Phones, smart homes, digitally connected cars, and more, according to anti-violence experts, are tools of digital domestic abuse.
“The methods presented as technological advancements, whether smart homes or smart cars, are just another surveillance method that can be used to harass survivors in a variety of ways,” says Amy Fitz. Gerald, Executive Director, BC Association of Transition Houses.
“Often the reports may sound a little implausible, but they have turned out to be true.”
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Intimate partner violence in Canada has been dubbed a “shadow pandemic,” which intensified during COVID-19 as lockdowns limited victims’ ability to leave abusive partners.
Police-reported domestic violence will increase for the fifth consecutive year in 2021, with a total of 127,082 victims, according to a Statistics Canada report released on October 19. This equates to a rate of 336 victims per 100,000 people. On average, a woman is murdered by her intimate partner every six days, according to the agency.
Rhiannon Wong, technology safety project manager at Women’s Shelters Canada, said 2020 will see digital forms of intimate partner violence amid physical isolation due to the pandemic, as technology becomes more integrated into everyday life. It warns that it has started to increase.
“Perpetrators are using technology as another tool for their old behaviors of power and control, abuse and violence,” she said.
Abusers can track partners in real-time, post harmful content online with little chance of being taken down, impersonate partners through various technologies, harass or threaten them. I can.
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“It can be very strong evidence in court,” but technology is most often used as a “continuation of violence,” ensuring that perpetrators are everywhere and victims are physically present. Even if you don’t have it, it will make it difficult to escape.
Retired Victorian Police Sergeant Darren Roll is Chief Training Officer for The White Hatter, an internet safety and digital literacy education company.
The company, he said, said a previous partner helped a woman remotely control her smart home.
“We had the heat on during the summer and the air conditioner on during the winter. ”
Laur also warned of abusers using mobile phone apps to track the location of victims’ vehicles.
“The abuser knows exactly where you are going and where you are, so if you have been to temporary housing, he or she can know exactly where you are.”
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In August 2021, the BC Transition House Association investigated anti-violence programs statewide. Of the 137 respondents, 89% said the women they worked with disclosed some form of technology-assisted abuse.
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“Harassment ranks among the most common forms of technology-related violence, which increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says the newly released report.
Angela Macdougall, executive director of Battered Women Support Services, says that “technology is embedded in every case” that organizations see, but policies and laws have not kept up with digital advances.
“Calling the police is very difficult, and when you add in the issue of technology, it becomes even more difficult when you understand that there are already significant limitations in how effective the police are.” she said.
Jane Bailey, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, agreed, saying existing laws need to be applied to the digital context.
“Laws should be more sensitive, which means we should use the laws we already have,” she said.
She said some victims do not want to pursue legal action or involve the police.
“But I think it’s fair that we allow them to do that if they want to.”
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The federal government established an expert advisory group on online safety in March. The group is mandated to provide advice on how to design legislative and regulatory frameworks to combat harmful content online.
Bailey said he is eagerly awaiting its release.
“I would hope that there would be some sort of institution established to actually help people,” she said.
Bailey said he hopes the model will resemble Australia’s e-safety commissioner.
Canada’s federal government last month released the first-ever national action plan to end gender-based violence.
The plan has five pillars: support for victims and their families, prevention, building resilient justice systems, implementing indigenous-led approaches, and building social infrastructure. It acknowledges that gender-based violence takes many forms, including physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, and economic abuse, as well as “technology-enhanced violence.”
But many supporters were quick to criticize the plan, which lists broad goals while lacking concrete commitments to standardize and improve access to assistance for victims across Canada. .
Among them was Lise Martin, executive director of Women’s Shelters Canada.
“No coordination. No accountability,” she said in an interview.
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Martin co-led a team of more than 40 experts that last year launched the National Action Plan Roadmap. The report includes more than 100 of his recommendations to governments, including ensuring safe and accessible public transportation, expanding affordable housing, and enhancing data collection on topics such as technology-facilitated violence. was included.
The group says the technology will also enable access to services, but cites connectivity issues as an ongoing problem, especially in remote and rural communities. Victims’ access to help “shouldn’t be dependent on their zip code,” the news release said.
“While we appreciate the inclusion of TFGBV (Technology Facilitated Gender-Based Violence) in the document issued by the federal government, we are concerned that states and territories can choose from the menu of options presented to them. ,” said Women’s Shelters Canada. said in an email.
“This may allow some parts of the country to fully support people experiencing TFGBV, which is what we want, but in others, intimate We do not fully understand the implications of technology being abused as a tool to perpetrate partner violence.”
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Wong, the organization’s technical safety project manager, said the company plans to launch a national website on the topic next year. She expects it to be published by mid-February.
“I hope it will be a safe place where people across the country experiencing technology-facilitated violence can start getting the resources and information they need to move forward,” she said.