(CBS) — Phone calls and texts that do not stop along with online tracking and spying, in this digital-age of smart phones and social media, domestic abusers have found new ways to stalk their victims. CBS 2’s Mai Martinez has warning signs and ways to stay safe.
A woman we will just call Brittny was a victim of digital domestic abuse.READ MORE: Jussie Smollett Trial: Lead Detective In Investigation Explains On Witness Stand How Smollett Went From Victim To Suspect
“I was always fearful of not answering my phone when he called and not responding to his text messages,” said Brittny. “When I was going through this, I felt like I was completely alone.”
But she is not alone. Christina Pera says she has been a victim too.
“I get all of this online,” said Pera. “It’s through Facebook. It’s through Twitter, e-mails.”
An email or text disguised as a simple, ‘Hello’, can escalate quickly to threats.
Yesenia Maldonado, with Between Friends, helps abuse victims and says digital abuse is a disturbing trend affecting both men and women.
“Starts off like, ‘Oh hey how are you? What’s going on?’,” said Maldonado. “To, ‘Hey you didn’t answer my call, where are you? If you don’t call me the next five minutes, I’m going to go looking for you’. It is about power and control.”
“Now I’m afraid of the whole world because the digital harassment is there,” said Pera. “There’s nowhere to go.”
Experts say digital abusers often physically abuse as well.
“The first warning signs we see is excessive jealousy,” said Maldonado.
That jealousy can lead to constant monitoring via social media and tracking where someone is, who they are with or what they are doing.
It can get even more devious. Katie Ray-Jones with the National Domestic Violence Hotline says, “Partners create fake identities on Facebook to see if they can get their partner to engage with someone else, and then accusing them of cheating and flirting inappropriately.”
“Ultimately, someone who is abusive wants for you to be only with them,” said Maldonado who helps protect these victims. “We offer a lot of support and safety planning. And part of that safety planning is thinking about digitally how you cut off communication to someone.”
Ways to protect yourself include: changing your passwords, phone number, and social media security settings, telling friends not to tag you in pictures or posts, not downloading links sent by your abuser because they could install spyware on your phone or computer, and turning off your phone’s GPS so you cannot be tracked.
Experts say the most important advice is to tell someone you are being abused.
“The more people that know, the more you realize it’s not your shame to hold,” said Maldonado.
That could be the first step to ending the cycle of abuse.
The head of the national domestic violence hotline says it is difficult to estimate how many people are victims of digital abuse because some do not even realize they are being victimized. Experts also say it is important to talk to kids about digital abuse, because the abuse can start as early as middle school.