An ITV Wales investigation has found a rise in the number of domestic abuse crimes involving technology.
Across the country there were 435 more domestic abuse crimes recorded where technology used against a victim in 2018 compared with 2017.
Figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request found increases in three out of four of Wales’ police forces. North Wales saw the highest number of domestic abuse crimes using technology in 2018 at 491, but South Wales recorded a slight drop in numbers.
Sarah, which is not her real name, was with her husband for 15 years. Over that time, overt displays of affection turned to manipulation and control. Her identity has been protected for her safety.
"There were elements of abuse which I think I didn't recognise at the time were actually control. That was our relationship and we had to get on with it."
The abuse took a dark turn when he started to use technology to monitor her.
Sarah told ITV Wales how her now ex-husband secretly installed software on her laptop called a Keylogger that told him everything she typed.
"He was able to keep an eye on what I was doing, who I was communicating with but also any plans as well" says Sarah.
He also bugged the house to listen to her telephone calls.
"There was another incident where the house was bugged, where he was bugging my telephone calls and things and then would question me when he came home later that day and he would manipulate and add like extra information into these telephone calls that didn't exist so you then be left questioning your sanity."
Sarah says the abuse got worse after they separated. The perpetrator had provided the family mobile phones. It meant he was able to see who she called and track her movements using an app.
While she was out of the house, he started letting himself in. He took items that she would use on a daily basis and sometimes, but not always, return them at a later date. This gaslighting behaviour left her believing she had early signs of dementia.
"He was actually taking my things and I was left believing that I actually had you know some problems with my memory which resulted in going to the doctors and getting a referral to see a neurologist. So I had the fear that I had early signs of dementia because I couldn't see or even I would never comprehend that that's something that somebody would do to somebody else."
Welsh Women’s Aid has told ITV News more and more women are coming forward and explain that the digital world is a part of their abuse.
Gwendolyn Sterk from Welsh Women’s Aid says:
"Women coming into refuge services or community services at local areas are reporting experiencing a variety of forms of online abuse and digital technology being used to control and abuse them."
Rachael Medhurst is a Cyber security lecturer at the University of South Wales, she has testified in court as an expert witness on digital aspects of crime.
She says the biggest problem is that “people don’t know how to prevent it or protect themselves” and advises everyone educates themselves about the technology they are using.
As the nature of domestic abuse changes, Welsh police forces are having to adapt too. The all-Wales lead on cyber crime, Gwent Police Chief Constable Pam Kelly, insists her officers are equipped to deal with this developing threat.
"It's a constant challenge because as you know technology changes everyday but we're certainly alive to the changes in technology, how they apply to domestic abuse and other crimes and we're making sure our officers are alive to this, aware of it and that we're applying that knowledge and training on the pavement to protect victims of domestic abuse.”
One Gwent police detective told ITV News that when they attend a home, they are trained to look at “everything now from mobile phones, to fridges that order their own groceries, to the home hub, anything really that has a technological imprint in it can be used to coercively control or stalk a victim.”
Figures show the number of domestic abuse crimes involving technology have increased overall:
- 2017 - 131
- 2018 - 263
- 2017 - 302
- 2018 - 491
- 2017 - 299
- 2018 - 225
- 2017- 266
- 2018 - 454
For Sarah, her life now is totally different. Her perpetrator was convicted and she has been free for a number of years.
"There is always light at the end of the tunnel you know I made it out of there, I'm still in one piece and that post-separation abuse is a very very scary thing and is a very long process but there is light at the end of the tunnel and it's always much brighter than living within that home."
This type of domestic abuse is an emerging trend and evolving as quickly as the technology itself advances. Researchersin London are delving into this dark area and are urging legislators to catch up too.
There are calls for technology companies to do more to protect potential victims, so what should someone if they think they're being monitored by a perpetrator?
Tips on how to stay safe online
- Strong passwords
- Change passwords regularly
- Don’t use the same password for everything
- Keep your antivirus and operating systems updated
- Keep talking to friends and reach out if it is safe to do so
Have you been affected by this story? Click the links below for confidential advice.