Special Report: Digital Abuse Dangers - 14 News, WFIE, Evansville, Henderson, Owensboro

Special Report: Digital Abuse Dangers

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Experts are warning of a growing form of domestic violence they call "digital abuse".

It's when one partner uses technology to control and intimidate their significant other.

Brittny says her ex-boyfriend's electronic communication was relentless, "I was always fearful of not answering my phone when he called and not responding to his text messages."

After months of high-tech harassment, Brittny says she realized she was a victim of digital domestic abuse.

"Now, sadly people are using digital technology to exert their power, their influence, control 24/7," says Dr. Gail Saltz, psychiatrist.

Digital abuse is just starting to be recognized by experts and goes beyond constant phone calls and text messages.

"Things that range from constantly checking to what they're posing on social media, asking for passwords, to more extreme cases as where partners create fake identities on Facebook to see if they can get their partner to engage with someone else, and then accusing them of cheating and flirting inappropriately," says Katie Ray-Jones, National Domestic Violence Hotline.

And the popularity of being constantly connected can make recognizing a problem difficult.

"Isn't this what everybody does? You know, everybody is on social networking, everybody is texting, isn't that just normal behavior?" says Dr. Saltz.

One cyber crime specialist warns digital abusers can escalate their surveillance by using apps that monitor their partner's location through their phone's GPS, or installing keylogging software that records what they type on a computer.

"No one needs to be a computer genius to install this software. This software is very, very easy to install," says Art Bowker, Cyber Crime Specialist.

Dr. Saltz says even more troubling is the fact that digital abuse can turn dangerous, "People of all ages are vulnerable to the use of digital technology to basically be abusive and that abuse starts in that way can often lead to, directly to physical abuse."

Brittny says when her ex-boyfriend's digital abuse became physical, she ended the relationship.

Now she warns others who think their digital boundaries may be violated to reach out for help right away, "When I was going through this, I felt like I was completely alone. I didn't tell anybody about what was happening."

The head of the National Domestic Violence Hotline says it's important to recognize the signs of digital abuse, and to set digital boundaries in a relationship.

She says it's difficult to estimate exactly how many people are affected by this abuse, because some victims don't even recognize it.

If you feel your safety is in jeopardy, you should contact police immediately.

For more information about how to tell if you're in a digitally abusive relationship, click here.

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