Domestic violence in the online world

Social media has become a serious concern with regard to domestic violence and other forms of abuse for Behavioral Health practitioners not just aboard Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, California, but around the world in 2019.

One factor in increased online abuse is the increase in the prolific use of smart phones, and applications found on those devices.

“A study by Pew Research Center found that 96 percent of adults ages 18-29 and 92 percent of adults ages 30-49 own a smartphone,” said Michelle Adams, prevention and education specialist and victim advocate with Behavioral Health Section on base. “Approximately 77 percent of adults report that they go online every day, and more than 1 in 4 report being online almost constantly. It also indicates that 97 percent of victim service providers surveyed said that they work with survivors who were abused, harassed, or stalked by their abusers through the use of technology.”

Some of the most commonly used technology and online platforms for abusers are smart phones, other mobile phones, social media applications, email and even Global Positioning Systems, she explained.

“Some phones come with a locator software, such as ‘Find my iPhone,’ and in other cases, people can download an app that is used for tracking someone’s GPS locations,” Adams said. “Whereas in a healthy relationship, these apps and software options can be useful in keeping loved ones safe, in unhealthy relationships, they can be used to track someone, keep tabs on them, and even stalk them.”

Other forms of cyber-abuse can include syncing phones, downloading all of a partner’s contacts, installing malware for various purposes, or even copying emails.

“If someone is an abuser and wishes to keep tabs on their spouse, they may insist on Skyping or using Facetime obsessively,” Adams said. “That way, they can keep their victim accountable, and they can even check out the live video background to ascertain where they are, and perhaps see if they’re somewhere other than where they said they would be.”

Another concern is the use and abuse of images uploaded to various software applications such as Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and more.

“Someone may use information and images from these sources for the purposes of cyber intimidation,” said James Maher, Behavioral Health Section head and licensed clinician. “They may make threats to expose their victim’s images to family, friends, strangers, or even their employer if the victim doesn’t comply with their demands. They may also threaten to expose the victim’s secrets, or threaten them with public shaming or even firing from their job.”

In some cases, the abuser may use the information on social media to threaten the victim’s children, or even threaten to expose images or secrets of the victim to those children.

“Some of the classic abuser signs are threats of harm to people, loved ones, or even pets of the victim,” Maher said.

“They may even monitor communications with friends and family, to exert power and control,” Adams said. “Or perhaps they’ll send you unwanted and unexpected graphic images. It is important not to dismiss the actions that make you uncomfortable just because they happened online. Online abuse is abuse.” Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, in person or online.

“Domestic violence is an act which does not discriminate,” Adams said. “There are no factors such as race, religion, financial status, or background which indicate who might be a victim or an abuser.”

However, there are some things which may indicate the possibility for increased violence, and even the possibility of murder.

“If a person is employed, then the chance that they will be violent after an arrest for domestic violence are less than if the abuser is unemployed,” Maher said. “Also, if there is substance abuse of some kind involved, then there may be an increase in physical violence.”

One indicator is the use of strangulation.

“If an abuser has strangled their victim at any time during a disagreement, there is a high likelihood that the next step will be murder,” Maher said.

In specialized training as a victim advocate, Adams related one of the lessons in which they were taught to look for hidden signs of strangulation when responding to an incident of domestic violence.

“Often, if the victim has been strangled, they and the abuser will deny it when we and law enforcement arrive, so we have to be careful to look for signs that might not be readily seen by those without the specialized training,” Adams said. “We want to be sure we intervene in the most effective way possible so that we can get all parties involved the help that they need. We don’t ever want to see things escalate and we are here to help ensure that they do not.”

Current training also indicates that an abuser may be male or female. Just as victims may be male or female.

“It is important to figure out the truth of what’s happening so that the abusers are held accountable,” Maher said. “There are things that can help people involved in domestic violence incidents to prevent future escalations or even future incidents, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in which I or another licensed clinician can challenge current thought patterns and belief systems, in order to train the brain and the individual to think differently. We challenge automatic thinking and teach the person how to develop new patterns.”

They also have other classes available that can help individuals learn mindfulness exercises, breathing techniques, anger management, emotional regulation, and effective verbal communication.

“Victims of cyber abuse can help themselves in presenting a case of abuse by keeping records of the abusive communications,” Adams said. “Keep records. Save the threatening or abusive communications and messages even if you have to print them off or send them to a secret email address. Also, have a safety plan for yourself and your loved ones. Reach out and mobilize the resources available to you through our Behavioral Health team.”

Reports of cyber abuse and domestic violence can be made either restricted or unrestricted. In the restricted report, it stays within the Behavioral Health staff and the person reporting, but allows them to access resources and help without going up the abuser’s chain-of-command. In the unrestricted report, the abuser’s chain-of-command is notified and official action is taken by military personnel as well as law enforcement. How the report is filed is typically at the discretion of the victim reporting the abuse.

For further information about resources available, contact Behavioral Health at 760-577-6533.

DISCLAIMER: This article was originally published at the Defense Video Imagery Distribution System Hub ( The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

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