Mirror, mirror, on the wall, which is the most complex abuse of them all? Glad you asked, because it’s a topic I have become very familiar with during my work at Project SafeGuard: digital abuse.
No, this has nothing to do with beating your computer with a hammer. Digital abuse is one of today’s most prevalent forms of abuse; while most people might think this is strictly cyberbullying, using technology as means of non-physical assault is actually a major component of domestic violence cases in this tech-savvy age. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most slippery aspects of an abuse case, and consequently a royal pain to prove in court. Likewise, from the criminal defense side, it can be a huge hurdle to overcome to disprove your own use of such tactics if someone accuses you of being a digital abuser.
From Texts to Apps: A Wide Range
So, let’s start with the basics: what is digital abuse? The truth is, digital abuse covers a wide range of actions: stalking, relentless text messages and phone calls, monitoring and/or complete control over social media and online communications, video and audio recordings, and even revenge porn (yes, that’s a thing). Basically, if the means of abuse involve social media, a computer, or a cell phone, it usually qualifies.
While it may seem like an annoyance at first, this is no laughing matter. Domestic abusers have adapted to exert coercive control over their partners using technology and the Internet, using everything from social media applications (aka “apps”) and websites to stalk and/or track their partner’s movements. Additionally, abusers have learned to “spoof” – conjure up data to make it seem like a message (email, text, etc.) originated from someone or somewhere other than the actual source.
So, why is this a problem?
Proving Authenticity in Cyberspace
Domestic violence cases are already complicated enough; when it comes to taking cases of digital abuse in front of a judge, the authenticity and reliability of your evidence can be called into question. For example, the mandatory protection order (MPO) on your case has a “No Contact Provision”, which prohibits your abuser from “calling, texting, emailing, stalking, attacking, hitting, or disturbing the victim” (emphasis mine); this is all well and fine until you must produce the evidence. In order to prove your abuser guilty, you need to provide what are called “digital footprints”: emails, voicemails, text messages, communications received via social media, et cetera. In today’s technological age, you can run into a problem with apps like Snap Chat; you take a picture, send it, and then delete it from your device. Unless the receiving party takes a snapshot of the image, the evidence is lost to cyberspace. Likewise, people will delete their own text or other messages, printing off only one side of a conversation, and making themselves out to be the innocent party.
Don’t let a tech-savvy abuser get you down – there is help!
Fortunately, there is help! Whether you are the accused or the victim, Nicol Gersch Petterson Offices, LLC can guide you through this journey. I have experience defending accused domestic abusers and assisting abused victims; let me use my unique approach to handling domestic violence cases to get justice for you!
For more information, here are some helpful online resources:
National Domestic Violence Hotline – Building Your Case: How to Document Abuse
Family Law – Domestic Violence Protection Orders/Restraining Orders
Break the Silence DV – What is Digital Abuse?