The changes in the ways that women experience violence require new forms of support at a time when service provisions are becoming more difficult to provide.
Technology plays a vital role in accessing services that support women who are being harmed by this online violence. With restrictive health guidelines in place, many organizations no longer offer in-person services and are finding it challenging to adapt to this new reality. Some organizations can reach their clients over the phone or the internet to provide supports, but this can be problematic for several reasons.
For one, women who are struggling financially may not be able to afford the technology needed to connect with service providers. Their phone plans may have limited minutes, texts or data that make longer conversations — such as those required to do comprehensive safety planning — cost-prohibitive, or they may not own a computer or have internet connectivity in the home; as well, many once publicly available computers or phones in places such as libraries or community centres have limited access or are closed altogether (because of COVID-19 restrictions). Women were economically disadvantaged prior to the pandemic and have become even more so in the last year, making it more difficult to afford the technology needed to access services.
Further, even if a woman has access to the technology needed to connect with service providers, if her abuser lives in the home and both of them are following the stay-at-home orders, it can be extremely difficult to contact anyone for help without being detected or overheard. Phones and computers can be used to track phone records or internet search histories that can alert the abuser that a woman is seeking help, putting her at risk of increased violence. Some organizations are promoting hand signals or code words so women can signal to the people they are speaking with over video or phone that they need help.
Finally, technology-facilitated violence can be especially difficult to address because of the technology involved. Front-line service workers with years of experience working with survivors of gender-based violence are struggling to keep pace with changes in technology and the tactics used by abusers. With this new proliferation of technology-facilitated violence, already overworked organizations are expected to navigate this novel form of violence with few additional resources. Organizations such as the Clinic to End Tech Abuse in New York City, have the technical expertise to identify and address problems, for example, the removal of stalkerware that has been downloaded onto a woman’s device, but most anti-violence organizations do not have the resources or expertise to fully support women who have been targets of technology-facilitated violence.