Mobile phones as electronic tags for victims of domestic abuse

Interesting release by the excellent Jennifer Perry at the Digital Safety Trust.  Although the focus is on domestic abuse – an extremely important issue in its own right –  it has obvious implications for other types of abusive behaviour

Domestic abuse has gone digital. Mobiles are a perfect tool for abusers to use today. It makes the task of monitoring, threatening, intimidating and harassing a victim so much easier, and safer for the abuser than having to do it in person”  says Jennifer Perry, CEO of the Digital-Trust.

Victims keep their mobiles close to hand, they use them for all their social media, texts and emails. It is a wealth of information for an abusive partner. It can show who their partner talks to, how long, how often. It tracks where they are right now and where they’ve been. The right app allows you to remotely read text and listen in on conversations.

This allows the victim’s mobile to become a very powerful electronic tag with their abuser as their guard. This intrusive monitoring stops victims from having any privacy, isolating them and can prevent them from getting help says Perry


Surveillance behaviour starts when the victim is still living at home. Using a mobile an abuser can:

  • set-up the phone so they have control of the phone account/master password
  • force the victim to provide access to their phone by sharing password or pin
  • read their texts or social media like Whats App
  • see who is in their contact lists
  • look at the location information that shows where they’ve been
  • put spyware or tracking app on the phone

The Digital-Trust has written easy to use step by step guides on how to secure a smartphones. There is a guide for the iPhone, Androids and Windows mobiles.

It isn’t just mobiles – technology such as spy cameras, listening devices and car trackers are becoming much more common in abuse cases.


Digital abuse is a challenge for anyone working with victims and the problem is rapidly escalating. In a survey of domestic violence victims by Women’s Aid 75% reported concerns that the police did not know how best to respond to online abuse or harassment.





About John Carr

John Carr is one of the world's leading authorities on children's and young people's use of digital technologies. He is Senior Technical Adviser to Bangkok-based global NGO ECPAT International, Technical Adviser to the European NGO Alliance for Child Safety Online, which is administered by Save the Children Italy and an Advisory Council Member of Beyond Borders (Canada). Amongst other things John is or has been an Adviser to the United Nations, ITU, the European Union, the Council of Europe and European Union Agency for Network and Information Security and is a former Executive Board Member of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety. He is Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John has advised many of the world's largest internet companies on online child safety. In June, 2012, John was appointed a Visiting Senior Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science. This was renewed in 2018. More:
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