MIAMI (CBSMiami) – When technology allows people to control and intimidate others, or even harass them, it can be devastating. That’s why experts are warning about a growing form of domestic violence called “digital stalking.”
Mental health professionals say it’s such a new problem that some people could be in a digitally abusive relationship and not even realize it.
“My ex-husband even sent constant emails to a previous job that I had. A very good job I had and I lost my job because of this,” explained “Lisa” to CBS4’s Vanessa Borge. “Lisa” who didn’t want her real name used, is a victim of high-tech harassment.
It’s a problem psychiatrist Gail Saltz said is growing. “Now, sadly people are using digital technology to exert their power, their influence, control 24/7.”
But digital stalking goes beyond constant phone calls and text messages.
Christina Pera said her ex-husband’s electronic communication is relentless.
“I get all of this online. It’s through Facebook. It’s through Twitter and emails,” explained Christina.
Christina’s ex-husband has verbally attacked her on an online chat room as well. She translated some of what he wrote.
“He’s saying to me he is going to work with the police and never pay child support and wants to put me in jail,” she said.
At the National Domestic Violence Hotline many callers report their partner’s smartphone and social media surveillance is increasing.
“Things that range from constantly checking to what they’re posting on social media, asking for passwords, to more extreme cases as where partners create fake identifies on Facebook to see if they can get their partner to engage with someone else, and then accusing them of cheating and flirting inappropriately,” explained Katie Ray-Jones from the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Somy Ali is the founder of No More Tears, a South Florida based non-profit that helps victims of domestic abuse, including Christina and “Lisa.”
“I would say 98% of the victims we have rescued have been harassed, threatened, lots of profanities used against them,” said Somy.
A cybercrime specialist warns digital stalkers can escalate their surveillance by using apps which monitor their partner’s location through their phone’s GPS or they install key logging software that records what they type on a computer.
Dr. Gail Saltz said what’s even more troubling is that digital stalking can turn dangerous.
“People of all ages are vulnerable to the use of digital technology to basically be abusive and that abuse that starts in that way can often lead to, directly to physical abuse.”
Christina was a victim of physical abuse. She was able to escape but said her world has collapsed because she can’t escape her ex-husband’s online abuse.
“Now I’m afraid of the whole world because the digital harassment is there, there’s nowhere to go. I feel like a hamster with nowhere to go. I’m trapped,” explained Christina.
Social media is popular, but Somy warns to not take social media threats lightly.
“These threats on social media, and on the internet, and on Facebook, and on Instagram, and on Twitter, they can lead to deaths.”
The head of the National Domestic Violence Hotline said it’s difficult to estimate exactly how many people digital stalking affects because some victims don’t even recognize it.
If you feel your safety is in jeopardy though you should immediately contact local police.
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