Domestic abuse can take many forms
Even after Rachna moved out and got divorced from her husband, she remained traumatized for many years worrying that he may be stalking her. “There were cameras in every room of our house, even the shower,” she recalls. “I didn’t know when my phone’s settings had been changed to show my location at every moment. My computer was hacked, and my personal journals were deleted. If he saw I went shopping or if he saw on the camera that I was laughing, he made me compensate for it by hurting me. It was a very toxic relationship,” she recalls as her voice quivers. While Rachna’s case may seem shocking, technology abuse is actually not rare. With the advancement of technology, domestic violence has invaded the virtual space.
In a media briefing organized by Ethnic Media Services (EMS) on the topic of domestic violence, Erica Olsen, Safety Net Project Director at the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV); Jenna Lane, Communications Officer, Blue Shield Foundation of California; Pallavi Dhawan, Director of Domestic Violence Policy, Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office; and Deborah Tucker, President of the Board of Directors, National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, came together to shed light on some pertinent aspects of the subject.
Erica Olsen, Safety Net Project Director at the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) remarked, “Some abusers may install a hidden app or a monitoring software on a partner’s device without their knowledge. Some may misuse social media sites or smart devices in the home as a way to harass or stalk.”
Misuse of technology includes tracking someone’s location without their consent, identity theft, impersonation, hijacking financial accounts to commit fraud, posting threatening, insulting, belittling or abusive messages and sharing intimate images without consent of those present in the image. The LGBTQ survivors may be threatened by their abusers to out them online. “That’s a very common tactic,” said Olsen.
In fact, the California Senate Bill 1141 brought forth a startling finding that 60 to 80 percent of female domestic abuse survivors experience coercive control such as isolation, deprivation of resources, and monitoring a person’s movement and behavior, all of which takes away the autonomy of an individual, suppresses their voice, lowers their self-worth, and frames the victims as compliantly living under the shadow of their abusers which is particularly problematic in the determination of the custody of the child. “I was tired of hearing people say that domestic violence requires physical abuse and bruising. And I heard that in court a lot, and I heard it from jurors and judges, “said Pallavi Dhawan, ex-Prosecutor, Family Violence Unit of Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, and who currently works out of the City Attorney’s office which sponsored the California Senate Bill 1141. She explained further, “Domestic violence isn’t even uniformly defined across those codes in the same state.” This remains the core issue in providing judgement in cases of domestic violence across the country.
What makes matters worse is the unavailability of authentic statistics on domestic violence. As domestic violence occurs mostly between intimate partners, it remains unreported in most cases for fear of reprimand, social stigma, and isolation. Yet, it is not difficult to ascertain the larger picture as noted in the words of Lenna Jane, Communications Officer, Blue Shield of California Foundation, “It is truly everywhere, which is troubling.” This also indicates a frightening fact that most violators get away with their wrongdoing because they can manage to never come under the radar. While domestic violence brings to mind the image of battered women, but what is often forgotten is the emotional and psychological trauma, financial constraints, or legal challenges faced by the victims that push them to an abysmal margin.
Yet, the silver lining is that domestic violence may be pervasive, it is healable and, more importantly, preventable. “DV is everywhere; yet it is healable it is preventable,” Lane says. A ray of hope is provided by the Foundation through its website that was set up during October, the National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The website provides information, guidance, and helpline numbers which help to raise overall awareness.
Taking lesson from a stalking incident when she was a freshman at University of Texas, Austin, Deborah Tucker, Founder of Austin Rape Crisis Centre, the Austin Centre for Battered Women and current President of National Centre on Domestic and Sexual Violence (NCDSV), ended up co-founding the National Domestic Violence Hotline in 1996. She later went to Washington in 1974 to assist then Senator Joe Biden on the first draft of Violence Against Women Act which was recently reauthorized in March 2022. This law authorizes supportive services, funding for domestic violence programs, and allows the victims to choose in case they wish to go to court instead of any form of mandatory arbitration. It has also increased services and support for survivors who belong to under privileged and marginalized communities. It is also inclusive of LGBTQ+ survivors.
Tucker also spoke of a study on inmates who had committed violent crimes that gave rise to the “80 percent rule.” According to this rule, 80 percent of the time abusive behavior can be predicted as it is mostly noted in those who have been victims of abuse from an early age.
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