Canada’s new Divorce Act defines “family violence” as “any conduct, whether or not the conduct constitutes a criminal offense, by a family member towards another family member, that is violent or threatening or that constitutes a pattern of coercive and controlling behavior or that causes that other family member to fear for their own safety or for that of another person… and includes… harassment, including stalking.”
It is considered family violence when digital technology is used to control, coerce, threaten, or harm a spouse. When a spouse uses digital devices, apps, portals, or networks to cause harm to another spouse, it is considered family violence. It is not uncommon for this form of abuse to occur alongside other forms of abuse, such as physical violence, economic abuse, coercive control, and or sexual abuse.
How can technology be used to commit abuse?
Smartphones, laptops, tablets, home assistants (i.e. Alexa), smart watches, fitness trackers, and internet-connected home security systems can all be used to commit abuse. Abusers may secretly or forcibly gain access to their spouse’s devices, without consent, to monitor, stalk, control, embarrass, exploit and/or abuse their spouse.
They may install spyware or other software that allows them to covertly monitor and gather information, gaining remote access to messages, call history, photographs, and location trackers. Abusers can create use social media to commit abuse. Using a false profile, a spouse can impersonate the other spouse to family and friends, employers, businesses, and the general public and create a false public image that can cause severe reputational damage.
Technology can be used for cyberstalking or gathering details of a spouse’s whereabouts or relationships with others. Tools now exist to monitor a spouse with tracking equipment, such as home security systems, apps, virtual home assistants and Airtags. Virtual or home assistants, such as Alexa and Google Home, can be used to monitor and surveil a spouse. They can also be used to listen in and record
Another common form of abuse is “tagging”. When someone is tagged in an image or a post, their social media profile becomes associated with that tagger, which can lead to embarrassment. This way, abusers can deliberately target individuals to misrepresent, harass and exploit them.
The absolute worse form of technology abuse is “revenge porn”. The sharing of intimate or sexual images and videos of a spouse on the Internet is a source of severe harm and distress. As new technology emerges, abusers will have more tools to commit family violence without detection or culpability.
When dealing with such a situation, or if there is such a concern that this can occur, it is critical to immediately secure a lawyer for protection, to minimize the damage and to hold the abuser legally responsible.