Digital Abuse and Young Adults

By Rebecca Lynn

Teens and young adults from 16 to 24 years old experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence, making them the age group most at-risk of experiencing domestic violence, according to Love is Respect.org.

Love is Respect.org also reports:

  • 1 in 3 adolescents are victims of dating abuse,
  • 43% of college students are victims of dating violence, yet only 33% of those college students report the abuse,
  • 57% of college students are unable to identify dating violence

Yet despite these statistics, 58% of college students are don’t know how to help someone who is in an abusive relationship. The lack of awareness doesn’t stop there, 81% of parents do not believe that dating abuse is an issue among teens and young adults, yet 82% of those parents are confident if their child were in an abusive situation, they would be able to identify the signs. 

But if abuse is so prevalent in younger people, why is it something that is rarely discussed? 

Similar to domestic violence in older age groups, knowledge about the signs, silence of the abuse, and overall lack of awareness makes it difficult to recognize and intervene with young adults.

Today’s teens and young adults born between 1994 and 2015 are part of Generation Z and are part of the largest generation among us, forming over 27% of the nation. This generation grew up with social media, the pre-established internet, and ever-growing technological advancements. GenZ is known for being more racially diverse, independent, and focused on justice and helping those in need. However, with technology at their fingertips, they also have easy access to pornography, begin “sexting” as early as middle school, and have either been victims or have victimized others over social media. As technology advances, so do the ways abusers can use it for control.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline defines digital abuse as the use of technology (such as texting and networking) to bully, harass, stalk, or control a partner. Due to the ready access to technology, this generation of teens and adults are constantly vulnerable to digital abuse. All types of domestic abuse, whether physical, emotional, financial, or digital, are based on the same purpose, control of the victim. Digital abuse has changed the way abusers are able to isolate, keep tabs on, emotionally break down, manipulate, and control their victims. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, there are many red flags put out by the abuser, which may indicate that someone is a victim of digital abuse. These include:

  • Dictating who the victim can be friends with or not over social media platforms. 
  • Sending negative, threatening or degrading tweets, messages, emails or texts. 
  • Sending unwanted and explicit photos or videos and pressuring the victim to send their own back. 
  • Tracking the victim’s location using social media or GPS.
  • Stealing or demanding the victim’s passwords or log-ins and using them to monitor social media and cell phone usage.
  • Using the passwords to create fake profiles, hi-jack social media accounts, and manipulate the victim to post pictures or messages that would humiliate them. 
  • Excessively calling or texting the victim, expects them to answer immediately, inquiring about their whereabouts, and creating fear in the victim that they must be available at all times to reply to the abuser, or risk angering them. 
  • Installing spyware, tracking devices, cameras, dual apps, and hidden apps on digital devices that are difficult to detect. 

Digital abuse continues to increase as teens and young adults find that it is becoming easier to bully, catfish, gossip, and intimidate others when protected behind their screens. It is no longer necessary to be face-to-face in order to emotionally abuse a victim, isolate them from family and friends, lower their self-esteem, manipulate them, and gain control.  So, what can be done to help teens and young adults both recognize and get the support they need to end their digital abuse? 

Just like in older victims, the key is knowledge, awareness, and support. Intervention is essential, and the best place for it to occur is at home, if possible. Parents who are aware of the impact of digital abuse can be a powerful source of support by listening, reassuring, and demonstrating to the victim what a healthy relationship looks like. According to The Respect Challenge , some of the things that parents can do to support and teach young adults about healthy relationships, like:

  • Encouraging open and honest communication
  • Being sensitive, but also firm.
  • Understanding teen development.
  • Understanding the pressures that teens experience on a daily basis. 
  • Taking a clear stand about respect and healthy relationships. 
  • Using teachable moments when they present themselves. 
  • Actively participating in the child’s life and being present.

According to Futures Without Violence, there are five major signs of a  healthy relationship, these include: 

  • Giving each other space to spend time with family, friends, and hobbies, that are outside of their relationship. 
  • Knowing that it is okay to disagree. Everyone should feel comfortable and safe communicating what is on their mind.
  • Respecting physical boundaries. No one should ever be pressured into anything, including using drugs and alcohol or having sex.
  • Giving each person the freedom to make their own choices, including what they wear and who they spend their time with.
  • Communicating clear digital boundaries so there is no excessive texting, any type of tracking, sexting, and going through each other’s phones or social media accounts. 

However, not all parents have healthy relationships and not all young adults are able to talk to a trusted adult. This is why it is even more important that teens and young adults are taught at a young age what a healthy relationship looks like, who to go to for support, and, as a friend when intervention is needed. 

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

How to Protect Yourself from Digital Abuse

By: Rebecca Lynn

Identifying digital abuse can be complicated. The article “What is Digital Abuse?” goes into depth about ways that abusers can use technology to further abuse their victims. However, identifying it is only the beginning. Preventing future abuse and protecting oneself from current abuse is equally as important.

Digital Abuse is prevalent in one way or another in nearly every domestic violence relationship. The websites of domestic violence organizations have “escape” buttons that allow victims to exit the page if their abuser were to walk in. Yet, simply exiting a page is not always a guarantee of security.

For victims that are living with their abusers, digital abuse tends to consist of tracking computer activity, phones, cars, hiding cameras and audio recording devices, and using surveillance cameras to monitor the perimeter of the house. Most of these can be accomplished by merely installing spyware, which can take less than a minute or hiding devices that the victim is not aware of.

Other forms of digital abuse include not allowing the victim to password-protect their devices, preventing them from interacting on social media accounts, and sending excessive messages that are expected to be returned quickly. Digital abuse also includes check-in apps to determine the victim’s location and uses personal photos, videos, and information as a threat to post on social media.

When victims leave the relationship, the stalking, especially by digital abuse, does not end. Stalking is an abuser’s way to continue to control the victim, so significant measures should be taken to not only protect but also document the abuse so that it can be proven if needed, in a court of law.

According to Very Well Mind and Help Protect Yourself from Cyber Stalking, below are some steps that can be taken to protect a victim from digital abuse.

  • Once the victim leaves, dispose of any electronics: phones, tablets, computers, etc. If this is not possible, consider talking to someone about checking for spyware, factory resetting your devices, and checking other items for tracking devices. Always change every password and cancel any joint accounts.
  • Always log out of open programs when the computer is not in use and make sure a screensaver with a password is set up. The same goes for tablets and cell phones.
  • Refrain from sharing passwords with anyone, change them often, and consider using a password encryption app to create passwords that are complex to crack.
  • Delete and do not create any online public calendars that reveal times and locations.
  • Turn off the metadata option on cell phones; metadata contains information that can provide a location to a stalker, also known as geotagging. Check if the metadata is on before posting pictures on social media. 
  • Avoid “checking in” apps, and request that friends not use tags in posts that include check-ins.
  • Be cautious about everything sent. Pictures, personal information, videos, etc. can be used to harass further.
  • Do not allow anyone else, including the abuser, to hold or have access to personal phones or devices. It takes a minute or less to install a tracker or spyware.
  • Consistently check privacy settings on all devices to make sure minimal and secure information is being provided.
  • Keep all information private on the internet.
  • Monitor credit reports frequently for identity theft.
  • Document and report any digital abuse to law enforcement.

Digital abuse can be hard to prove, mainly because of the often-unknown evidence requirements set forth by the justice system. According to the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and Technology Safety, below are some tips on documenting digital abuse.


  • Emails contain contact IP addresses that can show where the email originated, providing the identity of the sender. It is imperative not to delete or forward abusive emails.
  • When saving emails by printing or taking screenshots, make sure to save the email header, which is often hidden and can be found in the settings. This is where the IP information is stored. Depending on which email platform is used, the location of the header may vary.
  • Printing emails may change their appearance, making it inadmissible as evidence. Try to take a screenshot of the email and then print it so that the format remains intact.
  • If the email address is faked or spoofed, make sure to print out all relevant emails from that address, including the header and IP information.
  • To be safe and not risk the abuser deleting emails, print them out, or take screenshots – including the headers. Do not forward the email, because this will cause loss of the identifying information that is required for evidence.

Text Messages

  • Text messages can be accidentally or automatically deleted when left archived on phones. It is recommended to take a screenshot of the message as well as print it out.  Make sure to include additional texts, not just an isolated message. It is best to show the context of the conversation thread so abuse or harassment can be proven.
  • When taking screenshots of messages that are long and will require several different shots, it is essential to show that the message is linked to the previous screenshot. Move the page partly down so that the end of the last message overlaps and can be seen to show it is part of the same message.
  • In addition to taking a screenshot of the message, take one of the contact page. Do this is to show that the abuser’s number is linked to the harassing message.
  • If you are unable to take a screenshot on your device, take a clear picture of all necessary documentation and then print the image out.
  • Wireless carriers only hold on to messages for a limited amount of time. If law enforcement is involved, ask them to send a preservation letter to the phone company as soon as possible so they can refrain from destroying any data.

Social Media / Internet

  • Take a screenshot of any social media harassment or abuse. This may require taking several different shots to get the entire message, time, and date. Do not forget to print out the screenshots.
  • Facebook is one of the more accessible social media platforms to document. Screenshot (or print) the message that will include the date, time, and a picture of the sender. Click on the profile picture, which should consist of more information about the sender’s image and name; these will show even if the account is private. If the abuser has liked or commented on a post, clicking on the post will bring up others that are linked to the sender. Take a screenshot of this as well, since it can be used to trace back to the sender. Facebook is equipped with the ability to allow their members to download everything ever uploaded. This function can be found at the Facebook Download Tool. The information may be lengthy, but the evidence will be clear.
  • To document a harassing Instagram post, screenshot the picture and who posted it, which shows up above the photo. Take a screenshot of the comments, which will show the time, date, and username of the poster. In addition, pull up the abuser’s profile and take a screenshot of that as well. It is also important to make sure to click on the three dots next to the user’s name in the profile section and copy the profile URL. This will need to be documented as well as printed.
  • Snapchat is one of the more difficult social media platforms to document evidence. Snapchat was created to provide the deletion of a picture or message after it is read, making it impossible to find, even by forensic investigators. It is crucial to save personal messages through a screenshot or saved to a photo library. Screenshots can be taken of a Snapchat message. However, the sender will be notified that a screenshot has been taken, which can put a victim in an unsafe situation. This can be avoided by taking a picture from another device.
  • Twitter often requires more than one screenshot to provide evidence of harassment. This will include profile information, which will contain the username, photo, and other pertinent information.
  • Instead of a screenshot, a video can be taken. Videos are helpful for websites that report to the sender when a screenshot is taken of their photo (such as SnapChat), which can put the victim in danger.
  • If law enforcement is involved, they can send a letter to the specific social media platform or website and request that they not delete the information.
  • Reporting the incident to the social media or website provider can help document reports and violations of the site’s terms and guidelines. Make sure to save all information before reporting in case the website deletes the abusive posts.


  • Consider recording your phone conversations to document evidence of abusive and threatening phone calls. It is essential to first check state laws regarding recording phone conversations without letting the other person know.
  • Document your call logs by taking a photo of the caller ID. Make sure to include the date and time of the calls. Include all phone calls, not just one. It is much easier to understand the harassment if a story can be told and patterns are proven.
  • Keep phone records to show where the call originated with the date and timestamp.
  • Record messages by using another recording device since phones are not able to be played in court as evidence. The specific state laws will need to be confirmed to determine if this is legal to play in court.

As always, safety is the primary concern, so if a victim is worried that documentation, screenshots, photos, password changes, etc. are going to escalate a violent situation, this should be taken into consideration. Finding a safe location to hide documentation or someone trustworthy to protect it can be a good alternative. Further information regarding gathering evidence for court can be found in 10 Steps for Presenting Evidence in Court. Each state is different in how it will accept and include digitally based evidence in abuse cases. It is imperative to research or contact legal support to ensure the documentation will be valuable.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

What is Digital Abuse?

By: Rebecca Lynn

Technology has become a staple in our lives, one that is required in one way or another to complete many day-to-day activities. In a world where people are pressured to get as much done as possible in the least amount of time, while still having enough time to focus on family and friends, technological advances can offer huge advantages.

With new technology comes new ways to help keep people safe. Computers, phones, and tablets with valuable data can be tracked if lost or stolen. You can automatically sync and view pictures, files, and important links on all of your accessible devices, saving time and securing information if one of the devices is no longer available. In the event of an emergency or kidnapping, parents can monitor or track their children. Phones can be used to remotely control the alarm system to your house, tell you who opens the door, and, notify you when motion is sensed or someone is at the door via cameras mounted with doorbells. 

However, the very technology that is used to keep people safe is also one of the most dangerous tools exploited to stalk, control, harass, and track down domestic violence victims and survivors. Digital abuse uses technology to further isolate, threaten, gaslight, and intimidate victims.

Domestic abuse comes in a variety of forms, and digital abuse is no less important than emotional, physical, or financial abuse. In fact, digital abuse can contribute to the escalation of all of these, and is prevalent in nearly all current or former domestic abuse relationships. As technology advances, so does the number of devices that can be used by a perpetrator to control their victim. According to Kurtz & Blum and The Stalking Resource Center, here are some of the ways that technology can be used to stalk and digitally abuse:

Computers and Internet

  • If a stalker has access to the victim’s computer, they can easily install spyware that can provide them with copies of each keystroke, website visited, conversations, passwords, and emails sent by the victim.
  • The perpetrator can use community websites to advertise, post inappropriate information, pictures, revenge porn, and personal data about the victim.  
  • Spyware and covert apps can make it possible for a stalker to access a computer’s camera to view and hear the victim.


  • Stalkers can fill inboxes with unwanted spam, emails, and viruses simply by knowing an email address.  
  • Abusers can send threatening emails. 
  • According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, emails are like postcards and can be easily intercepted. 

Social Media

  • Social Media can be used in many ways to intimidate and spread personal and false information that could impact family relationships and jobs.
  • Social Media accounts can be hacked, or opened under the victim’s name, allowing the stalker to take over their identity. 


  • Using a smart-phone to remotely change passwords, locks to the victims house, car, change thermostat settings, turn on lights, speakers, or TV’s to harass the victim and cause sleep deprivation.  
  • Caller ID spoofing is able to change the phone number that shows up on the victim’s phone to any desired number.
  • Stalkers are able to send threatening texts and making unwanted calls. 
  • Phones can be tapped so that stalkers can spy and eavesdrop on conversations.  


  • Simple legitimate apps, often referred to as “dual apps”, since they can be used for practical use, or to monitor victims, often go undetected. These apps are often free, and accessible to anyone.  Apps such as Find my Phone and Google Maps, shared phone, bank, or internet accounts with the perpetrator, or remote security systems can all be used to stalk a victim. 
  • Many apps advertised to keep track of children, are often used to do the same with domestic violence victims. Some of these apps are Family Tracker for iPad and Find my Kids – Footprints.
  • Some apps are more obvious, such as Secret Agent and Sneaky Cam, which are both equipped with thermal camera features, and ways to take pictures unnoticed. In addition, Spouseware is used to specifically monitor intimate partners without their consent. 
  • Smart App Lock is a commonly used app by perpetrators to securely lock and disguise features on their phone from their victims. Most victims are unable to password protect their devices in fear of upsetting their abusers, yet the perpetrators phone is secure, and unable to be accessed. 


  • Using a smart-phone, GPS, or tracking device placed on a car, or in a purse to know at all times where the victim is located and has been. 
  • Spyware and tracking devices have advanced so that they can be used in nearly any item without the knowledge of the victim. In addition, many of the devices are now able to alert the perpetrator if the device has been removed.  


  • Camera technology has advanced so that they are small enough to be put in alarm clocks, teddy bears, purses, etc., allowing perpetrators remote viewing and audio at all times. 
  • Spyware allows cameras to be operated remotely using a victim’s phone, computer, Ring, or other security system that accesses a camera. 

Digital abuse is yet another form of stalking, one that creates fear, helplessness, and a real concern for safety. A stalking fact sheet compiled the University of Kentucky’s Center on Drug and Alcohol Research notes that 5.2 million women and 1.4 million men are stalked each year. Advancing technology makes digital abuse difficult to control. Not all spyware or monitoring systems require that the perpetrator have physical access to the device they are tracking, making it difficult to catch and prove the actions of digital abuse. Stalking requires detailed and evidence-based documentation in order to track down and discontinue apps that make stalking easy to do, yet difficult to recognize.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

Creating a Digital Safety Plan

There is no perfect way to leave an abuser; the important thing is, whatever path you take, navigate your safety as well as you can. Creating a safety plan for how you appear on various social media sites is a vital step in creating that safety. Social media can do so many wonderful things… other things, not so wonderful. Here are some tips on how to stay safe online.

  1. Create new social media accounts

Going through your friends list, asking friends to delete your abuser, or making a status about the situation may still draw your abuser’s attention to you. Instead, create new accounts and choose who you are okay with friending – along with a message about how your new account isn’t a fake one. Then, block your abuser immediately.

  1. Make a second account

This step might seem high maintenance, but it can be helpful. This second account with a fake name and no other information can serve as your spy. If your abuser finds your social media site, they may block it so you don’t know they’re still connected to some of your friends and family. This account can help you double check.

  1. Be careful about who you allow to follow you

After making your new accounts, be choosy about whose friend requests you accept. If someone is friends with your abuser, go ahead and disregard that one.

  1. Don’t tag your location

Even if you’ve done everything right up to this point, it’s a good idea to skip this part of the posting process. You can post a picture of a sunset without the caption “How I spend my Saturday mornings” and tag your favorite hike in the shot of the sunrise. Instead, post it with “I love sunrises,” or something less specific. This also includes what you post as stories. Either post pictures or videos on your social media stories after the fact, in a way that doesn’t give your location, or not at all.

  1. Skip LinkedIn

LinkedIn is not a requirement, neither does it make or break an employer’s decision in the hiring process. What it does do, though, is showcase everything anybody wants to know about where you work.

  1.  Keep your accounts private

This is pretty straightforward. However, what some people don’t know is that Facebook makes you go in and decide the privacy on every little detail. Make your information visible only to friends, then check it regularly just to be safe. You can also limit the number of friend requests you receive by making your account visible only to mutual friends. There is also a tagging setting on Facebook that makes it so you have to approve who tags you in anything on Facebook.

  1. Be high maintenance about passwords

This is also a good tip to stay safe from hackers. When you choose a security question, don’t actually answer it with the real answer. For example, “What is your mother’s middle name?” the answer: “Fork.” For passwords, I pick a song lyric I like and type the first letter of each word in that lyric. For example: “He was a skater boy, she said see ya later boy,” becomes “Hwasbsssylb1!” Who could ever guess that? I also recommend changing your password every one to three months.

  1. Re-brand yourself

This one isn’t super important, but it could help you feel like you’ve really moved on and are starting fresh. Adopt a new motto, and make it your bio.

  1. Be careful about what you post

It really stinks, but keep event invites to individual people versus displayed on your page. If someone invites you to an event, respond to them individually instead of answering to the event itself.

  1.  Join a group of like-minded people

Like BTSADV! Make sure it’s a closed, private group that you have to request to join. When you request, include the name of your abuser in case they find that group and try to add themselves, too. This will give the admins of the group a heads-up. Groups like this can help you feel safe, heard, and give more insight on how you can continue to be safe both on and offline.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

Stalking in the Digital Age

Before modern technology could be exploited for monitoring and intimidating, the effort that stalkers exerted was mostly physical. The bulk of stalking was carried out by bombarding the victim with unwanted calls, sending threatening letters, or unwanted gifts. Stalkers would watch their victims or repeatedly go places the stalker expected them to be. Stalking in the digital age has become a worldwide pandemic. Knowing how to protect yourself is key to staying safe.

Stalking has changed in the digital age

Those days are gone. While the examples mentioned above are disconcerting, technology has exponentially compounded the danger victims face. Technology-assisted stalking has forced victims into a position where they cannot hide from the aggressor. Perpetrators are now able to track, eavesdrop, record, watch, intimidate, and shame victims without leaving home. Even worse, an increasing number of tech companies offer spyware to the public for stealth monitoring.

Abusers engage in stalking as a way to maintain and enforce the control they have over their victims. Recognizing its usefulness, abusers have adapted technology as a way to monitor their victims. Stalking that occurs in the context of intimate partner violence is linked to increased risk of injury and escalation.

Statistics provided by the Stalking Resource Center are startling:

  • Current or former partners stalk victims at a rate of 61% for women and 44% for men,
  • 89% of female murder victims who had been physically assaulted experienced stalking in the year leading up to their murder,
  • 76% of female murder victims experienced stalking by their partner,
  • 67% of female murder victims were also physically abused and
  • 57% of intimate partner stalking victims experienced the onset of stalking during the relationship or as an immediate response to ending the relationship.

Forms of Stalking in the digital age

GPS Tracking

Abusers can plant tracking devices under the car, in a purse, on strollers. Anywhere that provides convenient hiding places to enable them to track their victim’s movements. Also, Bluetooth capability and geolocation settings on phones, tablets, and computers allow abusers to track their victims without their knowledge.

Geotagging and Metadata Exploitation (source: Domestic Shelters)

Phones and tablets embed metadata, or a list of properties linked to the image: camera type, exposure, and flash. Metadata also includes dates and timestamps in addition to providing mapped locations. The metadata settings are toggled on by default at the factory, it is not uncommon for device owners to be unaware they are enabled. Although social media accounts can hide locations, a resourceful abuser can still locate their victim using this information. iPhone/iPad users can follow this link, and those with Android devices can click here for steps on turning the geotagging feature off.

Social Media

You can control who views information about a you on your social media profiles. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram (and professional networking sites such as LinkedIn) provide user options to control how public their activity is. While some platforms display the user’s town, there are some like Snapchat that reveal the user’s location – right down to the street level.

Spyware and Other Monitoring Apps

There is a wide range of apps that monitor the activity of others. Some include eavesdropping and video recording, keylogging, and call/text intercept. Eavesdropping and video recording apps are used by abusers to listen to calls or in-person conversations and record video or audio. Keylogging registers every activity on the victim’s device and captures more than texts, emails, or browsing habits. Security of protected data is also at risk, as keylogging allows the abuser to record passwords to email and social media accounts as well as banking, credit card, and shopping websites.

Syncing Activity across Devices

Apps allow users to sync data between devices, making it easier as they only need to carry one device at a time. However, abusers can install these apps to sync their devices to their victim’s. This enables them to view all activity and files saved to the device. Syncing functionality can increase the risk to victims of domestic violence who might be using their phone to store pictures of injuries, injury logs, or browsing history showing searches about leaving an abuser. Abusers can also delete any files or communication that incriminates them.

Spoofing (source: Domestic Shelters)

Many commonly hear this term about telemarketers and phishers that use masking apps to hide their number. Abusers also use spoofing to avoid detection when stalking their victim. In addition to being able to make it appear someone from the victim’s contact list is texting or calling, the abuser can also alter the sound of their voice, add ambient noise, and even keep recordings of the calls. In cases where the victim contacts the abuser regarding the harassment, it can be difficult to prove the harassment originates with the abuser, as the abuser often manipulates this to make it appear the victim is at fault.

Identity Theft

With so much data about us online, it is surprisingly simple to learn detailed information about another person, including residence, bank and salary information, social security numbers, and other data required to assume someone’s identity. Abusers can use this information to assume their partner’s identity and apply for credit, mortgages, and make purchases in the victim’s name without them knowing.

Account Breach/Takeovers

It is also possible to change passwords to sites, blocking the victim’s access, or to change security settings and send communications to the abuser without the victim’s knowledge. This can be particularly damaging financially, but there are other concerns. Abusers can also hack their current or former partner’s email account, change passwords, and send prurient, offensive, or embarrassing emails to co-workers, members of a religious congregation, or others to ruin the victim’s reputation.

For tech safety tips, visit the FTC blog site or the National Network to End Domestic Violence Technology Safety site. Additional information on stalking in the digital age can be found online at the Stalking Resource Center.

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