News

Abuse can continue long after you leave

By Ivy Jensen

AMANDA had just given birth to her first child when she was bombarded with phone calls and text messages from her abusive ex-partner demanding to see his daughter.

“An hour after my daughter was born, I got 52 calls in half an hour and texts saying, ‘I want to see her, I want overnights’,” she said.

“For four straight nights, he wanted her. I hadn't even left the hospital and he called me unreasonable.”

Amanda had to change her phone number several times, but her ex-partner would eventually find out what it was and continue to harass her – sometimes 100 times a day.

And not just on her phone.

“He would constantly make new Facebook accounts to try to see what I am doing, even though my account is private, and I do not post anything,” she said.

“Although this has stopped, his now ex-girlfriend still makes new accounts and sends me messages.

“At one point some years ago, she got my phone number and texted me calling me names and saying that I was the one hitting him and threatened to punch me in the face.

“I feared using my phone at times.”

Amanda is one of many victims of domestic violence who continue to be abused via technology once they flee the violent relationship.

“The worst case of digital abuse was when he texted my boyfriend at the time,” she said.

“He was a good man and my ex threatened him and told him he would suffer, and his car would be damaged if I didn't let him see our daughter on the weekend and to stop ‘breaking up his family’, even though he had a current partner and was not being prevented from seeing our child.

“He also shared photos of me and my new boyfriend.”

Amanda said the constant harassment meant she has not been able to have a ‘normal relationship’ and lived in fear for many years.

“I installed security systems, felt my safety was always at risk, I was worried about answering the door and still get anxiety speaking to my ex about general things to this day.

“The school holidays always give me stress and anxiety because I never know what will happen and if he will let my child come home.

“It went on for about seven years. It has settled down now, but it always feels like I have been lulled into a false sense of security, just waiting for him to strike.”

According to Centre for Non-Violence, coercion, control and harassment by former partners was made easy by modern technology.

“It can support a broad range of tactics. It can certainly enhance the capacity for perpetrators of family violence to monitor movements and have an awareness of where the victim is every day, every hour,” client services manager Yvette Jaczina said.

“This is why it is so important for women to understand how technology can be used and to use the resources available. We want to support victim survivors to be able to use technology given its centrality in our lives today.”

Ms Jaczina said most women who sought support from the organisation experienced some degree of technology abuse.

“We would estimate it to be 70 to 80 per cent,” she said.

And with Christmas just around the corner, demand for their services is expected to surge over the next few weeks.

Statistics show family violence increases during the final months of the year as existing abuse can be exacerbated by alcohol, drug use and increased pressure for visitation rights or contact with children in estranged families.

Which meant the festive season was far from joyful for many victims of domestic violence.

When they were put in touch with the CNV, Ms Jaczina said a risk assessment was carried out to determine whether technology was being used as a tactic.

“This is really important as sometimes when women and children flee, they can be found via technology by the perpetrator,” she said.

“Where there are risk concerns, we will support them to eradicate these risks, such as changing passwords, unlinking accounts, enhancing privacy settings, closing some accounts and getting a new phone if required.”

Ms Jaczina said digital abuse impacted on victim’s safety and safety planning.

“It affects women and their children’s capacity to use social media platforms with regard to safety and they can be used to destroy reputations,” she said.

“Social media in particular can be used by a perpetrator in a way that reduces a sense of safety but in a way that is harder to identify as a breach of a Family Violence Intervention Order.”

Amanda knows that all too well.

“The worst part about all of this is not only that it never seems to end, it’s that at the time the police either couldn't or wouldn't do anything about it,” she said.

“It's so frustrating and hurtful that the people there to protect you can’t or won’t do anything to help. I hope that times have changed.

“It made me feel worthless and unimportant and like it was just how life was and I should not expect anything else from life.

“This is exactly how the circle of abuse continues, not only from the same person but how women in this situation end up with like-minded people and are constantly abused.”

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au