Domestic and family violence perpetrators use behaviours such as online stalking to exert power and control or make people feel unsafe. Fortunately, there are many safety tools for browsing the internet, emailing, and using a phone. Legal help with online stalking and other forms technological abuse is available.
Staying safe online
Learning how to use technology and the internet more safely is important for people who are living with someone who is very controlling or uses violence.
Use a safe computer or other device
Technology-related abuse can include 'bugging’ someone’s computer, phone or other device with ‘spyware’. Spyware means programs that track what someone does on a computer without them knowing.
These kinds of programs can be used by abusive people to monitor others’ computer activities. Spyware apps may not always be visible on a computer, phone or other device, even in the settings.
Because it is very difficult to remove absolutely every trace of computer activities, it’s often better use a safer computer or other device to look for help if possible.
A safer computer may be a friend’s computer, or a computer at work or school.
Computers at public libraries and community centres are often free of charge.
Use a safe email address
Some browsers (programs that access the internet) can remember details across different devices. So even on a safe computer, it's best to use a separate email address.
A private email account can also be a good way to talk to support services, or to store information like scanned copies of important documents.
When setting up a new email address:
- Use a computer that the abusive person cannot access.
- Use an anonymous name, and account: (example: email@example.com - do not use YourRealName@email.com).
- Use a free web-based email account (such as Gmail or Yahoo) that requires a password.
- Do not provide detailed information about yourself.
- Choose a password that is hard for other people to guess and be careful to protect it - memorise it and don't write it down.
If prompted, do not save the password when you log in to web based email accounts such as Gmail.
When finished sending emails from a free email account like Gmail, always sign out completely.
Make sure checkboxes on login pages that say things like 'remember me on this computer', 'stay signed in" or 'save my password', are always unchecked (ie the box looks empty).
If a person who is using or has used violence makes unwanted or threatening contact via email, it may be useful to keep this as evidence in case an intervention order is needed.
Forwarding the unwanted emails to police or a case worker is a good idea, especially if they are distressing.
Delete browser history
The biggest safety issue with using the internet is that all browsers (computer programs for the internet) automatically store information. They store information about which websites have been visited in a few different places:
The browser’s cache: copies of every page visited is saved in a ‘cache’ on the computer hard drive called ‘Temporary Internet Files’ or something similar;
The browser’s history: the URL or ‘address’ of all websites visited appears in the history;
The browser’s typed URLs: a list of the most recent 15-20 web addresses that have been manually typed into the location bar;
All these places can be completely cleared temporarily to stop someone from finding out which websites have been accessed on a particular computer.
The way to do this depends on the web browser used.
Find out what browser a computer is using by visiting: www.whatsmybrowser.org
Follow these instructions to delete browsing history from common browsers.
Remember that the cache, history and typed URL lists will begin to grow again as soon as more websites are visited, so will need to be cleared regularly.
Deleting the browser's cache will also remove ‘cookies’, along with saved passwords and details that have been entered into forms. So these will also no longer be ‘remembered’ by the computer. More information about disabling cookies:
Many women have experienced abuse and harassment online.
This harassment occurs more frequently due to the feelings of anonymity afforded by online platforms. It is also common for women to experience continued harassment via phone or online mediums from people they know or have had relationships with.
This abuse can be very distressing and may have damaging effects on their confidence, self-esteem and feelings of personal safety.
The E-Safety Commission website holds a wealth of information about the risks to your safety online and options for improving your safety or reporting abuse:
Check mobile phone settings
Consider who set up any mobile phone or tablet. Sometimes abusive people install spyware or GPS locators to track others.
If using a mobile phone or tablet provided by an abusive person, consider turning it off when not in use, or putting it in flight mode at sensitive times to shield your location.
Some smartphones and tablets automatically record a person's location. Consider switching off the optional location service in the device settings.
Update the phone settings to ‘lock’ the keys so a phone won’t automatically answer or call if it is bumped.
Get a different mobile phone
It’s important to use a safe, separate phone to make private calls (like calling our helplines) or to arrange escape plans.
If a shared or family phone is used, information about the calls made may be available to the abuser on the phone bills and/or the phone logs.
Using a prepaid phone card is a good option to prevent the calls made being listed on the phone bill.
Your private information
Check if private contact information can be found online by googling the name of the person at risk in quotation marks: “Full Name”.
If information is publicly available via social media accounts (like Facebook or Instagram), change the privacy settings on the account. If details are on another website, contact the webmaster to request the removal of any information that is publicly available but should remain private.
Consider what information people might be able to find via friends and family members on social media. Disabling or deleting old social media accounts will prevent others from being able to tag the person at risk or reveal their location. It will also prevent abusers using alias (fake) accounts for social media stalking.
Ask government agencies how they protect or publish personal records and how to protect this information.
Request that courts, government, post offices and others restrict access to personal files to protect safety.
Set up a private post office box address to give to doctors and other professionals who ask for a personal address, or have a safer address (like work, a friend or relative) to give them.
Passwords and PIN numbers
Consider who has access to passwords and pin numbers.
If passwords for any private accounts (e.g. online banking, email, mobile phone, voicemail) are known or could be guessed by an abusive person, change them quickly and frequently.
Access these accounts from a safer computer.
Reporting technological abuse
Stalking is a criminal offence in all states and territories in Australia, and includes stalking a person on the internet or via email, impersonating another person online, posting false information about them or publishing offensive material online.
By reporting abuse, violence, threats, stalking or cyber-stalking to police, the abuser can be charged with a criminal offence. Police can assist with applying for an Intervention Order.
Messages left via texts/answering machines can be saved as evidence of stalking or abuse.
Keep a record of all suspicious incidents.
For more information regarding technology safety and for assistance with improving your safety online, we recommend visiting the website of the Women's Safety Network's Safety net service or the E- Safety Commission for Women.