Heartbreak

The Scary Way Your Abuser Controls You (Even When He's Not Home)

Photo: Msporch, Proxima Studio | Canva 
Stalking on smart home devices

It’s no secret that smart home devices, like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home, have revolutionized the way you live these days.

However, thanks to this technology, there is an unfortunate new trend on the rise: Domestic abusers have found a way to further intimidate, scare, and “gaslight” their victims from remote locations using smart devices that are running at home.

Sure, it might seem strange that smart devices can aid domestic violence and emotional abuse, but it happens more often than you'd think.

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What is gaslighting? Psychology Today defines it as "a malicious and hidden form of emotional and mental abuse, designed to plant seeds of self-doubt and alter your perception of reality." And through the use of smart home devices, gaslighting in relationships has become more common.

   

   

While they have many benefits — like turning your heat up and down, switching your lights on and off, or even playing your favorite tunes while you’re cooking and your hands aren’t free — there are some scary downsides to these devices that victims of domestic violence or people in emotionally abusive relationships have come to fear.

When these high-tech gadgets came out, many people found it hard to believe that they would simply speak out loud and something would change in their home right in front of their eyes.

Now, it's even harder to believe that you can speak out loud and something can change at home behind your back — without you ever knowing it.

Who would have thought domestic violence and emotional abuse victims would later have to learn how to deal with gaslighting when these devices are involved?

In an article published by Thomas Reuter’s Foundation, they revealed that “domestic abusers are increasingly using internet-connected smart devices to spy on their partners and control them at home” and went on to say that there has been, “an alarming trend in the misuse of everyday technology by current or former partners to control, isolate, humiliate and dominate their victims.”

As a survivor of domestic abuse, I encountered this myself during my marriage.

   

   

My husband illegally audio and videotaped me in my own home without me knowing it. He listened to conversations I had with friends, family, and my divorce attorney when preparing for our divorce trial.

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When we discovered that this was going on and attempted to file a case in our court system, we were told that federal wiretapping laws were not made for ordinary people like me, and that “this happens all the time.”

They said these laws were put in place to protect more important people like celebrities and politicians.

So many victims of domestic abuse and mental abuse will shake their heads and think, “Well, now what do we do?”

You are not likely going to remove these wifi-enabled devices from your home. So, it leaves one to wonder how to deal with gaslighting without any legal protection. 

For the people who are legitimately enjoying them for the purposes for which they were created, they are really fun to have around and you love them!

You cannot go back and stop abusers from the discovery they've made, which is how to use these devices remotely from their laptops to cause psychological abuse to their victims.

So, how do you stop these types of abuse? The answer may be simpler than you would think. 

These devices were designed to make your life simpler and more convenient, but security is often an afterthought. As vulnerabilities are detected (and there are many), new software will be released to patch the issues.

Make it a habit to check your apps and download all available updates and consider other ways of ensuring your smart devices can't be used against you, as well.

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From someone who has been through this cycle of abuse, I would suggest this: If you think it's happening, then chances are it is.

Download updates and put a patch on the problems until you can figure out your next steps.

This may buy you some time while your abuser figures out the next way to come at you. They don’t just relent.

How bad has it gotten when devices designed to make your life easier are now being used to terrorize you with mental abuse?

“We hear from many survivors who have similar stories, saying their abusers are using their smart home systems to essentially hold them, hostage, by hacking into home cameras, for example, or locking their intimate partners in their homes through remote door locks,” said Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline and loveisrespect, an organization dedicated to helping people in abusive relationships.

“Domestic violence is all about power and control, so as technologies become more sophisticated, abusers are finding new ways to use this technology to exert that abuse. Technologies devised to keep people safe are now having the opposite effect on domestic violence victims," she explains.

So please, remember this: Strength + Support + Plan = Freedom. You can do this.

Many victims of domestic abuse have made it to the other side. We are here cheering you on because we know what you have been through. Use that strength to carry you through until you find your own again.

You will. I promise. Get help, leave safely, and know that you are not alone in dealing with gaslighting and horrible emotional abuse.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or anxiety as a result of ongoing emotional abuse, you are not alone.

Domestic abuse can happen to anyone and is not a reflection of who you are or anything you've done wrong.

If you feel as though you may be in danger, there is support available 24/7/365 through the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 1-800-799-7233. If you’re unable to speak safely, text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474/

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Susan Sparks is an author, journalist, advocate, entrepreneur, survivor of domestic abuse, and the founder of TheSoda-Pop, a website where people can go for domestic violence help and education, and to find a community of others who share the same story.