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Domestic violence in the digital era: Turning homes into weapons

Modern homes are increasingly wired for control through smartphone apps and voice-controlled systems like Siri and Alexa. Lights, television sets, air conditioners, thermostats, security systems and even the locks on the door are all possibly connected.

As a result, domestic violence experts say there’s been a distinct uptick in the number of victims who have experienced “digital abuse.” In addition, the definition of what digital abuse means is beginning to broaden rapidly.

Once, digital abuse meant things like harassing texts, mysterious emails to the victim’s employer, explicit photos being sent via text to friends and family members, stolen passwords and control over a victim’s phone.

Now, thanks to the Internet of Things, it can mean taking control of the passwords used to control a smart home and locking a victim inside the home when the abuser is at work or continuing to control the home’s appliances, lights, doorbells and other features from afar in order to make a victim who is trying to move on aware that the abuser is still watching. The goal is usually to monitor and control the victim through fear and intimidation when outright physical control isn’t an option.

However, some people do this kind of cyberstalking just for kicks or revenge. They may see it as nothing more than an elaborate practical joke of sorts to be played on a romantic partner that has hurt them emotionally in some way.

For example, maybe a romantic partner had an affair and abruptly ended the relationship. What’s the harm in pulling a few jokes in order to get a little revenge?

Plenty. Accessing someone’s electronics and home devices remotely is a lot more serious than continuing to use their Netflix password without their permission and can land you in jail. Prosecutors are increasingly inclined to come down harshly on someone who crosses a line, even if they were just trying assuage their hurt feelings after a breakup.

If you made a mistake and indulged in few revenge fantasies, don’t trust your future to the mercy of the court. Talk you situation over with an experienced attorney before you talk to the prosecutor.