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 an ever-growing arsenal of new and pernicious ways to control, isolate, humiliate and dominate women using the tools of everyday life: a phone, a laptop, even a Satnav.

Refuge supports almost 6,000 women and children 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 • Revenge pornography • 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)

Technology may give abusers modern weapons, but Refuge’s new tech project will ensure its staff and services can help women survive these threats and take back control of their lives.

Refuge is teaming up with Google to train its staff to better support victims who contact it as part of a new programme.

Our new service will:

  • Launch a new tech training programme to train 300 of Refuge’s frontline staff – equipping our team to tackle technological abuse head-on
  • Recruit a team of tech experts who will receive additional intensive training to keep ahead of trends
  • Keep women safe from tech threats and teach them how to protect their devices, for example working with them to identify if an abuser has installed a tracker, keystroke-detector, or spyware app on their phone or laptop
  • Empower women to access technology, not cut themselves off and compound their isolation
  • Listen to the experiences of survivors, gather extensive quantifiable tech abuse data using our unique casework management tool IMPACT (, and use it to inform and evolve the service, making a strong case for investment in tech abuse services
  • Maximise this first-class data to inform campaigning and lobbying work
  • Share learnings widely and work to ensure the police, other agencies, and senior government officials recognise the deadly threat that modern technology poses to women who experience domestic violence

Caption: Bethany and Euleen, survivors of tech abuse, at the launch of our campaign.

Beth is a student and blogger. She is survivor of tech abuse. After breaking up with her boyfriend, he would use social media channels to harass and stalk her, her mum and her friends. When she blocked him, he set up new accounts. She deliberately distanced herself from social media because she didn’t enjoy using it any more – which isolated her as a young person and as a blogger.

She is safe now and has moved away to study at university. She has been supported by Refuge to speak out about her experience and let other women know they’re not alone. Beth says:

“When I first got together with him he didn’t even have a phone, I thought he was a massive technophobe until we broke up. Suddenly he started all these social media accounts and used them as a harassment tool. He sent me a suicide note via Facebook messenger along with graphic images of self-harm. I later found out that he just found the images online. I went round the next day and he was just sitting there on his Xbox.


“He regularly turned up where I worked and often at the end of a shift I’d find 50 messages from him on my phone. After reporting him to the police, the online harassment stopped. But the paranoia stayed for a long time.”

Euleen is also a survivor of tech abuse. Ms Hope’s former partner was also physically and emotionally abusive and eventually served a prison sentence for assault and GBH:

“I was a technophobe and my ex-partner set up my email and social media accounts for me, which meant he had full access to them. He also replaced my flip-phone with an iPhone which he then set up to be mirrored on to their iPad so he could monitor calls and messages. He set up a location tracker, saying it would help me. You wouldn’t think he was doing anything bad, I didn’t realise it was going to be part of my entrapment. I noticed the iPad ringing and he told me he was just testing a new app.


“He also installed cameras around the house, saying it was for my security. One day my twin sister came round one day to visit. Normally if my friends or family came over he would sit in the room with us. This time he said he would leave us to catch up and said he would use his computer in the kitchen upstairs. I moved behind the camera and told my sister to keep talking, I went up the stairs and saw him listening to what he thought was our conversation.”

Beth and Euleen are featured in a BBC report on tech abuse.