Experts warn of growing 'digital abuse' - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

Experts warn of growing form of domestic violence called 'digital abuse'

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CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -

It's new, it's increasing and it can be dangerous.

Experts are warning of a growing form of domestic violence they call "digital abuse." Officials say digital abuse is when one partner uses technology to control and intimidate a significant other.

Mental health professionals say it's such a new problem, couples could be in a digitally abusive relationship and not realize it

The constant calls and threatening texts, Brittny says her ex-boyfriend's electronic communication was relentless.

"I was always fearful of not answering my phone when he called and not responding to his text messages," says Brittny.

After months of high-tech harassment, Brittny says she realized she was a victim of digital domestic abuse. Psychiatrist Gail Saltz says it is a growing issue.

"Now, sadly people are using digital technology to exert their power, their influence and control," explains Saltz.

Digital abuse is just starting to be recognized by experts and goes beyond constant phone calls and text messages. At the National Domestic Violence Hotline, many callers report their partners' smartphone and social media surveillance is increasing.

"Things that range from constantly checking to what they're posting on social media and 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 in appropriately," says Katie Ray-Jones of the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

The popularity of being constantly connected can make recognizing a problem difficult.

"Isn't this what everybody does? You know, everybody is on social networking, everybody is texting. Isn't that just normal behavior?" asks Saltz.

The president of the National Domestic Violence Hotline says that normal behavior can turn to obsession. It's important to recognize warning signs. Dr. Ray-Jones says these signs include extreme jealousy, monitoring and isolation.

FOX19 technology expert Dave Hatter warns that digital abusers can escalate their surveillance by using apps which monitor their partner's location through their phone GPS or installing keylogging software that records what they type on their computer.

"Even without GPS, you may go in a building where there are wayfinding techniques and the phone signal itself to try and triangulate your position won't be as accurate as GPS," says Hatter. "There's a lot of ways you can track those devices. I always come to it from a perspective as you might be tracking me without me knowing it, but you literally could be using it like an ankle bracelet on someone and basically insist that they do it and basically track their every move, even with their full knowledge."

Saltz says even more troubling, digital abuse 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," she says.

Brittny says when her ex-boyfriend's digital abuse became physical, she ended the relationship. Now, she warns others who think their digital boundaries may be violated to reach out for help right away.

"When I was going through this," explains Brittny. "I felt like I was completely alone. I didn't tell anybody about what was happening."

The head of the National Domestic Abuse Hotline says it's difficult to estimate exactly how many people digital abuse affects because some people don't even recognize it. 

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