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.

Self Care for Advocates

Advocates for survivors of domestic violence must practice self-care so that we may continue to provide the best care and support possible. Especially because we have the tendency to experience burnout, compassion fatigue, or vicarious trauma. Even when we try to keep our advocate work separate from our personal lives at home, it can sometimes creep in. This can include feeling guilty, angry, hopeless, and other similar symptoms, along with physical and emotional exhaustion.

If you feel you are reaching the point of experiencing advocate burnout or compassion fatigue, here are some ways that you can take care of and focus on yourself to continue being the best advocate possible:

Spend time with loved ones and friends

Make sure they are people who will listen to things you have learned and experienced through your work as an advocate. They can also help you bring your attention to other things going on in the world and in their own lives, whether they are good or bad things. Making new friends can help you find out about different perspectives on life and experience new things. Try joining a new club or activity at your local gym, community center, or park where you can meet new people.

Remember to take a break from screens.

We do much of our advocate work on the computer through emailing and messaging survivors, as well as through reading and researching about domestic violence in our communities through social media and the news. Take some time off from your screens to read a (real, paper) book or take a walk around the block. Play with your furry companions at home or do some of your other favorite hobbies – that piano in the corner is not going to play itself! Your eyes and brain will thank you for the much-needed break from your phone, computer, and tv screens and the endless amount of information they display.

Be kind and gentle with yourself.

Practice some of your favorite relaxing rituals- think bubble baths, lighting scented candles, cooking your favorite meal, exercising, taking a nap, or drinking a cup of warm herbal tea. An advocate and survivor of our own mentioned in a previous blog post interview that planning to do one fun thing per week can be an important part of your self-care regimen. Additionally, journaling about your work as an advocate can be especially helpful to make your feelings seem less nebulous and more tangible. Journaling can include writing, drawing, pasting in pictures of yourself or other things, or creating anything that helps you feel better.

You are NOT your intrusive thoughts.

Some thoughts that may bubble up as an advocate or provider may include things like, “I am not doing a good enough job at helping” or “How can I help if I have never had these traumatic experiences myself?” If you imagine what survivors of domestic violence would say to these intrusive thoughts, they would probably say they are so thankful for your help and that you are doing a good job. Remember the good things survivors say to you when you help – you can even include them in your journal.

See a therapist once every few months.

Even therapists and other providers and advocates need to talk to someone sometimes. Check with your insurance if therapy appointments are covered under your plan or get a recommendation from a friend for a trusted therapist. As survivors of domestic violence and other traumatic experiences can tell you, it can be extremely helpful to have an impartial, third party listen to you and perhaps give advice on how to start making things better.

Talk with other advocates and providers.

Experiencing burnout and compassion fatigue is very common for advocates and providers, so you are not alone in feeling this way. Talk to other people who do similar work as providers or advocates to determine what they do for self-care and how they avoid burnout. Consider starting a group discussion at your organization about advocate burnout, compassion fatigue, and vicarious trauma to determine the specific needs of your volunteers and workers.

Taking the time to practice self-care will not only help yourself but will also help the countless survivors of domestic violence for whom you continue to advocate throughout your life. Remember, your feelings as an advocate are always valid and the fact that you are taking your time to help those in need is a beautiful thing.

For more resources on how to practice self-care as an advocate, check out the Joyful Heart Foundation and domesticshelters.org.

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 support line advocates at 855-287-1777.

Dispelling Myths About Domestic Violence

By Cerelia Abram

If they wouldn’t drink or use drugs, they wouldn’t be abusive.

Although substance abuse can increase the severity and frequency of abusive episodes, substance abuse does not cause domestic violence. Any treatment for alcoholism or drug abuse will not cure abusive behavior.

If anything, substance abuse serves as an excuse for abusers to use in order to justify their behavior.

Laws are there to protect victims and if they wanted to get away, the law would protect them.

In the justice system, making threats is generally a misdemeanor offense, often resulting in jail time. Until someone is physically hurt (or murdered), there is little the police do to protect victims and their families.

This acts as a tool of control that deters victims from leaving. Victims might have to walk away from everything they have and the abuser might benefit by gaining all of those possessions.

Shelters are often the only choice victims have to assure their safety. They are forced to leave behind their entire lives—family, friends, schools, jobs, pets—to hide out. It says to victims that while they must uproot their entire lives for safety, abusers do not have to do anything.

Also, the first few weeks after leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time to be in an abusive relationship, with victims 70 times more likely to be killed than at any other point in the relationship.

If domestic violence was really a problem, I’d hear about it more on the news.

Domestic violence is more common than you may think and occurs more frequently than it is reported. In the United States, one in four women and one in seven men have been physically, verbally, or financially abused by an intimate partner.

Despite these shocking statistics, stigma around domestic violence causes victims to feel ashamed and hide the abuse.


I know their “so-called abuser” as a caring and loving person. They couldn’t be abusive to their partner if I don’t see it.

Victims of domestic violence often believed in the beginning of the relationships that their abuser was that caring and loving person and throughout the relationship, abusers continue to exhibit this behavior.

This behavior is typical for abusers and contributes to the cycle of abuse. In the cycle of abuse, an incident occurs, like hitting someone, cursing and yelling at them, or manipulating them. In order to get back on their victim’s “good” side, an abusive incident is followed by a “honeymoon” period. This is where the abuser is kind, romantic, and apologetic for their behavior. They swear it will never happen again. This positive behavior may remind the victim of what their relationship once looked like and helps persuade them to stay. It’s a highly effective manipulation technique.

Acting so charismatic is part of what allows abusers to get away with their behaviors.

My partner doesn’t exhibit narcissistic, sociopathic or other behaviors prone to violence and I am not the submissive type to tolerate that kind of abuse. Therefore, I could never be a victim of domestic violence.

While there are identified personality types common among some abusers (narcissistic, borderline, antisocial, and disorders), there is no strong link between psychopathology or any mental illness and domestic abuse. There is also no definitive profile of an abuse victim.

If I’ve had one abusive partner, I’ll surely attract others

There is no personality trait in victims that attracts abusers. It is the abuser’s choice to use abusive behaviors and nothing about the way the victim acts or behaves will change that.

If they didn’t grow up with an abusive family, they won’t be abusive.

Some men and women who are abused as children or who witness abuse continue that cycle in adulthood. Others do not. Child abuse is not a strong indicator that a partner will be abusive or will tolerate abuse. That said, abusive behavior is a learned behavior and children who witnessed their parents’ domestic violence are twice as likely to carry on that behavior.

They are not “physically abusive” so they would never kill me.

While female victims whose partners threatened them with murder were 15 times more likely than other women to be killed, many times victims didn’t believe or didn’t want to believe their partners were capable of murdering them. Each year in the U.S., 1,500-1,600 victims of domestic abuse are killed by their abusers. Also at risk in any highly-charged domestic violence situation are family members, neighbors, friends, bystanders, and law enforcement. These responders who intervene account for 20% of domestic violence fatalities.

The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%.

Anyone can take an online assessment to determine their risks here.

My abuser is a good parent. They aren’t abusive towards my children.

One in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence.

Exposure to domestic violence is a form of child abuse and that includes emotional and mental abuse, as well as neglect. Abusers and victims may try to hide the abuse from the children, but its effects are felt by everyone in the house. If a victim of domestic violence does not take action to protect their children from an abusive environment, the abuser, as well as the victim, can be held legally accountable.

If only we got counseling, everything would be different.

Couples counseling is often suggested as a way to stop abuse within a relationship, but it is not an effective method for stopping abuse. Often times, abusers use couples counseling as a way to place blame on the victim or minimize the abuse.

Couples counseling only works when there are problems with the relationship. Abuse is something the abuser chooses to do.

My partner can change. Love changes people.

This is a hard lesson to learn for victims of domestic violence and another major fallacy. With little else to hold on to, victims cling to the idea that if they love someone enough, they can help them overcome abusive behavior. Unfortunately, if an abuser is invested in controlling through fear and intimidation, it is a behavior so deeply embedded in them that it is not something the most loving victim will fix.

Women are not as violent as men.

Just as any person can be a victim of domestic violence, any person can also be an abuser. This means that women can be as violent as men and women can be abusers.

Abuse in the LGBTQ+ Community


Anyone can become a victim of domestic abuse, including individuals in the LGBTQ+ community.

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), released a report noting that 58% of survivors in the LGBTQ+ community, 10% of them reported that an ex-lover or partner instigated the violence against them.

Barriers to Leaving Abuse

With IPV, it can be difficult for a victim to leave their abuser because they fear the abuser will inflict more harm on them or their family. Victims can even feel ashamed and responsible for the violence. 

Abusers may control their victims by instigating abuse physically, emotionally, sexually, financially, indirectly, and in many other ways. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, an abuser may use more LGBTQ+ specific emotional abuse that involve the victim’s sexuality and/or gender identity, including:

  • ‘Outing’ a partner’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Abusive partners in LGBTQ+ relationships may threaten to ‘out’ victims to family members, employers, and community members.
  • Saying that no one will help the victim because s/he/they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, or the partner ‘deserves’ the abuse.
  • Justifying the abuse with the notion that a partner is not “really” lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender because they believe differently.
  • Monopolizing support resources through an abusive partner’s manipulation of friends and family. 
  • For victims in the trans community, the abuser may focus specifically on questioning the victim’s true gender identity.

You are not alone

Asking for help and support can be difficult. Especially if the victim is worried about the risks of outing themselves to family, friends, and other members of the community.

If you are a member of the LGBTQ community and have had an abusive partner, you are not alone. You deserve to have healthy and safe relationships.

Consider contacting your local LGBTQ center for information on support groups and individual counseling. A counselor must maintain confidentiality and can be especially helpful if s/he/they are trained in LGBTQ domestic violence issues.

There are many websites and social media accounts devoted to supporting members of the LGBTQ community who are victims of domestic violence:

Anti-Violence Project – Provides resources for counseling and advocacy for survivor members of the LGBTQ community and HIV-affected communities.

LGBT National Help Center – A free online resource for confidential peer support and local support centers.

Trans Lifeline – A hotline for any transgender person in need, available 18 hours per day.

The Trevor Project – A resource and hotline for LGBTQ youth in crisis. They also post empowering and helpful information on social media daily.

BTSADV Support Line (855-BTS-1777) – Resource hotline that provides resources in your local community and be a listening ear.

Donate to BTSADV today and help survivors THRIVE!

Share your own story and Break Your Silence!

Domestic Violence and Spiritual Abuse

By Amy Thomson

Spiritual abuse is a form of psychological manipulation used by abusers to coerce their victims into compliance by using religious belief as leverage. Regardless of the religion involved, doctrine is used by both the abuser and the enabling members of the congregation to force the victim into subjection.

How spiritual abuse manifests in the context of intimate partner relationships

Victims living with an abuser who uses spiritual control in the home are subjected to additional levels of control and coercion not experienced in non-practicing families. When used against a believer, manipulated doctrine has a powerful way to make the victim subject themselves to the abuser’s wishes.

By engaging in this behavior, abusers effectively elevate themselves to the role of God. The abuser expects their victims to be entirely submissive to them and exacts punishment for anything less than full compliance. Victims are often expected to subject to their partner’s will at any cost, including disregarding scripture or denying God if the victim’s partner is not a believer.

  • Abusers use scripture regarding wifely duty to manipulate their partners into having intercourse. However, any time a victim does not consent to intimacy, it is sexual assault or rape.
  • Abusers use scripture referencing subjection to guilt their partners into obeying everything they are commanded to do. Victims attempting to resist are met with rants and accusations about being a failure as a partner and parent to the children.
  • If a victim attempts to call the abuser into account for their abusive behavior, the abuser dismisses their concerns and notes scripture references to the woman being the property of the husband.
  • The victim is often prevented from attending church or engaging in social activities with other members of the congregation. They are also subjected to the ridicule of their beliefs or can be forced to practice a religion they do not want to.
  • Women are often not allowed to work outside the home as the abuser enforcers strict gender roles.
  • The abuser makes all decisions – even significant ones – without seeking input from the victim. If the victim disagrees, they are reminded to subject to the abuser’s authority as the head.

How spiritual abuse manifests in the context of religious leaders and congregations

Victims of domestic violence also face psychological manipulation from the enabling behavior of their spiritual leaders and congregation. Religious groups tend to be highly influential in their members’ lives and the congregation is expected to be at the center. Secular bodies and disbelievers exist outside this context, and therefore a congregation’s members are pressured to remain free of their influence.

Spiritual leaders are charged with the wellbeing of their congregants. Religious beliefs regulate all aspects of a person’s life and church leaders find themselves in the position of being both spiritual and psychological guides. Members of the church seek help with self-improvement and relationships or family life. When victims of domestic violence confide in the clergy, they are unfortunately not always met with the Godly love they hear so much about from the pulpit. Clergy often responds with victim blaming and shaming wrapped in the guise of counsel.

  • Church leaders usually meet with the abuser and victim at the same time to discuss the abuse occurring in the home. This is never a good idea because the victim is not free to say what they need to address. Also, it puts the victim at risk for retribution for revealing the abuser’s secret.
  • Prayer and self-examination are the most commonly offered solutions, but they also imply the victim is at fault. Victims are discouraged from calling the police or getting medical documentation of the injuries and are instead pressured to pray, change behavior, and submit.
  • Often, members of the congregation will blame the victim and pressure them to stay with the abuser. In too many cases, both clergy and congregation tell the victim that their weak faith is the problem.
  • Safety of the victim is jeopardized. The victim is pressured or coerced to subject to the head of the household and stay with the abuser to avoid breaking up the family.
  • Victims face the difficult choice of not only leaving their abuser, but their entire life behind. Religious communities tend to be closed to outsiders, and the church is the focus of its congregants’ lives. Most of the friends, family, and social activities exist within this context. When a victim leaves, they must leave their friends and social connections as well.
  • Long-term abuse in this context can damage or destroy the victim’s spirituality because they may start to feel abandoned by their god. They may stop attending services permanently, unable to trust that any congregation functions healthily.

Breaking free from this dangerous situation is an impossible choice for the victim to make. If they stay, their family remains together, yet they sacrifice their safety and well-being. If they leave, they have a hope of building a better life for themselves and children. However, victims must also consciously choose to leave their entire lives behind, not just the violence. Their lives center around the religious community, and the congregation often shuns those who leave. Such victims are unsure of where to go and whom to trust because they were expected to ignore secular sources of help.

How religious leaders and congregations can get involved:

  • Contact a local domestic violence organization and ask to set up an action plan to use when congregants disclose domestic violence. Understand that secular institutions are not there to undermine faith, but to help the victim safely escape their abuser and refer them to legal, medical, housing, and law enforcement resources.
  • Each person in a leadership role should undergo domestic violence and trauma training to learn how to respond to abuse victims appropriately.
  • Give occasional sermons dedicated to addressing violence and trauma in the home. It is the clergy’s responsibility to tell their congregation that abuse is not condoned and that shaming and blaming is not acceptable.
  • Make listings of resources available to any congregant needing help.
  • Do not pressure the victim to stay and pray it out. If they have decided to leave, offer them help, and do not cut them off from the congregation.

How to Tell the Difference Between Healthy Arguments and Abuse

We all hope for our relationships to be as peaceful as possible. However, regardless of how healthy our relationships are, there are occasions where we will disagree with our partners and have arguments. When both parties are willing to seek a resolution to the disagreements in a healthy way, it is indicative of healthy dynamics. Unfortunately, not all relationships are built on a sense of respect and equal partnership. If you have found yourself wondering if the arguments with your partner are abusive, there are few things to look out for.

Healthy Arguments

Arguments that occur in healthy relationships tend to be isolated incidents. And are resolved by both parties actively working to come up with a solution that is fair to both people.

Characteristics of healthy arguments may include the following:

  • Arguing about chores, spending habits, grooming or hygiene, raising children, or difficult family or friends typically occur as a result of one party feeling unheard or from built-up frustration.
  • Either partner may say something insensitive or hurtful during an argument, but let’s be honest – we all lose our tempers and say stupid things or things we later regret. In healthy relationships, this can occur occasionally, but it is not a part of an established pattern of behavior. The offending partner will feel bad about their actions and make genuine apologies.
  • Partners in healthy relationships can admit when they are wrong, take responsibility for their actions, and compromise.
  • Tension is usually short-term and is resolved quickly.
  • Your partner may question some goals or decisions you make, but they do so with the intent of wanting you to think about negative consequences you may be ignoring or unaware of. They do not withhold support from you in general.
  • You and your partner may disagree about significant life changes – buying a home, whether or not/when to have children, or moving long distances – but all final decisions are reached by mutual compromise and agreement.


Arguments that occur in abusive relationships are indicative of a well-established pattern of behavior marked by rigid control and manipulation. Abusive arguments are one-sided and impossible to win.

Characteristics of unhealthy arguments can include the following:

  • An abusive partner will be consistently insensitive to how their words and actions affect you. They will often accuse you of being “hyper-sensitive” and make you feel like you are unreasonable, selfish, or both. It is also common that they will manipulate you, use guilt trips, and gaslighting to confuse you or twist your words to use them against you.
  • Your partner will be dismissive of your needs and feelings. May tell you that you have no right to need, want, or express opinions. They make it clear that you are there to do as they command (or pressure) you.
  • You are pressured to give into them or feel unsafe and insecure about expressing your emotions to them during an argument. You will feel obliged to comply out of fear of your partner’s anger or expectation that they will retaliate against you.
  • Arguments always make you look like you are at fault. Abusers will refuse to talk about anything that makes them out to be the guilty party. They will not acknowledge when they are in the wrong.
  • Your partner will maintain or escalate tensions until you give in to their demands or tell them what they want to hear. There is no discussion and fair compromise; you always sacrifice for the sake of peace. Some abusers may later punish you for non-compliance to enforce the idea that you must always do as they say.
  • Some abusers will attempt to block an exit or follow you around to prevent you from disengaging from the argument. You may be forced into agreeing with the aggressor in order to keep the abuse from escalating. The abuser uses this tactic to make you feel unsafe and pressure you into giving in.
  • An abuser may choose to argue with you in front of others. Friends, family, or even in public with strangers watching – and say things to deliberately shame and embarrass you.
  • Your partner consistently refuses to be supportive of any of your goals, dreams, or accomplishments. Uses them as a way to discourage you.

If you have noticed any of the above signs while arguing with your partner and you feel that they may be abusive, know that this is not your fault and that you are not the cause of the tension. You deserve to be treated with respect and loved in a healthy way. Try confiding in someone you trust or seek help from a domestic violence organization like Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence or contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline

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