Former DCI Louise Fleckney offers advice on protecting ourselves from digital domestic abuse
BY LOUISE FLECKNEY
As society evolves, so does crime. Just as we invent a new way to enjoy ourselves, someone turns that to their advantage, or warps the outcome, or somehow maligns the original intention and so a new crime is born, or a new way of committing an old crime.
Abuse between intimate partners is as old as intimate partners, so it follows that ways to commit such offences have had a long time to evolve and diversify.
Domestic abusers have adapted their crime methodology with the evolution of digital technology. We often see very good and absolutely necessary advice given to people in such relationships that helps them protect their physical wellbeing and escape physical injury or harm. We need to see this extended to the digital world.
It used to be that we gave someone the keys to our house or flat – a sign they were always welcome day or night, a sign we wanted to share our lives with them. Now we also give people the keys to our digital lives, and with this comes the risk of an abusive partner using digital means to perpetrate and sustain abuse.
A healthy attitude may be to consider what digital access your partner legitimately needs as part of a loving and healthy relationship. This reduces risk from the outset, although controlling partners will try manipulation and control to gain the access they want.
I have a joint bank account with my partner, but we also both have individual accounts that neither has the passwords for. We have separate social media identities, and again no access to one another’s accounts. Paranoid? Or safe and respectful?
Just as crime evolves, so does courtesy, decency and respect, and they need to move with the times too and be applied to our cyber-spheres.
Research shows that people are most at risk when leaving a partner, and current crime trends show that this extends into the digital sphere of your life as well.
Consider whether your soon-to-be-ex has access to your bank accounts? Are your accounts all online? If online transfers are made and your accounts are cleared out, it could be difficult to prove who transferred what and when. Your bank may not be sympathetic if you’ve shared log in details that compromise your security.
Reputational damage is another line of attack. So many people have an online social media presence across several platforms, and that can include a professional presence through job sites or your own company website.
A jealous partner could commit some serious damage to your reputation in your social and professional spheres if they have access to your accounts and can write, post or message as you. They can also attack you via their own social media accounts capitalising on shared friendships.
Then there’s revenge porn, which is more appropriately known as “image based sexual abuse”. Intimate images or films we may have made entirely consensually with partners for mutual enjoyment suddenly turned to a different, damaging purpose. Consider what material your partner has access to or records of and what they may consider doing with them.
The simple message is this: if you’re starting a relationship, consider what access your partner really needs. And if you are considering leaving an abusive partner, you need a plan. That plan should cover your physical safety, but also your digital/cyber safety.
When you’re in a place where it is safe to do so, make a list of all the shared apps and access you have. Consider if your partner has set up alerts for password changes. Change passwords if it is safe to do so, consider changing accounts if it is not, or only do so as part of your leaving plan.
Louise Fleckney is gay mum of two. A police officer for 18 and a half years, finishing as a DCI in Intelligence, she is currently director of training at Cybersapience, a company offering bespoke training on cyber threats, resilience and cyber psychology.
Have you experienced domestic abuse? Contact the National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse helpline on 0800 999 5428 or visit galop.org.uk.
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