Technology plays a big role in our lives especially in the ways we communicate with each other. However, while technology makes our lives easier and more convenient, and allows us to connect with more people than ever, it also can be abused by someone who wants to harass, monitor, or threaten another person with just the click of a button. If you are a victim of someone using technology to abuse you, you may be able to get a domestic violence restraining order under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, a New Jersey law that protects victims of domestic violence.
To get a domestic violence restraining order, you must have a specific type of relationship with the abuser, and the abuser must have committed one of New Jersey’s 19 crimes of domestic violence.
Several laws applying to nonelectronic forms of domestic violence also apply to those that are electronic. For instance:
- Harassment (N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4) and Terroristic Threats (N.J.S.A. 2C: 12-3) can include communications online or by an electronic means of communication.
- Stalking (N.J.S.A. 2C:12-10 and N.J.S.A. 2C:12-10.1) includes electronic communication.
- Cyber-harassment (N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4.1) 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.
Some common examples of online domestic violence for which you may be able to obtain a restraining order include:
- It may be harassment if… the abuser is sending excessive or upsetting emails, messages, or texts, or threatening to send intimate photographs to your family, co-workers or friends.
- It may be stalking if… the abuser is electronically monitoring your computer or phone use, using an application that records what you are typing, tracking your whereabouts, or showing up uninvited at your location.
- It may be terroristic threats if… the abuser is posting or sending you threats of violence or threats to kill you.
- It may be lewdness if… the abuser is exposing themselves to you through pictures or videos with the intention of upsetting you.
- It may be cyber-harassment if…the abuser posts online or through social media obscene material about you or threatens to do harm to you or your property.
What you can do about online abuse
- Contact your local law enforcement agency if you feel that you or your loved ones are in danger. The police can assist you with filing a temporary restraining order as well as criminal charges if appropriate.
- Politely but clearly tell the abuser that contact is unwanted. For example, “I do not wish to communicate with you any longer. Please do not contact me again.” Take a screen shot of this communication and keep it somewhere safe to document that you have told the abuser to stop communicating with you. Do not respond to any attempts the abuser makes to contact you again.
- If you share children, you may need to say something like, “Please do not communicate with me unless it has to do directly with the children.” If this does not work, consider creating a new email address and using that for all communication about the children. Also, there are apps like Our Family Wizard that can be used for all communication between parents. If necessary, you can make a motion to the court in a custody case to order communication solely through such an app.
- Keep documentation of all incidents. This can help in many ways. Write down the details of the incidents, email them to yourself, or use some other method of documenting but always make sure the abuser does not have knowledge of or access to the information you are recording.
- Documenting incidents can help you or law enforcement figure out which technology is being used to harass or stalk you. For example, if the abuser knows about phone conversations you had when the abuser was not physically present, it is possible there is an app on your phone that allows them to listen in on your phone conversations. If the abuser knows only about conversations that took place in your car or in your bathroom, there may be a recording device in that location.
- Documenting incidents will also help create a timeline of what happened when, which you will need if the case goes to court.
- Documentation should include:
- The date and time of the incident or communication.
- Usernames of the abuser and victim.
- Description of what happened.
- Any attempts you may have made to stop the incident from continuing or escalating.
- If police were called.
- Who you contacted for help.
- When possible, and only if it is safe to do so, record conversations with the abuser. Use a search engine to find out if there is a free app you can use to record conversations on your phone.
- Print important emails.
- Screenshot text messages. If your phone does not take screen shots, you can use another camera to take a photo or video of the messages on your phone.
- To save communications in a convenient format:
- 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.
- If you have an iPhone, you may be able to open iMessage on your computer and screen shot your text messages.
- You can use also use the PrtScn key on your keyboard to take a photo of your computer screen (or search how to print screen on your computer). You can then open a Word document and press Ctrl+V to paste the screen shot into the new document and save.
- 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 have a snipping tool pre-installed. You can search for this in the menu’s search bar.)
- Take pictures of any bodily injury, damaged property, or other proof of domestic violence.
- Save all voicemails and, if possible, save them to a file on a flash drive or in the cloud.
- If someone has gotten into your accounts, create new email or messaging accounts on a safe device. 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.
- Block the abuser’s number and email address. 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. You can also ask them not to post anything about you at all. 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.
What to do if you think you are being monitored
- Be cautious if the abuser gives you a new device or if the abuser has been able to physically handle your phone or computer. It may not be worth it to accept an abuser’s gift of a new device or help fixing your computer. They may have use the opportunity to install new apps or a new keyboard, webcam, or other device on your computer. Be aware of any suspicious behavior from your devices; for example, your phone is taking photos on its own, there is a spike in your data usage, or your battery is running low much faster than it did before.
- If you think someone has tampered with your device, that person may notice if you change your normal behaviors and you start doing things like deleting your browsing history or removing spyware from your devices. If doing that would make you unsafe, try instead to use 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
- 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).
- 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 is therefore using up the battery life.
- Higher data use. If your data usage suddenly increases significantly it could be spyware using up your data. Spyware is always running as a background app, and therefore is constantly using your data without your knowledge.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. However, deleting that download will not necessarily completely remove the spyware from your device. Also, keep in mind if you get a new device and transfer information from your old one to your new one, the spyware may be attached to one of those apps.
How to avoid online abuse
- Learn everything you can about technology, social media, and privacy settings.
- 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.
- When filling in security recovery questions, you do not have to answer the questions with your own information. You could put in the birthplace of your favorite literary or television character, or the name of the street they grew up on, as opposed to your own. Just make sure you can remember the answers you gave.
- Use different email accounts and user names for different accounts so that if someone discovers how to access one of your accounts, they do not also have the log-in information for all of your other accounts.
- Monitor your children’s social media profiles. Look at what they are posting and who they are messaging. Set rules and consequences about social media and stick to them.
- Do not accept friend requests or followers from people you do not know or trust.
- Consider using virtual phone numbers such as Google Voice or other services that disguise the actual source number or email address you are using.
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 is free software that prevents anyone from monitoring what websites you visit and 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 and capture your information. 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, avoid 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:
- Have you carefully thought about the potential consequences of publishing posts or photos?
- Are you revealing too much about yourself?
- Could someone misinterpret your post?
- Is this post an emotional reaction to something? Should you give yourself 24 hours to reconsider?
- If this post was leaked or seen by your employer, family, current or future romantic partner, would you get in trouble or would you be embarrassed?
The bottom line
You can never be certain that what you are doing or posting online is completely private. 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 friends’ or your children’s information. For instance, somebody you do not want viewing your profile might know someone who has the ability to view your pages and posts. All one person has to do is tell the other person about it or screenshot it and send it to the other person, and now the wrong person has it and can use it against you. For this reason, it is important to be careful if you choose to post personal information about yourself or your family on social media.
Almost everyone has to use technology and social media to communicate. There are many potential pitfalls and opportunities for people who want to abuse technology to harm other people. This is particularly true in relationships where there is intimate partner abuse. Victims of domestic violence should be able to take advantage of all the opportunities modern technology offers, but safety concerns do require that people be very careful and thoughtful about how they use their devices and how they choose to communicate with others.
This information last reviewed: Sep 9, 2022