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Domestic abuse charity Refuge has launched a new website, RefugeTechSafety.org, offering dedicated resources for victims and survivors of technologically enabled domestic abuse, including step-by-step guidance for securing devices and online accounts, with support in multiple languages.
Developed alongside survivors of abuse and with financial support from Barclays’ Covid-19 Community Aid package, the site was set up in recognition that levels of tech-enabled abuse have skyrocketed in the past few years, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic; from April 2020 to May 2021 Refuge says it saw a 97% increase in the number of complex tech abuse cases requiring specialise support compared to the first quarter of 2020, while in 2021, this as jumped to an average of 118% more complex cases.
Such cases often involve perpetrators using many different online accounts and devices to abuse, control and monitor their partners. In some cases abusers use standard devices and accounts, but increasingly, they have turned to more sophisticated, even malicious software – this is known as stalkerware, and its use has been growing steadily through lockdown. Tech-enabled abuse is frequently a precursor to, or happens alongside emotional, financial, physical and sexual abuse.
Refuge said it was well aware many women experiencing tech abuse often feel they have no choice but to shut down their online presence and stop using their device, which can compound their isolation from friends, family and other support networks.
Ruth Davison, the charity’s CEO, said: “Refuge is thrilled to be launching RefugeTechSafety.org, created together with survivors, to empower women and children to use technology safely. In the past year, many of us will have turned to technology to keep in touch with loved ones and to connect with the world.
“However, at Refuge we’re aware that perpetrators of domestic abuse often use technology as a tool of abuse – this can force survivors offline and further isolate them from their support networks. In the past year, we’ve seen growing numbers of complex tech abuse cases that require our specialist support.
“No survivor of abuse should feel the need to stop using online spaces,” she said. “That’s why we’re now sharing our resources and expert knowledge with the public, so women can protect themselves from abuse and not be forced offline due to domestic abuse. For any woman experiencing tech abuse, you are not alone, Refuge is here for you.”
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The website hosts a short, animated film that illustrates common forms and experiences of tech-enabled abuse, as well as 17 step-by-step support guides covering device and account security, created with survivors’ safety in mind – these guides cover Android and Apple devices, Gmail and Hotmail accounts, and social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter and WhatsApp. These guides walk users through securing their settings, and provide cautions against actions that could alert abusers. The site also hosts an interactive chatbot and video guides offered in English, Polish, Spanish and Urdu.
Abuse survivor Amy Aldworth was supported by Refuge’s existing Tech Abuse Team when she was stalked and harassed online by a man she met on a dating app. She went on to help develop the resources.
“At the time, the abuse felt insurmountable and my mental health and ability to work were severely affected. My Refuge Tech Advocate supported me to secure the privacy and location settings of my online accounts, helping me feel safer online,” she said. “She also assisted me in gathering evidence for the police and with her support I was able to secure a Stalking Protection Order against my abuser.
“Often women in my situation may not know where to turn to or what their options are which is why I’m so pleased to have been involved in the creation of RefugeTechSafety.org,” said Aldworth. “Along with other women Refuge has supported, I gave my insights to ensure the website works for women experiencing tech abuse. It’s great to see that the resources that helped me through such a difficult time of my life will be available to other women in similar situations.”
Sasha Wiggins, Barclays group head of public policy and corporate responsibility, added: “Whilst technology is a great help and source of support for many – especially so over the course of the last year – some of this technology is sadly being misused by abusers to facilitate harm.
“Refuge plays a vital role in raising awareness, providing support to, and empowering the survivors of this domestic abuse, and so we are proud to be supporting the creation of their new Tech Safety Website, allowing Refuge to reach even more women across the UK.”