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Avon Foundation Spotlight: Addressing Domestic Violence In A Digital Era

Avon Foundation Spotlight: Addressing Domestic Violence In A Digital Era

For victims of domestic violence, technology can be a lifeline. Smartphones can be used to make a critical call for help; social media can be a boon when it comes time to reconnect with old friends for support; trading emails can lead to a new job and a new start. Yet, in the wrong hands, it can also be a means via which abusers can stalk and inflict serious harm. In a study conducted by the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), nearly 90% of programs report that survivors come to them for help after abusers intimidated and made threats via cell phone, text messages and email.

Cindy Southworth

Image courtesy of Cindy Southworth.

“Abusers and stalkers perpetuate their crimes where we live our lives,” says Cindy Southworth, Executive Vice President at NNEDV. “And since most of us walk around with a phone in one hand and a laptop or tablet in the other, abusers are obviously going to use those tools to reach a victim to control her and monitor her activity.”

Through NNEDV, Southworth has created Safety Net, a project focused on technology in domestic abuse. On July 27, Southworth will help lead NNEDV Safety Net’s 3rd Annual Technology Summit in San Francisco, California. The purpose of the three-day conference is, in Southworth’s words, to “train the trainers.” Victims’ advocates and law enforcement officials from around the United States — and world — will come to learn about how to make the internet a safer place for victims, as well as prevent stalking and abuse in the first place. 

Practitioners will also get hands-on training and demonstrations in dangerous digital tools like spyware. While spyware is often marketed as a way to “monitor” employees or children, it can be used (undetected) by abusers to cyberstalk their partners. “It’s eavesdropping or wiretapping, which are illegal federally and illegal in most states,” says Southworth.

Particularly concerning is the fact that many victims think of the Web as a necessity in planning their escapes — emailing friends, looking for jobs, making travel arrangements. With spyware, an abuser could easily learn of a partner’s intentions during this critical time, when the victim faces the highest risk of homicide.

Spyware is just one example of the digital tools abusers use to track, taunt and bully victims. Seemingly benign technologies like GPS can be misused in the wrong hands.

But through NNEDV’s Safety Net project, more than 70,000 victims’ advocates and law enforcement agents have been educated and equipped with resources to address the use of technology in domestic abuse. Still, more work remains.

Thanks to the National Domestic Violence Counts Report, which was funded in part by The Avon Foundation for Women, we know that 10,871 requests for services related to domestic violence — everything from emergency shelter to legal representation — went unmet on a single day last year. “One turn-away is too many, but 10,000 in a day is unconscionable.” According to Southworth, the census — which has been cited by reporters, heads of state and even on the floor of the Senate — helps draw awareness to the necessity for more funding and more education around the global issue. “The numbers are powerful and tell a staggering story.”

Through 2014, Avon global philanthropy, led by the Avon Foundation, has donated nearly $1 billion in more than 50 countries for causes most important to women. Today, Avon philanthropy focuses on funding breast cancer research and access to care through the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade, and efforts to reduce domestic and gender violence through its Speak Out Against Domestic Violence program. Visit www.avonfoundation.org for more information.

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