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Domestic abuse charity Refuge and cyber security firm Avast have joined forces to create and launch a digital break-up kit, designed to help women secure their online lives against potential digital harassment when leaving a relationship, abusive or otherwise.
Given how much of our daily lives now take place online, the kit will help raise awareness of how important a clean digital break-up is, to protect against the threat of continued contact, or even abuse or stalking, from ex-partners.
A survey commissioned by the two organisations, which sought the views of 2,000 women and men from across the country, found that 47% of people knew someone else’s online password(s), 55% their current partner’s, and 20% an ex’s. One in 10 could track their ex’s physical location through various friend-finding or location tools.
Of those who knew their ex’s password(s), 35% admitted they still had access to an ex’s Facebook account, and 33% said they could still access their ex’s work email account if they wanted.
Equally concerning, the survey reported that 42% of women said they used the same password across multiple services, and 26% of those whose partner or ex knew their password said they would not know how to secure their account or device it if was compromised.
“These are truly worrying statistics,” said Avast CISO Jaya Baloo. “Gone are the days of simply returning personal effects and one another’s door keys when a relationship ends. While we know that people do share passwords and devices with a partner, there can be a very dark side to this behaviour – particularly when women are coerced into sharing their passwords.
“This interactive tool is designed to provide awareness of the various digital platforms a partner or ex-partner might have access to, whether it’s their social media accounts, online banking, or live location through apps such as Uber or Strava.
“The tool also provides women with the necessary knowledge to secure these digital platforms against potential tech abuse from a partner or ex-partner. In creating this tool, we hope to empower women to take control of their devices and enable them to enjoy their digital freedom, either at the start or end of a relationship.”
Ruth Davison, Refuge CEO, added: “While the findings from this research are deeply concerning, we believe they only scratch the surface. We know many women might not know how to spot the signs of tech abuse, or recognise that they have been coerced into giving their password to an abusive partner or ex-partner, or what this person is doing with the information they have access to.
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“Tech abuse is a growing problem, and involves much more than sharing passwords. It can be anything from unwanted messages, spyware or stalkwerware being installed on devices, to controlling or harassing someone via home tech.
“The reality is, one in four women in England and Wales will experience some form of domestic abuse in their lifetime. Technology is increasingly an integrated part of our lives and perpetrators are finding new ways to control and abuse women.”
Davison said it was crucial to raise awareness of technologically enabled abuse, and encourage women to set clear boundaries with their exes when leaving any relationship, abusive or not.
“The solution,” she said, “must not be to force women offline – it must be to empower them to use tech safely and confidently.”
The break-up kit can be accessed here. Also, women in abusive relationships can contact the charity’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline 24/7 on 0808 2000 247. Victims can also visit https://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk to fill out a webform and request a safe time to be contacted by an adviser.
Refuge already works extensively in the digital sphere with various other partners, and last year launched a new website, RefugeTechSafety.org, developed with input from survivors of digitally enabled abuse and funded by a Barclays scheme, providing step-by-step guidance for securing devices and online accounts, with support in multiple languages.
The charity said it saw levels of tech-enabled abuse soar during the Covid-19 pandemic. From April 2020 to May 2021, it saw a 97% increase in the number of complex tech abuse cases requiring specialise support, compared with the first quarter of 2020, and in 2021 this jumped to an average of 118% more complex cases.