The war on women: The rise of ‘Smart Abuse’

The war on women: The rise of ‘Smart Abuse’

Since the emergence and evolution of smart home technology many women are finding themselves fighting an invisible war in their own homes. What exactly is Smart abuse? Well, smart abuse is defined as technology facilitated harassment, for example, the Telegraph reported that smart doorbells and TVs were increasingly used ‘as a form of control by abusive partners’. Through these web-connected devices abusive partners can spy on their victims and ‘activate devices remotely in order to cause fear and confusion’ – this could be through altering the temperature or locking doors. In fact there have been stories reported by Refinery and The New York Times of women being locked in their own homes by ex-husbands. This disturbing trend has left women feeling insecure in their own private space.

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This alarming development blurs the lines of public and private space for women, creating no space at all for women to feel comfortable and safe in. In many cases cyber space has also become a daunting place for women with many reporting being locked out of their social media accounts by controlling partners. How do we solve the problem of Tech abuse? Firstly it is crucial to note that Tech abuse is not the only form of abuse women face and is an aspect of the multiple ways that violence against women manifests. Violence against women is a big problem in society that needs to be tackled. However, for now to effectively solve or prevent the issue of tech abuse, this generally necessitates replacing your smart devices, changing your internet and social media passcodes, WIFI passwords after a relationship has ended and reading device guidelines. University College London has partnered with Privacy International to provide a resource list for victims and survivors of tech abuse. This resource list provides links and information to help women prevent any future abuses of their smart home technology and also advocates better digital security by suggesting workshops, online videos and articles which women can look into to better educate themselves about gender imbalance in the digital world and the abuse that they could face.

It is reported that ex-partners usually have access to smart home technology much more easily especially in the case of heterosexual relationships because men are more likely to fix these technologies in the home and take control in this particular arena. Thus, many women are unaware of how these devices function. However, we can see how important it is to be aware of the implications of smart technology in the home.  Unfortunately it is harder to detect tech abuse due to many women reporting that they feared they were going ‘crazy’ and did not believe their devices could be compromised. This further adds to the abuse women face as this type of harassment leads to women questioning their sanity which can lead to extreme stress and fear. It is also the case that many women feel too intimidated to seek help or find it difficult to prove that their smart devices are being used to torment them. Furthermore, it is noted by researchers that tech abuse can also take the form of perpetrators convincing abused victims that they are ‘stupid’ and need the other person in order to operate devices leaving the abused person feeling useless and reliant on their partner. This tactic is also described as ‘user-shaming’ and reveals the different pathways in which technology can be used to belittle, control and shame others. This is also another form of coercive control; this is when a person you are personally connected with repeatedly behaves in a way that makes you feel controlled, dependent, isolated or scared. Coercive control results in isolating you from your friends and family, therefore making you reliant on them only.

Tech abuse also highlights that there is a gender imbalance in technology access and usage. For instance Eurostat has reported that women tend to use the internet for social interactions and relationship maintenance whereas men tend to use it for more targeted activities such as obtaining financial information or reading the news. The reasons for such differences are rooted in differing social-cultural backgrounds, including the home environment, cultural capacity and academic orientation. Therefore the best way to tackle the problem of tech abuse is by educating women and tackling the existing gender imbalance in technology access and usage.

JAN Trust is turning 30 this year! At JAN Trust we help vulnerable women develop digital literacy skills and warn them of the dangers of the online world, especially through our Web Guardians™ programme Click here to find out how you can celebrate our anniversary with us and help us to fight against discrimination and gender based violence.