The advent of technology has created both advantages and challenges for people trying to protect themselves from harmful situations. Being aware of the capabilities of the technology around us, the data that can be collected, and how it can be accessed can lead us to being physically safer.
Today’s guest is Audace Garnett. Audace provides assistance nationally and internationally supporting crime victims and domestic violence survivor organizations. She worked at the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office where she served as Teen Services Coordinator in the Victim Services Unit. She is current a Technology Safety Project Manager with Safety Net at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, where she focuses specifically on the intersection between domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and technology.“When it comes to this, there is a lot of underreporting.” - Audace Garnett Click To Tweet
- [1:12] – Audace shares what she does with Safety Net and the National Network to End Domestic Violence.
- [5:18] – 97% of cases include tech misuse, but Audace explains that domestic violence is very underreported.
- [8:06] – Technology is not the problem. It’s the person behind the technology that is causing harm.
- [9:22] – A common problem is the sharing of images without consent. Victims can report this to StopNCII.org.
- [11:42] – Survivors should trust their instincts.
- [13:17] – Audace shares some tips on protecting online identification.
- [15:54] – A major and unfortunately common concern and problem is location tracking through mobile devices.
- [18:25] – Tracking devices like Airtags and apps on smartphones can alert abusers of your location.
- [20:33] – Some vehicles also come with integrated GPS tracking.
- [22:14] – Although these services and tracking/monitoring devices can be used maliciously, the technology itself is not the problem.
- [24:20] – Another technology misuse possibility is abusers interacting in a victim’s social media platform as the victim.
- [25:56] – The impact of this interferes greatly with day to day life.
- [28:11] – The Domestic Abuse Hotline is a space to not only report domestic violence, but they can also help with support, resources, and a plan.
- [30:20] – How can community members help with this problem and build awareness?
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- National Network to End Domestic Violence
Audace, thank you so much for coming on the Easy Prey Podcast today.
Wonderful. Hello, Chris. It's wonderful to be here. Thank you for having me.
Thank you so much for being here. Can you give myself and the audience a little bit of background about who you are and what you do?
I'm a part of the safety net team at the National Network to End Domestic Violence. What we do is we focus on the intersection of abuse and all things technology. We provide technical assistance and training nationally and internationally to service providers and local programs.
What we do on our team is we focus on how technology is misused by abusers, how survivors can use strategies for using technology safely, because it's so intertwined into every aspect of our life, and we focus on how survivors can safely relocate as well.
We talk about how survivors can keep their data safe. We're in a data-driven society, so it's really important that we put that information out there around consumer privacy, about how their information is shared and put on websites as well, how abusers can misuse that information, and also how agencies can safely and effectively use technology, because they're gathering a lot of data from survivors. We want to make sure that they're using it in the best way.
Awesome. How did you get into this field?
I started out doing this work many, many years ago. Over 20 years ago, I started out working with survivors of domestic violence with disabilities. I was working at a local program in New York called Barrier Free Living where I was an advocate working with survivors, helping them get housing and the resources and support that they needed. I then started working with young people between the ages of 16–24 who were impacted by teen dating violence, and then moved into the space of technical assistance and training.
I started training adult professionals such as social workers, advocates, teachers, anyone that worked directly with teen survivors. I train them on how young people are impacted by sex trafficking. Domestic minor sex trafficking is a huge issue within our society. It's something that we don't talk about often because we look at it as an international issue. But young people right here in many states in the United States are being impacted by trafficking.Domestic minor sex trafficking is a huge issue within our society. It's something that we don't talk about often because we look at it as an international issue. But young people right here in many states in the United States are… Click To Tweet
When we think about trafficking, we think of a person being moved from state to state. Trafficking can be happening right in the local community. That young person or that adult can be going to school, going to work and still be under the power and control of a trafficker. I was working in that space, and then I moved into this very interesting space where I focused on the intersection between technology and abuse at the National Network to End Domestic Violence.
Not all of them, but the majority of the cases that I worked on when I was an advocate providing direct services, the majority of them had some form of tech abuse, whether it was damaging a person's phone, preventing them from using the Internet, preventing them from going to school, logging into their accounts, committing fraud. Whatever it was, there was some form of tech misuse.
Now to be on this and then to be able to provide guidance, training, and information to those who are supporting survivors is really an honor. That's a little bit of my story in a nutshell. I wrapped it up really short.
I'm glad there are people like you that are in this field and really trying to help people out that are probably in some of the worst parts of their life and experience. How prevalent is this issue?
We did a study in 2020 and we released it at the beginning of 2021. We spoke with some advocates and attorneys that worked directly with survivors. The majority of their feedback, what they reported back, is that 97% of their cases had to do with some form of tech abuse, whether it was preventing the survivor from using their device, stalking them, monitoring them. We received an overwhelming response.
The numbers are really high, but let me just say, when it comes to issues such as this, there's a lot of underreporting. I'm not sure why it's not at 100%, because again, technology is intertwined into so many areas of our lives. If the abuser is familiar with intimate details about the survivor, such as their parent’s maiden name or where they went to school, it's easy to get those security questions, log into account, and cause a lot of harm.
A lot of the misuse is not reported. A lot of domestic violence cases are not reported as well, just in general. I think there's a lot of underreporting, but that study that we did was really revealing as to what's happening day to day with survivors throughout the country and the world.
In general, how underreported is domestic violence in and of itself? It's hard to know if something isn't being reported, but what is the theory on how unreported it is?
It's unreported because that person that is controlling the relationship is the one that is most likely controlling who that person talks to, who they share with.
If that survivor is living in the same household with that abuser and relies on financial resources, support, or they have children in common, and that maybe the survivor cannot afford to move out or get their own housing or job, they're going to remain in that situation for the sake of maybe keeping their family together or because they just cannot afford to relocate.Housing is really expensive. If you think about what it costs to get an apartment or relocate, those are some of the barriers that prevent survivors from reporting. -Audace Garnett Click To Tweet
Housing is really expensive. If you think about what it costs to get an apartment or relocate, those are some of the barriers that prevent survivors from reporting.
Survivors have remained silent because there's a lot of shame and blame connected to this issue. It's not something that people are happy to share about. It's really important that we provide people with the space to share that they're having this experience because it's something that's hidden in plain sight, actually.It's not something that people are happy to share about. It's really important that we provide people with the space to share that they're having this experience because it's something that's hidden in plain sight, actually.… Click To Tweet
How is tech being used maliciously against domestic abuse and abuse victims?
What I want to clarify to you and your audience is that tech is not the problem. Technology does a lot of great things. The fact that I am here today with you being interviewed, which is a connection that technology made. It's not about the technology. It's about the misuse of technology. It's the person behind the technology that's causing the harm. We have to keep that in mind.
Technology can be used to empower survivors. Survivors can go to school. They can find jobs. They can use it to start a business. They can use technology for so many different things. The issue is the abuse and the behaviors that are used to maintain that power and control.
Some ways that technology being used to cause harm is harassment, calling that person various times, sending them threatening messages, leaving multiple voice messages, threatening them, monitoring their actions online, committing fraud, logging into their accounts, changing passwords, not allowing them to access Wi-Fi, impersonation, pretending to be the survivor, connecting to family members, shaming them, sharing personal information.
Something that we've been seeing a lot is the non-consensual intimate image sharing, NCII. Folks may have heard of this online or in the news as revenge porn. We do not consider it revenge porn because it's not about revenge or about porn. It's not porn, usually. It's the violation of someone's rights, their body, their image, taking that image and sharing it without their consent. We see that a lot.
A really great place that survivors can go if they're having this type of issue, where their image has been shared without their consent, or if someone created a deepfake, an image with your face on another person's body, you can go to a website called stopncii.org. Stop NCII is a free tool.
What survivors can do is they can go to that website and create a case where, if any one of the partnering tech companies that are on that platform, I believe it's Meta, Snap, Instagram, and a few others, Pornhub I believe is on there as well, if any of the survivor’s images have been uploaded to any one of those websites, any one of those social media platforms or sites, they would send that image to one of those partnering companies and have that image removed.
It's a really great tool, stopncii.org. It's something that is free and available to survivors. I think it's really important that we share that because a lot of times, survivors feel like they're alone. Again, the shame and blame that's connected to this issue is everywhere.
I think that is a great resource. I wasn't aware of it, so we'll make sure that we link to that in the show notes as well.
People that are currently in those situations, what are some of the things that they can do to secure their devices, their accounts, and try to mitigate that control in those aspects?
The first thing that we always share is that survivors should trust their instincts. Again, technology is intertwined in so many areas of our lives. The survivor may be feeling like, “Am I not experiencing this? Am I experiencing this?” They may be uncertain and unsure about what is happening. They should trust their instincts.
They should think about what is happening. What information does the abuser know? Did they have access to their home, to their vehicle, to their account? How did they gain access to that account? You want to think about all of those different things. Once you finish gathering that information, you want to then start thinking about how you can secure your device if it is safe to do so.
Again, some survivors may be living with the abuser. What may be right for a survivor that is not living with the abuser may not be right for the survivor that has left the situation. You definitely want to gauge for risks. We have a really great resource on our website on securing devices about some really high-level things that a survivor can do if it's safe to do so.
Use non-identifying usernames. Don't use your first name and your last name. Use something that the abuser may not guess, because through a quick search online, they may be able to locate you. If you use non-identifying usernames and maybe not an image of yourself, maybe a stock photo or something like that. Maybe you have an online business or you want to be online but you just don't want anyone to identify you or connect you to that image. Use non-identifying names.Use non-identifying usernames. Don't use your first name and your last name. Use something that the abuser may not guess, because through a quick search online, they may be able to locate you. -Audace Garnett Click To Tweet
Use strong passwords. I know that this may sound very basic, but tech experts recommend that we use phrases and not things like our birthday or our mother's maiden name. Use a sentence—ineedavacationrightnow or ilovevegetables2020#—something that the abuser will not be able to easily guess. Strong passwords are a must.
Another thing is two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication allows for a person that has an account to set it up in a way where if someone else is trying to log in, or when you're trying to log in, there's a secondary email or a secondary phone number, where a short code is usually sent to verify that it's you trying to log into that account. Setting that up can notify you if someone is trying to hack into your account. Those are just some basic things that survivors can do. Updating passwords.
Also, I just want to say that survivors, if it's safe to do so, can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline. That number is 800-799-7233. There, survivors can connect with a professional that is trained and that will be able to connect them to an advocate in their local community that can support them with safety planning.
Safety planning is really important. You don't have to be ready to leave the relationship. It can be something that you're planning to do maybe a couple of months from now or a year from now. It's a relationship that you can build with an advocate that can help you navigate your situation. You are the person that is in control. You provide them with the information and they'll help you create a plan.
One of the contexts of the situations that arise and that we hear about on whatismyipaddress.com is people are concerned that if someone is tracking their location, that, “My abuser, my ex, or this spurned love interest, know when I'm going to the grocery store. They’re showing up. I'm out with my friends, somehow they're showing up at the same restaurant.” They're like, “OK, what in the world is going on? How are they tracking me? What the heck should I be doing about that?” What should people be doing in that situation?
That is something that's really common. Our devices can serve as tracking devices. We share information inadvertently. We want to first think about, “Where does that information live? How did they gain access to that information?”
What I would first suggest is for that survivor to think about where that information lives. “How would this person know that I'm showing up at the grocery store on Tuesdays at 6:00 PM after I get off of work? Is that person following me? Is there something attached to my vehicle? Is there a child in common that may have shared that this is my routine? Did I post this online on social media?” Where does that information live?
Once you think about those things, it depends on what you want to do with that information, but you first need to figure out where that information lives. Again, I know that there are a lot of survivors that are connected to family plans. Is there a family plan that shares the location? Does the abuser still have access to that?
Let's say that the survivor didn't drive to the supermarket, and they use a ride-sharing app. Ride-sharing apps send receipts to emails. “That ride-share app sent the receipt to my email showing that I go to the supermarket on Tuesdays at 6:00 PM, and the abuser has access to my email. They can clearly see that I've relocated, this is where I'm going, this is the time that I'm showing up there.”
Where is this information? Where does it live? Did a child in common overhear that I was going to this location and share it with the person that's being abusive? Where does it live? How did they gain access to it? That's the first thing. I know that people are really familiar and aware of trackers. Trackers are something that's been in the news within the past two years.
Yes, there are lots of trackers beyond AirTags. Apple has actually done a really great job with setting up notifications. Every time that a device is near a person or on a person, it'll send the person an alert. That is something that's really important and should be across industry standards, because sometimes other trackers could be tracking you and you have no idea.
If they have a button that you can press in the car of, “Hey, my car's been in a crash, please help me.” Or if that's the nature that the vehicle talks about, “Hey, we can contact the emergency services of an accident,” then this is a car where, at least at minimum, the manufacturer knows where the car is. If somebody has an account who bought the car, even if you don't know that the service is enabled, it may actually be out there active and providing location.
Absolutely. All of the things that you mentioned are good things. You definitely want to be able to get that data, if needed. It's not that tech is bad, it's the misuse. What are people doing with that information? How are they using it to cause harm to someone? That's what we want to think about.It's not that tech is bad, it's the misuse. What are people doing with that information? How are they using it to cause harm to someone? That's what we want to think about. -Audace Garnett Click To Tweet
There are even insurance companies. I know that insurance companies market to parents who have teen drivers. You want to monitor how fast this young person is going, or you want to monitor what location they're at currently. “Sign on to this, and you'll get a 10% discount.” Who doesn't want to save money? Those things are connected to the vehicle, and the survivor doesn't know that that's a clear and easy way that the abuser can gain access to that information.
Really, for survivors, it's a combination of looking through all the types of technologies they use. “Does this device or platform have the ability to share my location? If so, how do I find out?” That might be a little bit of a challenge, that if you owned a car and that it was bought by someone who you were previously in a relationship with, even knowing whether or not it has that feature enabled. Is that initially going to a dealership and asking them, “Hey, how do I find out this thing?” Or will they not even disclose that?
It depends. It truly depends. Who's on the account? Who has access to it? That will definitely depend, probably on a case-by-case basis situation, but it's definitely something that survivors should consider and think about.
If you're a survivor, and you're thinking about going to the police precinct or to meet with your advocate, maybe you shouldn't use that vehicle. Maybe you should use some other form of transportation in order to get to those locations in order to seek help. It's a lot to navigate into, but it's all about safety. Everyone's situation is not the same, so you definitely need to think about what is safest for you.
You're talking about different ways that people could use the technology. We talked about them accessing their social media accounts whether it's to know what the person is doing, but also maybe pretending to be that person and interacting with their families, which is really creepy.
Absolutely. I actually had a case several years ago, many years ago. It was a family court case that I was supporting a survivor on. They were in a relationship for about six months, and the abuser gained access to some photos and posted those images on a social media platform. Basically, every time that the judge told the abuser to take down these images, every time the survivor reported, every page that the abuser created, that abuser recreated another one, I think, about 60 times.
I want you to just think about this. This survivor at the time was searching for employment. She was a teacher searching for employment. This survivor had so much anxiety. Eventually it turned into depression. She felt that her future employer would google her name, search her name, or do a background check and find these images because this person was just doing this nonstop, just creating all of these pages, connecting to her friends and family, and sharing these images.
Just think about the pain and the trauma that that person is experiencing. It's something that we can't explain. We have to think about how the impact affects the survivor’s daily living, their job, their functioning, how they take care of their children. If children are aware, if they're old enough, if they're online, are they seeing those images? How are they impacted? Are they experiencing bullying as a result of that? What is happening on the emotional level?
We need to really think about that. It's not just, “Oh, get off of that platform,” because everyone uses technology for various reasons. If you tell me to get off that platform, you're cutting off my connections. Now I'm further isolated. It's important that we figure out how those that are causing harm can be held accountable and make sure that they're not able to cause harm again to survivors.
Does the National Network to End Domestic Violence also advocate on the political side and with making changes for laws to be more in support of domestic abuse survivors?
Yes. We actually do have a policy team at NNEDV. Our safety net, we do advocate with tech companies around their policies. There's so much of an intersection when it comes to this topic in this issue. Yes, that is something that we are at the forefront of doing,
As we wrap up here, this was not a space I'm super familiar with, with respect to providing support services for the targets of domestic violence. But just based on our conversation, it sounds like people that are deep in the midst of this really need a lot of assistance in navigating how to extricate themselves from these situations and wanting to make sure they do things in a way that doesn't result in more violence.
Is this the thing that the referral system for domestic violence hotline can help people plan and to make sure that they're doing things in a way that's not going to result in more violence? Because the last thing I want is someone to hear this and go, “Oh, gosh. My domestic partner has access to my phone, therefore I'm going to change everything on it,” but not have thought through what that might entail as a response. Is that something they can help with?
Absolutely. The Domestic Violence Hotline is definitely a place and a space where survivors can connect to a trained professional, and we refer them to connect with an advocate. Let me just say that survivors are brilliant. They are resilient. They are creative. They are very familiar with their situation, and they've been navigating and creating a safety plan throughout the time that they've been in this abusive situation.
They already know how to safety plan. What they need is someone to walk alongside them to provide them with the support. Let them know what resources are out there, what can they get. “These are your options. This is what is available.” That's what an advocate can do.
The advocate works alongside the survivor, but the survivor leads because they know their situation best. Advocates are heroes. Advocates are still amazing. They are connected, they're plugged in. They know what resources are available and out there. They can guide the survivor and provide them with information that they may not even know exists. It's a partnership, basically.
If we're not the survivor and we're not the advocate, what can I do, or what can our listeners do to either help someone that they know that is directly in this type of situation or people that they, in general, don't know? What can they do to help the community and try to help change the situation?
Thank you for having us here on your platform. I think that this conversation is something that needs to be had year round. October is domestic violence awareness month. People wear purple to create awareness around this topic and issue.
Domestic violence happens 365 days of the year, so it's something that we need to be talking about all of the time. Whether it's connecting with a friend, a family member, or just building awareness, something that you can tell a family member, a friend, or anyone that you know that's having this experience is that you're not alone. Help is available. What you're experiencing is not your fault.
Those three things I always suggest are really important, because survivors at times feel like they're alone. What they're doing is their fault. The shame and the blame, again, that's connected to this topic and this issue is so heavy. And to just be there to provide them with support, not conditional support, like, “If you don't leave this person today, I'm not going to be your friend or speak to you.”
It's not easy to leave a situation. The cycle of violence is very, very complicated. It's complex. It's not easy to just pick up and leave, but you can be there to provide them with support, to just be a listening ear and let them know that help is available.The cycle of violence is very, very complicated. It's complex. It's not easy to just pick up and leave, but you can be there to provide them with support, to just be a listening ear and let them know that help is available. -Audace… Click To Tweet
Another thing that people can do is share some stats. Let people know that this information exists. Share it on your social media and let people know that they're not alone and help is available, because there are people, again, that are suffering in silence. They don't know where to go, who to speak to. They may not even identify as a person that's a victim. They may not even identify as a victim.
They may feel like, “Well, this is just my circumstance and situation.” You want to think about people who may have grown up in these types of situations. They may normalize it. When we talk about young people, oftentimes, young people are experiencing domestic teen dating violence at really high rates as well.
If this is their first relationship, if what they're witnessing in community and at home is violence, they may think that this is normal. They may not know what healthy relationships look like. It's important that we create awareness all year round for adults and young people, and let people know that help is available.If this is their first relationship, if what they're witnessing in community and at home is violence, they may think that this is normal. They may not know what healthy relationships look like. -Audace Garnett Click To Tweet
Great. Does the Domestic Abuse Hotline also provide assistance for people who know people that are survivors of domestic abuse?
Yes. I believe that they will probably provide them with guidance and tell them where that person can go to receive support. I don't want to assume, but I'm thinking that that's what they would do, provide them with the resources and information on how they could provide help to that person.
Got you. What is the telephone number for the Domestic Violence Hotline again?
The National Domestic Violence Hotline, that number is 800-799-7233. Our website is techsafety.org. It has so many resources. We have toolkits for anyone that is working directly with survivors. We also have survivor toolkits with loads of information that survivors can take a look at and use as a resource.
Your organization primarily provides support not to the individuals directly outside of the tools, but you provide support for other organizations that provide direct services.
You do have tools on the site available specifically for individuals who need help as well.
Absolutely. We do not provide direct services. We work directly with advocates and local programs. We do have tools for survivors on our website that they can take a look at. Thank you for clarifying that.
Awesome. Audace, thank you so much for coming on the Easy Prey Podcast today.
Thank you so much, Chris. It was wonderful being here.