It’s a sad fact that according to the White Ribbon report, about 40% of Australian women will be the victims of violence at some point in their lifetime. But for many women, escaping the situation isn’t as simple as walking out the door. Many fear for their personal safety, and in this day and age where the internet is a treasure trove of information, staying hidden or under the radar isn’t as safe as it once was.
Here are five tips to help you, or someone you know, protect themselves online. These tips are from Telstra’s Safe Connections program, a partnership with the Women’s Services Network (WESNET) to help women impacted by domestic violence to stay safely connected.
1. Always turn location/GPS and Bluetooth off on your phone
It’s easy to forget that most smartphones have a GPS feature that can pinpoint your exact location. Someone who’s previously had access to your phone can use apps that send this GPS location to their phone, so they always know where you are.
With Bluetooth, it’s possible for someone with previous access to use a Bluetooth connection to access your phone. This can include access to your SMSes, call history, contacts, and even photos. The safest way is to keep it turned off.
2. Change your passwords regularly
Whether it’s your phone, Facebook, online banking, or your laptop, to name a few – if it has a password, ensure it’s changed every month, or even every week. Yes, it does make passwords a pain to remember, but it also ensures that your abuser doesn’t have access to any of your private information.
3. Create a separate email account for safety planning and legal communication
If you’re talking to a lawyer, a victim advocate such as someone at WESNET, or even to a friend about your escape plan, do not use your regular email. Set up a separate email account on a computer that your abuser doesn’t have access to, and only check that email account from the safe computer.
Don’t assume that just because you’ve changed your password for your normal email account, your abuser can’t access it. Your password may not be as secret as you think, or they might find another way to access it through your tablet or phone, for example. Play it safe, and use a new, different email account they’re not aware of.
4. Adjust your children’s and your own privacy settings on devices and social media
Just because you’ve unfriended your abuser on Facebook doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to see your posts. It’s as simple as them getting access to one of your friends’ accounts, and they can see everything once more.
Facebook now has options to choose who can post on your wall, and who can see what’s posted on your wall. Go through all the privacy settings for the social media you use, and ensure that friends and family can’t accidentally reveal or provide clues to your location with a seemingly innocent comment.
Same with your children – have a discussion with them about what they can and can’t say online, as well as when and how the other parent is allowed to communicate with them. Then keep a close eye on their social media accounts, regardless.
5. Document all threats
Even if you think your phone or computer is being accessed or watched, don’t simply throw it out or abandon it. You need to ensure you have a record of all threats that have been made against you, so you can take them to the police, your lawyer, or a community legal service to have them documented as evidence.
There are many programs that can back up texts. You should also take screenshots or print your call history. Many phones these days also allow you to record phone calls, though that’s getting into slightly murkier legal territory. You’ll need to get legal advice to determine if you can use such recordings as formal evidence.
These are just some simple ways to protect yourself online. But most importantly, trying to deal with violence and abuse on your own can be very dangerous. If you are in such a situation, always work with a domestic violence or sexual assault support worker to help you plan for your safety, and always call 000 in an emergency.
If you, or someone you know, needs help with domestic violence, abuse or sexual assault, you can call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) for support and assistance. You can also access online counseling at www.1800respect.org.au.