by Kathryn Gregory
Just a few years ago, police and domestic violence workers didn't spend much time thinking about the ways technology could be used against women in abusive and controlling relationships.
Now, cyberstalking is a harsh reality for those women, but the technology that makes it possible also can make it easier to catch stalkers in the act.
Stalking through technology "really shows the length a batterer will go to, to gain control of their victim," said Angie Rosser, communications coordinator for the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "It's a whole new level of harassing and abusing a victim."
Installing global positioning satellite devices into vehicles, using spyware programs that can read every keystroke on a computer or befriending their partners' co-workers or friends online to check up on their behavior are just some of the ways predators work to control their victims.
"It's hard to say if technology makes it easier for offenders to gain control over their victims," said Cindy Southworth, technology project director for the National Network to End Domestic Violence. "Abusers will misuse every tool they can to abuse their victims, technology or not."
When stalkers use technology to control someone, though, they leave a witness, Southworth said.
Most domestic violence and sexual abuse happens with no witnesses, but "when someone uses technology, it creates digital evidence," she said. "Digital evidence doesn't lie."
When victims press charges against a stalker or controlling spouse, having digital evidence, such as hidden spyware programs on their home computers or GPS locators in their phones placed there by the offender can help law enforcement.
"I always tell cops to be creative about what they charge people with," Southworth said. "If they are doing a dastardly thing, there will always be a law on the books. It might not fit one law specifically, but it can definitely fit another."