A close up of a man using a laptop

Tech abuse

Domestic violence takes lives and ruins lives, affecting one woman in four at some point in her life in England and Wales alone, and killing two women every week. Modern technology gives perpetrators ever-growing ways to control, isolate, humiliate and dominate women using the tools of everyday life.

Our findings show that perpetrators are increasingly using technology to facilitate their abuse of women. Abusers can and have gained access to women’s personal and home devices, their online accounts and even their children’s toys and devices.

We have found a rise in the number of women whose children’s IPads, Xboxes and PlayStations have been hacked by the perpetrator to gain full access to their accounts, to trace information such as the child’s location, who they are speaking to and what games they are playing.

Types of tech abuse

Of the 6,000+ women and children Refuge supports on any given day, women increasingly tell us about the following forms of tech abuse:

  • Apps which mirror the activity from one device onto another device, for example phone or laptop
  • Online harassment
  • Stolen online identities and credit card fraud
  • Hacking
  • Non-consensual intimate image sharing, commonly known as ‘revenge porn’
  • Tracking apps in cars
  • Locator apps in partner’s phones
  • Surveillance
  • ‘Doxing’ (putting someone’s personal information such as home address and phone number on-line)
  • ‘Spoofing’ and other forms of impersonation (for example creating fake social media accounts, sending messages/ pictures posing as the survivor)

A close up of a woman's hands holding a mobile phone and pointing towards the screen.

How we ensure survivors use technology safely

To tackle tech abuse, in partnership with Google, we launched the Technological Abuse Project in October 2017. The project provides specialist nationwide support to staff and survivors who experience or have been met by technologically facilitated abuse, to ensure women and their children feel empowered to use technology positively and safely and can take back control of their lives.

We have trained 340 of our specialist staff in technological abuse, including a team of technological abuse leads who have received intensive training to keep on top of trends, along with 30 tech champions embedded across our national services, and an economic empowerment advisor.

Together, our tech team provides invaluable support, including:

  • Keeping women safe from tech threats and teaching them how to secure their devices and accounts, ensuring location privacy and preventing online abuse through social media and messaging platforms
  • Checking for any unusual activity on women’s and children’s devices or accounts, ensuring they are reset and secured
  • Empowering women to access technology safely, not to cut themselves off and compound their isolation
  • Providing information resources to survivors
  • Listening to the experiences of survivors, gathering extensive quantifiable tech abuse data using our unique casework management tool, IMPACT (impactbyrefuge.org.uk), to inform and improvethe service, and to make a strong case for investment in tech abuse services
  • Maximising our first-class data to inform campaigning and lobbying work, for example, we submitted a response to the Government’s consultation on transforming the response to domestic abuse, highlighting the legal and policy change needed to prevent and improve the response to tech abuse
  • Sharing learnings widely and working to ensure the police, other agencies, and senior government officials recognise the deadly threat that modern technology poses to women who experience domestic violence.

Refuge has close operational partnerships with several global tech companies and this enables our specialists to advocate on survivors’ behalf.

A male hand holding an iPhone and pointing towards the screen.

Refuge’s partnership with Safety Net

Find out about our partnership with Safety Net, leaders in technology safety, and access their useful resources.

Learn more >

Euleen and Beth, survivors of tech abuse

Survivors’ stories

Hear the stories of two survivors of tech abuse, Euleen and Beth, who spoke at our Technological Abuse Project launch in 2017.

Learn more >