“If you love, give me passwords from your social networks”: what is digital violence and why it is important to notice it

“If you truly love me, then you will not hide your correspondence. What, you don’t trust me?” Have you heard such arguments? Actually, this is not just manipulation , but an example of violence – digital. This is a rather non-obvious form of violence, which can manifest itself in seemingly harmless actions. However, violence with the help of gadgets can affect the psyche as seriously as physical.

What is digital violence

Digital violence occurs when one person attempts to manipulate, intimidate, control, or harm another person through gadgets, apps, and social media.

Digital violence is a serious problem because it is often accompanied by other forms of violence, including emotional and physical. Women’s Aid’s study on digital violence found that 50% of respondents who experienced digital violence experienced direct threats against them or someone they knew. And a third of the threats were carried out.

Digital violence can be encountered in a variety of situations: at work, at school or university, on dating apps. The actors of such violence can be strangers or acquaintances and even close people: relatives or partners.

Digital violence can take a variety of forms, says Naira Parsadanyan, a psychologist and head of the psychological service at Violence.net*. For example, cyberbullying is widespread in relation to children and adolescents – bullying on the Internet, and cybergrooming – attempts by an adult to make friends with a child on a social network in order to enter into a sexual relationship. Women become victims of upskirt – when men remove their intimate parts of the body without consent – “porn revenge” and slut- shaming . Anyone can suffer from intrusive and unwanted calls, messages, photos, dikpicks, slander or threats on social networks.

Women suffer from digital violence more often. WHOA studies from 2000 to 2013 state that 70% of women have suffered from online harassment versus 25% of men. At the same time, men and women are exposed to different forms of digital violence: the former more often suffer from insults and humiliation, the latter from online harassment and harassment. According to online violence organization CCRI, 90% of people exposed to revenge porn are women.

What forms does digital violence take in intimate relationships?

In intimate relationships, digital violence is especially hard to spot, as the abuser may disguise his actions as caring: “I call you 10 times a night to know you’re okay.” Attempts to gain control over a partner can take the form of manipulation, a partner can put pressure on pity, cause feelings of guilt, shame: “In a serious relationship, people do not hide anything from each other”, “If you loved and trusted me, you would give me your password “.

According to Naira Parsadanyan, the main goal of violence in intimate relationships is to subjugate the partner to one’s will, satisfy one’s own needs for dominance, and establish oneself as the “main one”. In response to this, the second partner may be afraid not to call back, not to answer, not to show social networks. After all, this can lead to dissatisfaction with the partner, even more pressure and escalation of violence.

Here are examples of actions by a partner or ex-partner that could be considered digital abuse:

  • The partner requires passwords from social networks, decides with whom you communicate on the Internet, whom you subscribe to, whom you add as friends.

  • A partner takes your phone without permission, reads correspondence, checks call history, copies data.

  • The partner constantly writes and calls you, even if he knows that you are busy and cannot answer him, requires you to report on your actions and movements, send photos of places and people with whom you are. Becomes aggressive if you don’t.

  • A partner installs motion tracking applications on your devices, hidden cameras in an apartment or car, records actions and conversations without your knowledge.

  • The partner sends you, your friends or relatives messages with insults or threats.

  • The partner sends unsolicited explicit photos and videos or forces you to do so.

  • Your partner is blackmailing you with intimate photos or videos. He can threaten to publish them and put forward various demands: to talk, to return to the relationship, to pay him for these photos, etc.

  • The partner publishes your intimate materials in order to take revenge, humiliate, ruin the reputation.

How to protect yourself from digital violence

Discuss the boundaries with your partner

In a healthy relationship, partners respect each other’s personal boundaries. At the same time, people may have different needs for communication: someone wants to constantly correspond, someone needs to call once a day. Discuss with your partner the level of communication you are comfortable with, identify the actions that each of you can or cannot take. For example: “Let’s call each other in the evenings, but do not distract each other during work” or “I do not hide my password from the phone, but you cannot take his gadget without my knowledge, and I will not take yours.”

Know that you don’t have to do everything your partner asks you to do.

The partner may disagree with your rules and say that you do not love him and do not trust him. Remember that you shouldn’t feel guilty about standing up for personal boundaries. First of all, you should think about your safety. In a healthy relationship, your partner won’t force you to do something you don’t like at all.

Remember that everything that got on the Internet remains there forever.

Before sending someone a video or photo of intimate content, consider whether it is safe for you. Such files can become a lever of pressure or an instrument of revenge if you and your partner decide to separate in the future. Even if you trust your partner or know that they will immediately delete these materials, it is still not safe to send intimate photos, because data about them can remain on the Internet.

Understand privacy and privacy settings

For gadgets and social networks, choose a strong password, two-factor identification, unlock devices and applications with a fingerprint or Face ID. Check if your devices are running spyware that tracks geolocation. Signs of the presence of stalker software can be a sharp deterioration in performance, changes in settings without your knowledge, the appearance of unfamiliar applications, failures in programs that used to work fine.

What to do if you recognize digital violence in your relationship

Recommendations by Naira Parsadanyan, psychologist and head of the psychological service at the Violence.No Center*.

If the relationship continues

  • Try to clarify the situation in dialogue first, if possible and safe. Sometimes there is a misunderstanding. For example, a person believes that it is right to call his partner every hour and be interested in his affairs. He may not suspect that for the second person in a couple, this looks like an attempt at control or pressure.

If it becomes clear that the partner considers what is happening to be the norm and thus seeks to establish his control in the relationship:

  • Be careful with the information you want to share, be it text, voice message, photo.

  • Seek help from relatives, friends, domestic violence specialists. It’s important to share what’s going on, even if you don’t have the option to leave. See a psychologist who can help you put together a safety plan. You can consult with a lawyer: if the actions of the actor of violence fall under some article of the Criminal Code, he will help you prepare documents for the court.

  • Make recordings of telephone conversations, screenshots of correspondence in which you are insulted, blackmailed, or threatened.

  • If possible, create new mail accounts, social networks, instant messengers from a device that only you have access to.

  • Use the browser in incognito mode, which will not save your search history.

  • Check your phone settings. It is better to turn off the location display altogether or leave it only when using a specific application. It is worth periodically changing passwords and PIN codes, even if they are different for different applications and accounts. Set up two-factor authentication where possible, and check your phone’s privacy settings to see which apps you’ve allowed to store location and time information.

  • Ask close people not to share information about you on social networks. Don’t let them post pictures of you and tag the places they’ve been with you.

If the relationship ended, the violence stopped

  • Watch your mental health. Some effects appear immediately, some, such as PTSD symptoms, can occur within six months. If you observe changes in your psycho-emotional state, try to seek help from a psychologist.

  • If surveillance is suspected, then you may need a digital security specialist. You should be on your guard if your partner or former partner shows up in a place and at a time that he could not know about. Or he, as if by chance, pronounces words from your dialogue with other people, casually asks about the place that you discussed with your interlocutor. Sometimes abusers can simply send screenshots of your location or correspondence with other people, manipulating what everyone knows about you. You can check the car in the auto repair shop for tracking devices, and take the gadgets to the computer technician.

Self-help tips for survivors of digital violence

  • Identify your feelings and thoughts about what happened. Remember that all your reactions are normal reactions to abnormal circumstances.

  • Remind yourself of your strengths and achievements that remain the same despite the abuse that happened to you.

  • Practice self-care: try to get enough sleep, eat well, include in your daily routine activities that you enjoy: yoga, running, meditation, listening to music, drawing.

  • Avoid self-blame. It is better to invest your energy in what you can control in your life. Rethinking the experience and learning the skills to set personal boundaries may help.

  • Practice self-compassion: be kind to yourself, be aware of your thoughts and feelings, learn to accept your imperfections without judgment.

  • Avoid substance abuse and anything that can cause you physical or emotional harm.

  • Feel free to seek professional help.

  • Look for support where you will be heard, understood and accepted.

Why digital violence is important to notice and stop

Digital violence can be as traumatic as more obvious violence in the form of insults, threats, beatings, Parsadanyan explains. But in some cases, according to the expert, it can affect even more, because digital violence can be committed anonymously, at any time and in any place. Because of this, the injured party may not understand the connection between the actions of the abuser and changes in their psychological state.

The expert emphasizes that digital violence can continue even if the actor of violence no longer takes any action. The Internet remembers everything, therefore, if a person only once posted intimate pictures of the victim on the network and did nothing else, these frames can spread on the network for a very long time.

Here are some of the consequences of digital violence, the expert cites as an example:

  • High level of anxiety.

  • Depression.

  • Panic attacks.

  • Problems with concentration.

  • Decreased self-esteem and quality of life in general.

  • Formation of a negative outlook on the future.

  • Lack of trust.

  • Attempts to isolate themselves from communication with other people.

  • Feeling unable to take life back under control;

  • Substance abuse.

  • The onset of symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In 2017, Statista conducted a study on the consequences of online violence. It was attended by 911 women aged 18 to 55 years. The results showed that among those who experienced digital violence:

  • 63% experienced sleep problems

  • 61% experienced a decrease in self-esteem or self-confidence;

  • 58% felt a sense of danger when using or intending to use the Internet, social networks;

  • 54% felt insecure when they received email or social media notifications.

How the law (not) protects us from digital violence

Legal protection from digital violence is difficult. There are more and more digital tools and ways to control, influence and intimidate the online environment, but the legislation is changing slowly.

In Russia, there are several articles in the Criminal Code that can bring actors of digital violence to justice. There is article 138 “Violation of the secrecy of correspondence, telephone conversations, postal, telegraphic or other communications of citizens” and there are cases initiated on it. If someone reads the messages of the correspondence in your account, and then tells other people, then he can be held accountable for this. This happened in January 2021 with a woman from the Tver region: a colleague read the correspondence in her laptop, and then retold them to other employees. As a result, the woman filed an application, and her colleague faces a fine of 80 thousand rubles.

The Criminal Code of the Russian Federation also has Article 137 “Violation of privacy”. It implies that if someone illegally collects or disseminates information about your private life that constitutes a personal or family secret, or publicly displays it without your permission, then he may receive a fine, or compulsory work, or arrest. In 2020, in the Leningrad region, a man filed an application after he was sent a screenshot of his own messages on social networks from an unknown number. A criminal case was opened under two articles at once: the secrecy of correspondence and privacy were violated, because the messages contained personal, secret information.

In Russia, there is no legal concept of “porno-revenge” – the publication of intimate photos and videos without the consent of the person who shot them. But those who distribute other people’s intimate photos and videos can be attracted to everything under the same Article 137.

In practice, holding the person who subjected you to sexualized digital violence is difficult to hold accountable. So, in 2018, Russian woman Valeria Volodina tried to get a trial of her former partner, who, after breaking up, posted intimate pictures of her on social networks, and also wrote threatening messages. It was possible to start a case under Article 137, but two years later the police stopped it due to the expiration of the statute of limitations. Then the girl turned to the European Court of Human Rights. In 2021, the court ruled in the case of Valeria Volodina v. Russia and found that the laws of the country do not provide the necessary protection to victims of online bullying. This was the first case of its kind before the ECtHR.

In some countries of the world for such actions you can go to jail. So, in 2009, the Philippines became one of the first countries to introduce criminal liability for such actions: a person for publishing other people’s intimate materials can go to jail for three years. In England and Wales, “revenge porn” became a crime in April 2015 and can carry a prison sentence of up to two years. And in Israel in 2014, the publication of intimate photographs without the consent of those depicted in them was recognized as a sexualized crime. It is punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

* The Violence.Net Center has been recognized by the Ministry of Justice as a foreign agent.

Cover: Olya Yogide / Burning hut

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