When Domestic Violence Enters Cyberspace

Based on previous purchases, Amazon.com thought I “might like to know” that my ex-abuser’s re-mastered CD is now available for pre-order. I have since deleted from my purchase history the items that probably triggered this, hoping this is the last such notice.

Our relationship ended more than 20 years ago, with him in handcuffs and me in an ambulance. He was sentenced to community service and “no further contact.” This was well before most states enacted laws explicitly including electronic forms of communication as part of stalking or harassment behaviors.

The ex tried “friending” me on MySpace two years ago, which I “ignored” with a click of the mouse. This account is long gone, but social-networking privacy issues hog headlines for good reason. My Facebook settings are basic, for friends and family, but we know there are no guarantees. Besides, what will my ex see, save for photos of my happy life? I refuse to live in fear, choosing instead to enjoy the global network of support which social networking gives me.

Sometimes, though, lack of privacy can actually enable crime. According to the Daily Mail, crimes involving social networks are on the rise, and “harassment” is the most frequently reported crime involving Facebook. Cyberstalking and cyber-bullying have undoubtedly led to violence. One jealous ex flew 4,000 miles to murder a woman after seeing her on Facebook with a new boyfriend.

Even without a violent act, technology adds a new element of fear to an abused person’s psyche. Haters spew malicious comments beneath YouTube videos, hiding behind screens and usernames; some make thinly-veiled death threats from the perceived safety of their blogs. Privacy loopholes in Google Buzz allowed this blogger’s abusive ex-husband to “auto-follow” her without her consent, while a Wisconsin District Attorney further harmed a domestic abuse victim by harassing her via text-message.

For all I know, my former abuser might receive announcements from Amazon about me, or read what I publish on the Internet. A quick search of his name in the online Maryland judiciary system database reveals that our case was closed in 1991, but he has had an active “civil case” pending since 2000. Our respective information is out there, floating around the web for all to see, and I wonder if we will forever be entangled in some Internet algorithm.

Still, as annoying as Amazon’s intrusion was to me, social-networking technology should not be demonized. Texting helped to raise money for Haiti’s earthquake victims, recent Iranian protests were reported via cell phones and grassroots programs like Hollaback help empower victims of harassment. Plus, online precautions can be taken: a Harvard Law School report cites an “explosive growth” in domestic violence shelters establishing web presences, and many such sites offer Internet safety tips, mostly focused on “erasing one’s tracks.”

Regarding our user data, consumers must continue to demand transparency from companies such as Facebook, Google and Amazon. It’s crucial that Internet-based corporations make privacy a priority, placing control firmly in the hands of their users. Domestic Violence Awareness Month will end this Sunday, but we all know the harsh reality: Survivors will remain forever alert.

Photo from Flickr user kiwanja under Creative Commons 2.0.


  1. Great article! Thank you so much for writing this…

  2. Ditto Cara's comment. Thank you for revealing very personal examples of a widespread problem of abuse and violence. With technology and our everyday lives, we need to keep reconsidering safety and abuse issues. Like you point out, technology can add an element of risk for survivors but also a tool for MAJOR pushback! Thanks for this important article.

  3. Monica Shores says:

    So glad you're writing here and so glad you chose to keep embracing a life on the internet! I too have had the crazy ex situation, and I made the same decision you did: I can't let someone else limit my experience in the world.

  4. I agree, great article! You pose such an interesting topic! I work at a domestic violence shelter and when I went through training we touched base on this topic but your article was very helpful. Technology is constantly growing and changing so its important to take into consideration the advantages and disadvantages this change brings. Thank you for sharing your story as well as your insight, it is much appreciated 🙂

  5. shawnakenney says:

    Thank you for reading & commenting. The support means the world to me. I might not be alive today, had it not been for true friends. We all need one another.

  6. I totally agree that social networking should not be used as a scapegoat for abusers. I too have a lot to thank social networking for. My ex-abuser classically isolated me from family and friends and I found myself totally alone in a new city. Once I kicked him out of my life, got hooked to the net and set up my reconnection with family and friends (including the precious new friendships I made in my new city) it helped with the healing process…Having said that, I agree about the issue of harassment via sms etc. It can take a long time, a lot of strength and courage to get these people out of our heads, we do not need constant reminders of them. I totally agree with the comment by Shira that while technology can be used as a tool for abusers (yet again revealing their weak and fearful nature) it can be used as a means of 'pushback'..the fact that we can discuss this on this forum is an example of just that solidarity and networking power survivors can achieve..something abusers never will because by their very nature they isolate and disentegrate any relationship they touch. We should never have to compromise our way of living in any shape or form for them…let's face it, we have been there and that is why we are now here…

  7. Very interesting topic. It's scary how much someone can find out online. This just shows we all need to be careful! I find those 'suggestions' by various internet companies to be quite annoying at times too.

  8. Susan Kranyik says:

    Great article Shawna! From one of your Wilmington Peeps, Susan K!

  9. I don't like to think about this, but obviously we all need to. Thanks for presenting a balanced perspective encouraging cautious courage.

  10. Very important that we stay aware of this issue of violence which speaks true to who we are and our realities. Thank you Shawna for sharing your experience to help us and each other.

  11. i have long been concerned by cyber hate & the ugliness unleashed by the anonymity of the internet. thanks to ms for having ms kenney bring her insight to this subject. she is a wonderful writer, & this is an excellent article!

  12. Excellent article, thank you so much for putting it out there, and you're right: survivors remain ever alert.

  13. I thing I love about you Shawna is you didn't let that guy or anything else stop you. You are an inspiration to all women. I so happy to call you "friend". Love ya M

  14. Hi,

    I agree with you that technology adds a new element of fear to an abused person’s psyche.


  15. I understand completely i left town for 7 years i come back only to tie up some court things..i see my ex in the court house…i go home do a brief google of my name found that the address i have kept so secret and safe for the last for years posted online by the same courts that gave me the protection order…ffs people does human life mean that little? Now all i can do is watch my windows..he said he would kill me i still believe it…and wait for my court case to be over how is terror any way to live?

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