High-Tech Violence against Women Essay

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High-tech violence against women refers to the use of technology by abusers to stalk, monitor, or impersonate their victims in order to perpetrate sexual, domestic, or other violence against women. This high-tech violence might include an abuser intercepting phone calls via listening devices, intercepting electronic communications through spyware or hacking, or tracking a victim’s movements through her location, the Internet, and camera technologies.

Technology makes an abuser’s traditional power and control tactics increasingly easy to perpetrate, enabling abusers to monitor their victims more closely and efficiently. Phone, surveillance, and computer technologies are increasingly effective and available, and provide a wide array of dangerous tools for abusers to use to harass, intimidate, impersonate, and stalk their current and former intimate partners.

While perpetrators have misused technology since its inception, community awareness of high-tech harassment increased in the mid-1990s, when Internet users began reporting online harassment and threats. The term cyberstalking is often used to describe this type of behavior. However, the term cyber commonly connotes computer and/or Internet crimes, and, it is important to note that high-tech abusers use a wide variety of technologies beyond the Internet, including global positioning satellite (GPS) devices, camera and video imaging technologies, and the full range of telephone technology (e.g., cell phones, telecommunication devices for the deaf [TDDs], and faxes).

Technologies Used

Communications, location, surveillance, and information technologies are routinely used by abusers to monitor victims. Some abusers install global positioning systems to stalk their victim’s real-time location, while others use telephones to leave hundreds of threatening messages. Other stalkers use technologies like caller identification (Caller ID) to monitor who a victim calls, and to locate her after she has fled. Still others use services available on the Internet to alter the number displayed on a victim’s Caller ID screen, making it appear as though the phone call is coming from the victim’s mother or best friend.

Abusers continue to identify and adapt common household technologies to stalk and harass their victims. Some abusers use baby monitors, while others purchase imaging devices marketed as home protection or “nanny cams” to view or listen to a victim’s activities at home or elsewhere. Abusers hide wired and wireless cameras and other recording devices in everything from audio speakers to clock radios and potted plants in order to do remote real-time or asynchronous monitoring.

Monitoring a victim’s computer use is another tactic used by abusers. They not only use low-technology monitoring options such as viewing the Web site browser history or intercepting email, but also are increasingly using more sophisticated spy software and hardware (spyware) for surveillance.

Spyware is a powerful stalking tool. An abuser does not need to have physical access to the victim’s computer to install or run the software. The abuser can send an email with an attached greeting card, computer game, or other ruse in order to entice the victim to open the attachment. Once opened, the attachment automatically installs spyware on the victim’s computer, in stealth mode without notification or consent. Spyware programs can automatically record every word typed, every Web site visited, and every document printed and even turn on Web cameras that may be connected to the computer. The spyware program can regularly transmit this information to the abuser.

Strategies for Change

Given the array of techniques used by abusers, strategies for change concentrate on education and policy change. The varied language and content of state and other jurisdictional laws often present a challenge for those attempting to hold perpetrators accountable, especially because these crimes can easily occur across jurisdictional lines. While some states include the use of electronic surveillance in their stalking statutes, others must rely on creative interpretation of older laws to address these crimes. On the U.S. federal level, the Violence Against Women Act of 2005 was one of the first pieces of U.S. federal legislation to explicitly and comprehensively address high-tech violence against women.

In addition to policy solutions, other efforts have focused on providing survivors of interpersonal violence with strategies to limit the amount of their personally identifying information available to others. For example, court systems, newspapers, and government agencies are publishing victim information on the Internet. Thus, survivors and advocates must regularly ask agencies to seal or restrict access to files to protect survivor safety. Address confidentiality programs, offered by many U.S. states, are one example of mechanisms created to ensure a victim’s address remains confidential regardless of whether that victim votes, buys property, goes to court, or engages in other public activities.

To enhance their safety and reduce the opportunities a stalker has to access their computers, survivors are using public computers at libraries and computer technology centers. More anonymous computer terminals allow survivors to set up free email accounts on Internet-based services, select new alphanumeric passwords, choose not to be listed in the public directories provided by these services, and not have that Internet use linked back to their residence.

Additionally, advocates and survivors are taking advantage of the many wireless phone donation programs to equip survivors with phones that are not part of a shared or family phone plan purchased by the abuser. This allows the survivor to have access to a phone in an emergency, and also to receive private calls or arrange escape plans without that information becoming available to an abuser through billing records and phone logs.

The Future

As quickly as new technologies emerge, abusers find ways to manipulate them in order to spy on their victims. While the use of technology to stalk was once the exception, it has now become prevalent. Anecdotal and empirical evidence indicates that traditional modes of stalking have been greatly enhanced with the newest technologies, but significant research is needed to fully understand the parameters and types of technology used in stalking. Carefully crafted study that never compromises victim safety or confidentiality is needed to better document what survivors are experiencing and to inform the systemic change needed to address and prevent high-tech violence against women.


  1. Safety Net: The National Safe & Strategic Technology Project. (2004). Technology safety planning with survivors. Retrieved May 5, 2006, from http://nnedv.org/SafetyNet/tspEnglish.pdf
  2. Southworth, C., Dawson, S., Fraser, C., & Tucker, S. (2005, June). A high-tech twist on abuse: Technology, intimate partner stalking, and advocacy. Violence Against Women Online Resources. Retrieved May 27, 2017, from http://vawnet.org/material/high-tech-twist-abuse-technology-intimate-partner-stalking-and-advocacy
  3. Southworth, C., Finn, J., Dawson, S., Fraser, C., & Tucker, S. (2007). Intimate partner violence, technology and stalking. Violence Against Women, 13(8), 842–856.

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