The Double-Edged Sword of Cellphones and Domestic Violence Survival
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and for years technology, particularly via use of a smartphone, has provided a lifeline for survivors of domestic abuse to flee their abusers. A discreet cellphone beats a landline any day – no extensions for someone to pick up, no ringing to alert unwanted attention. And with the advent of texting, even more discreet – and potentially lifesaving — communications can take place. As a matter of fact, “have a working cellphone” is one of the most common pieces of advice for a victim preparing to leave an abusive environment.
But in recent years, this once invaluable must-have for survivors has taken on some negative baggage. Abusers have “gamed the system” and suddenly this classic survival tool can also be turned against DV survivors. Of course, no one is suggesting abandoning your cellphone, but if you or a loved one is suffering from domestic abuse, there are some precautions to take regarding phone usage.
Use strong passcodes and change them frequently. Keep your passcode private and use a different passcode for your cellphone than any other device, particularly if the devices are shared. Stay away from obvious words and numbers that an intimate partner could determine in a few guesses.
Know where your phone is at all times. If you’re dealing with a tech-savvy abuser, Malware, spyware and tracking apps can be installed in just a few minutes. Find a reliable hiding place and check it as often as you can. Keep the volume off and only use the vibrating mode.
Replace any phone that may have been compromised. The safest thing is to get a new phone with an account that the abuser does not have access to. Remember to put a passcode on your new phone.
Even if a survivor has taken all of the above precautions, it’s important to realize that if an attack occurs and an abuser spots a phone, taking it away and disabling it will be the first thing he or she does. Or, if a victim has managed to discreetly call 911 or a trusted friend and either of those people try to call back, the ringing alone could manage to make an abuser angrier and more violent.
These are some of the pitfalls of relying solely upon a cellphone, which is why security experts such as Chief Security Officer at Fortress Investment Group, Rich Staropoli are touting the benefits of the latest generation of “connected wearables” as a trusted alternative without some of the aforementioned downsides of a cellphone.
“To those in law enforcement, any way to make life safer for the most vulnerable among us is a major win,” says Staropoli, a former Secret Service officer, “And we see smartphone reliance segueing to smart wearable reliance as a major step forward in protection.”
For example, the Wearsafe Tag keeps you connected to a trusted circle of family and friends with the press of one button. The Wearsafe Tag is discreet enough to remain out of view, and vibrates to let you know your alert was received by your circle of contacts, who also receive an immediate, live audio stream from where you are. Your contacts will also receive your exact GPS location and up to a minute of audio from just before you pressed the alert. All that provides the context for them to decide how best to help you, whether it’s calling the police, coming over to knock on your door, or something else.
This high-tech device is also affordable at only $5 a month for a subscription, making it a very viable option for DV survivors at risk during episodes of violence and when attempting to leave an abuser, when it's especially important to prepare ahead of time to be as protected as possible.