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Family and Relationships
Online Safety

Every day, more people are using technology as a way to communicate. Unfortunately, that also creates the opportunity for people to use technology to inflict domestic violence. If you are being harassed online, or if the abuser is using a computer program to view your private information, you may be able to seek help under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, a New Jersey law that protects victims of domestic violence.

Common examples of online domestic violence for which you may be able to obtain a restraining order include:

  • Harassment: The abuser sending excessive or upsetting emails, messages, texts, and/or photographs to you, your family, or friends.
  • Stalking: The abuser monitoring your computer and/or phone use often through applications that allow recording of what you are typing, showing up at locations s/he otherwise may not visit, tracking your whereabouts, taking pictures or videos of you without your consent or knowledge.
  • Terroristic Threats: The abuser posting or sending you threats of violence or threats to kill you.
  • Lewdness: The abuser exposing him/herself to you through pictures or videos with the intention of upsetting you.

The Law

How laws apply to different forms of domestic violence: Laws applying to non-electronic forms of domestic violence still apply to those that are electronic.

Under N.J.S.A. 2C:12-10 and N.J.S.A. 2C:12-10.1, stalking includes communication via electronic means and is grounds for a temporary restraining order.

Under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4, harassment does not exclude online or electronic means of communication.

Under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4.1, cyber-harassment specifically prohibits using an electronic device or social networking site to threaten another person online or to post or threaten to post obscene material with the intent to emotionally harm the victim or make the victim fearful.

What You Can Do If You Are Being Harassed

  • Contact your local law enforcement agency if you feel that you or your loved ones are in danger.
  • Politely, but clearly tell the abuser that the contact is unwanted. For example, “I think it would be better if we no longer communicated and I would really appreciate it if you didn’t try to contact me.” Document that you have told the abuser to stop. Do not respond to any attempts the abuser makes to contact you again.
  • Keep documentation of all incidents. Documenting incidents can help you and law enforcement figure out which technology is being used to harass/stalk you. For example, if the abuser brings up phone conversations you had with someone on your cellphone when s/he was not around, it is possible your phone has been bugged (hacked so an individual can monitor your use, calls, and messages). Additionally, documenting incidents will help create a timeline if there is litigation.
    • The documentation should include everything you can remember about the incident including:
      1. The date and time
      2. Usernames of the abuser and victim
      3. Description of what happened
      4. Witnesses
      5. Any attempts you may have made to stop the incident from continuing or escalate
      6. If police were called
      7. Who you contacted for help
  • When possible, record conversations or take screenshots or photos of any written communication with and/or from the abuser.
    • Print any emails
    • Screenshot text messages (Not all phones have the ability to take screen shots. If this is the case, you could try using a camera or other phone to take a photo of the messages on your phone.)
      • Text to email—most non-smartphones allow users to forward text messages to an email address. Simply type in the desired email where you would typically put a phone number.
      • Smartphone users have the option to forward texts to email or send screenshots of conversations to an email address. If you are having trouble texting to an email address there are programs that allow you to download text, pictures, and emails to a computer. Note: make sure the computer you use to download this information is a safe one, protected by passwords. Also, ensure there is not tracking software installed to the computer before downloading this information onto it.
    • Screenshot emails or text messages on your computer. You can download one of many free “apps” for your computer that will allow you to take screen shots of your computer and save them as picture files.
      • If you have an iPhone, you may be able to pull up iMessage on your computer and screen shot your text messages that way as well.
    • Use a snipping tool of some kind to capture contact through a webpage. (Click on the programs key in the bottom left of your screen to view the programs on your computer. Many computers are pre-installed with a snipping tool. You can search for this in your search bar of the menu.)
      • You can use also use the PrtScn key on your keyboard to take a photo of your computer screen. You can then open a Word document and press Ctrl+V to paste the photo onto the document.
      • Write a summary in a journal or private document of all of the incidents. Note: Make sure the abuser does not have knowledge of or access to the journal.
    • Take pictures of any bodily injury and/or damaged property
    • Save all voicemails and, if possible, export them to a CD or flash drive
  • On a safe device, create a new email or messaging account. Try to avoid including any identifying information in your username or registration.
  • Increase the privacy settings on your social media accounts and report any harassment to the website’s administrators.
  • Contact your cell phone provider to block the abuser from contacting you. Remember that blocking an individual’s number may not prevent them from contacting you from a different number.
  • Seek help from family and friends. Ask them to be mindful about what they are posting about you on social media, such as your location and other personal information. If they receive any unwanted contact from the abuser, they should document the incidents. If they believe someone is impersonating you through social media, they should contact you immediately and document the incident(s).

What to Do If You Think You Are Being Monitored

  • Be cautious if the abuser gives you a new device or installs new apps on your phone or computer or installs a new keyboard, webcam, or other device on your computer. Be aware of any suspicious behavior from your devices. For example, if your phone is taking photos when you did not take a picture. While a brand new phone may be tempting, the abuser could have installed undetectable applications in order to monitor you.
  • Try not to stray from your normal behaviors. For instance, constantly deleting your browsing history or removing spyware from your devices could alert the abuser and trigger an incident. Instead, try using safe devices such as a friend’s cellphone or computer, especially if you are looking up or contacting law enforcement, domestic violence resources, or legal assistance.
  • From a safe device, contact law enforcement if you feel that your safety or the safety of a loved one is being threatened.

How to Detect Spyware on Your Device

  1. Abnormal behavior—The phone or computer screen lighting up or turning on/off by itself. Difficulty turning your device off or the phone is constantly taking a long time to turn off. The device may start taking pictures by itself (many phones, tablets, and laptops have internal cameras while many desktops may require an external camera).
  2. Inconsistent battery life—If your battery is losing power more quickly than it used to, it could be an indicator that spyware is on your device. Spyware is always running in the background of your device and therefore is always using up the battery life.
  3. Higher data use—If your data usage suddenly increased significantly it could be the spyware using up your data. Spyware is always running as a background app, and therefore is constantly using your data without your knowledge.
  4. Background noise—Consistent noise in the background of your calls could mean your calls are being recorded. If this is not consistently occurring it could just mean there is a bad connection. If this is occurring frequently, it is possible that your calls are being monitored.
  5. Random unclear texts—Receiving texts full of random letters, numbers, or characters from an unknown number may mean your phone has been hacked. These messages are often spyware services sending codes to the abuser’s phone to begin tracking your device.
  6. Check your device—If you look at your device’s download directory, it may show a spyware service has been installed. Spyware typically does not show up as an app or icon in your device, but it could show up in your recent downloads. If you are unsure how to check the recent downloads on your device, go to your service provider or local computer expert service (Apple, Best Buy, etc.) and ask if they can check your device for you. 

How to Help Avoid Online Abuse

  • Choose strong passwords and do not share them with anyone. See How to Create a Secure Password You Can Remember Later: 4 Key Methods (from Buffer) for tips on creating a secure password. Avoid saving your password on any device or browser.
  • Frequently change your passwords. Frequently changing your password can help to protect your account from unwanted members accessing it or from hacking by making it harder to discover your password.
  • Create an email for the sole purpose of Facebook or other social media notifications and filling out forms. This will make it harder for unwanted individuals to access your social media account since they will not know your login email address or the email address you use to reset your password or receive notification emails. Additionally, if an individual knows any email accounts you have used in the past, they may have the ability to figure out passwords and/or access your account.
  • Monitor your children’s social media profiles. Look at what they are posting and who they are messaging. Set rules and consequences and stick to them.
  • Don’t accept friend requests or followers from people you have not personally met or know enough about to trust them with access to your social media pages.
  • Learn everything you can about technology, social media, and privacy settings.
  • Use virtual phone numbers and email addresses.

How to Protect Yourself When Browsing the Web

  • Periodically run anti-virus and anti-spyware software.
  • Occasionally delete history, cookies, and saved links/passwords from your browser. Each search engine has different ways to delete your history.
  • Try not to publicly RSVP to events online or join online groups that could share your location and time at location.

Tor Project

Tor is free software that prevents anyone from monitoring what websites you visit and also prevents websites from learning your location. Visit the Tor Project website to learn more about the project and for download instructions.

Think Before You Post!

New apps are created every day that allow others to view your information on apps that you use. It is important to always check an app’s settings or other modes of keeping your information private. Even if you take all of these steps to make your information private on social media, remember that nothing online is 100% safe and private. It is extremely important that you are careful about what you post.

If you choose to make your posts viewable to the public, but you still want to limit the amount of information you are publicizing, think about avoiding posting the following information:

  • Your location (or pictures that could give information about where you are)
  • Phone number
  • Information about your relationship
  • Where you work
  • Personal conversations
  • Password clues
  • Vacation details
  • Credit card or financial information

Think about these things before making any posts to social media:

  1. Have you carefully thought about the potential consequences of publishing posts or photos?
  2. Are you revealing too much about yourself?
  3. Could someone misinterpret your post?
  4. Is this post being made out of emotion?
  5. If this post was leaked or seen by unwanted individuals, employers, family etc., could you get in trouble?

The Bottom Line

You can never be certain that what you are doing or posting online is completely private and hidden from the public eye. While you might believe you have taken all the steps to ensure you have a private page, you might not be aware of who is viewing your friend’s or your children’s information. For instance, person(s) you do not want viewing your profile may be in contact with someone who has the ability to view your page(s) and post(s). For this reason, it is important to be careful if you choose to post personal information about yourself or your family on social media.​​