Domestic abuse: New digital tools make escaping harder


Digitally connected phones, smart homes, cars — these are tools of digital abuse in the home that anti-violence experts say are on the rise.

Amy FitzGerald, chief executive officer at the company, said: “Methodologies that are considered advances in technology, whether it’s smart homes or smart cars, are just another method of monitoring that can be used. to harass survivors in various ways.” BC Transition House Association.

“Usually, whatever is reported sounds a bit far-fetched, but turns out to be true.”

Intimate partner violence in Canada is known as a “shadow epidemic”, which has increased during the COVID-19 era as lockdown measures limit a victim’s ability to leave an abusive partner.

A report by Statistics Canada, released on October 19, shows that police-reported domestic violence has increased for the fifth consecutive year in 2021, with a total of 127,082 victims. This equates to a ratio of 336 victims per 100,000 people. On average, a woman is murdered by her partner every six days, the agency said.

Rhiannon Wong, technology safety project manager at Women’s Shelters Canada, warned that digital forms of intimate partner violence will also start to increase in 2020, as technology becomes more integrated into everyday life. days in the context of a pandemic of physical isolation.

“Perpetrators are using technology as another tool for their old acts of power and control, abuse and violence,” she said.

Abusers can track their partners in real time, post malicious content online, with less chance of being removed, or impersonate, harass or threaten partners through a variety of tools, she said. different technology.

While “it can be very powerful evidence in court”, Wong said technology is often used as a “perpetuation of violence”, ensuring the abuser’s presence and making the victim vulnerable. difficult to escape, even when they are not present.

Retired Victoria Police Sergeant Darren Laur is training director at White Hatter, an internet safety and digital literacy education company.

He says the company helped a woman whose ex-partner would control her smart home remotely.

“In the summer he will turn up the temperature, in the winter he will turn on the air conditioner. He can turn on the electricity when he opens the door, opens the window, all remotely because of the house. is a smart home.”

Laur also warned about abusers tracking the location of a victim’s vehicle using a mobile phone app.

“Now your abuser knows exactly where you’re going or where you are, so if you’ve been to a transitional home, they now know exactly where you are.”

In August 2021, the BC Transitional Home Association surveyed violence programs across the province. Of the 137 respondents, 89% said the women they worked with had disclosed some form of technology-assisted abuse.

“Harassment, which has been ranked as the most common form of technology-related violence, has increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the newly released report said.

Angela Macdougall, executive director of the Abused Women’s Support Service, said “technology is embedded in the case” as the organization sees it, but policy and legislation has not kept pace with technological advances. number.

“If we understand that reporting to the police is very difficult and there are already huge limitations on how effective the police can be, then when we add the issue around technology, that is even more difficult,” she said. even more difficult”.

Jane Bailey, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, agrees, saying existing law needs to be applied to the digital landscape.

“The law should be more responsive, which means we should use the laws we already have,” she said.

She noted that some victims do not want to pursue legal action or involve the police.

“But if they want to, I think it’s only fair that we allow them to do that.”

The federal government established an online safety advisory group in March, tasked with providing advice on how to design a legal and regulatory framework to tackle harmful content online. line.

Bailey said she is eagerly awaiting the release date.

“I certainly hope that there will be some kind of agency set up to really help people,” she said.

Bailey said she hopes the model is similar to Australia’s e-safety commissioner, the nation’s independent regulator for online safety equipped with a complaints service.

Last month, the federal government of Canada announced its first national action plan to end gender-based violence.

The plan has five pillars: supporting victims and their families, prevention, building a responsive justice system, implementing Indigenous-led approaches, and creating social infrastructure . It acknowledges gender-based violence takes many forms, including “technology-assisted violence” in addition to physical, sexual, psychological, emotional and financial abuse.

However, many advocates were quick to criticize the plan’s list of general goals while lacking specific commitments to standardize and improve access to assistance for victims across Canada.

Among them is Lise Martin, executive director at Women’s Shelters Canada.

“There’s no sense of coordination. There’s no accountability,” she said in an interview.

Martin co-led a team of more than 40 experts that published the roadmap for the national action plan last year. The report includes more than 100 recommendations for government, including ensuring safe and accessible public transport, expanding affordable housing and increasing data collection on topics including public violence. support technology.

The group said technology could also enable access to services but cited connectivity issues, particularly in remote and rural communities, as an ongoing one. In a press release, the agency said victims’ access to help “should not depend on their zip code.”

“While we appreciate the inclusion of TFGBV (technology-assisted gender-based violence) in the document released by the federal government, we remain concerned that each province and territory may choose from a list of options is presented,” Women’s Shelters Canada said in an email.

“This could lead to some areas of the country having adequate support for people experiencing TFGBV – which is what we want – and others continuing to not fully understand the impact of TFGBV.” technology is abused as a tool to inflict violence against sexual partners.”

Wong, the organization’s technology safety project manager, said it will launch a national website on the topic next year. She hopes it will be made available to the public by mid-February.

“We hope that it will be a safe space where people across the country who are experiencing technology-assisted violence can start getting the resources and information they need to move forward. before,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on December 28, 2022.

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