believed he was sending a deeper message, she says. “It wasn’t about the glass. It was about, ‘I’m watching you.’ It keeps you on eggshells because you’re always being watched.
Her ex-partner wasn’t physically violent, but verbally and emotionally abusive, she says. When she was sound asleep, he’d remotely blast loud music, turn on the TVs, and flash the lights on and off to startle her awake, she says. After 7 years together, the pair separated in 2017, according to Nijem. She left the home, but the two remain in litigation, she says. Nijem says she still feels wary around devices that can be used for monitoring or eavesdropping.