Domestic abuse and stalking can become acutely magnified when social networks are involved. Aside from the in-relationship abuse of controlling a partner’s Facebook, problems can persist long after the relationship has ended. Some abuse survivors have been taking to the Tor Network to erase their digital tracks, and the Tor Project is working with shelters to get staff and survivors up to speed.
According to Risa Mednick, director of Transition House, a Cambridge, Mass. domestic violence prevention organization, abuse relating to social media is becoming more common. “Abuse works slowly: First abusers often forbid Facebook, then friends of the opposite sex, then friends altogether, then access to transportation, then privacy of any kind,” Mednick told George LeVines of BetaBoston.
LeVines notes that technology has outpaced policing and counseling. “Most laws governing abuse and stalking came before the cell phone — and so do most social workers — making response to the trend challenging and slow,” he writes. And worse than simply being unprepared to deal with this new trend, abusers are taking even more extreme measures than in the past.
Executive director of the Tor Project Andrew Lewman has been fighting against domestic abuse for years, and sees the other side of this issue. Communities are popping up on the Tor Network, where abusers will post tips and tricks on how to hack phones, or even use GPS tracking to follow their victims’ every move.
“Individuals teach each other how to compromise cell phones to track victim’s whereabouts, listen to conversations in a room, take pictures and read texts and email so that they can learn about their victim’s behavior on a microscopic level,” Lewman told LeVines. And this obsession can even prompt abusers to quit their jobs to spy on partners full time, he said.
With better training, counseling is improving. Counselors now ask about digital components of the abuse earlier in the process, advise survivors to stay off social networks where abuse is taking place, and if they suspect a survivor’s phone is compromised, they suggest replacing it. With the Tor Project’s involvement, hopefully survivors will be able to put more distance between themselves and former abusers.