Smart home devices can control the temperature in your room through an app or lock your doors with the press of a button. Their ease and accessibility have found their way into millions of homes across the country. Their normalization means they’ve seeped into all aspects of home life, including their potential use for domestic violence.
In a piece for The New York Times, several women share their stories of how their abusive partners misused their device’s easy Internet connectivity and access against them. Doorbells rang with no one there, speakers blared music without a prompt, appliances shut off without anyone touching it and lock combinations would change without warning.
It’s a frightening trend that domestic violence advocates are seeing more of.
Katie Ray-Jones, the chief executive officer of The National Domestic Violence Hotline, says she’s seen an uptick in the technology used to stalk and harass targets of domestic abuse. “Survivors are reaching out and discussing the ways smart technology is being used to coerce, manipulate, isolate or increase fear in the home,” she says.
Among survivors’ concerns are their abusers’ ability to lock doors remotely, monitor if they’re coming. going or looking for help. “Any behavior that indicates they’re seeking help, there’ll be repercussions in the home,” she adds.
The psychological component of feeling like you’re losing control of your home is a particular concern with this alarming trend. When abusers use the technology that’s meant to make people feel safer (like app-controlled locks), it preys on the victim’s sense of security.
It’s difficult to advise a one-plan-fits-all for people in a domestic abuse situation, so Ray-Jones encourages anyone who feels like they’re in danger to reach out to a domestic abuse advocate to devise an escape plan.
Leaving is often the most dangerous time for a survivor, so Ray-Jones has additional tips for those seeking help. “You want to be aware that your computer could be monitored,” she says. “Maybe doing an online chat may not be the safest thing to do, but calling an organization might be the safest way of communicating. Then delete your call history or call another number after you hang up to make sure if they [the abuser] calls the last number, they don’t see the program you were reaching out to.”
Landlines might be even safer to use if you have one since cellphones can be more easily monitored.