Technology-Assisted Domestic Violence

Last updated February 2019

The increased accessibility to and affordability of technology has opened a new arena for domestic violence. As technology rapidly evolves, so do the forms and tools of violence. In light of the ever-changing nature of this field, this page does not seek to provide a comprehensive picture of technology-assisted domestic violence. Rather, this page provides an overview of this phenomenon and details some of the more pernicious emerging forms of violence.

Due to the evolving nature of technology-assisted domestic violence, researchers are only beginning to investigate the issue and legislatures are still grappling with the best ways to protect survivors. What research does exist shows the risks and harms that technology can pose in domestic violence cases. In 2014, a Pew Research Center Poll found that young women between the ages of 18 and 29 were disproportionally more likely to be the victim of online abuse: 26% of those surveyed had been stalked online and 25% had been sexually harassed.[1] Additionally, more women than men reported knowing the identity of the person who harassed them online, indicating a higher likelihood that their harasser was a current or former spouse or intimate partner.[2]

Technology-Assisted Stalking

It is well-documented that stalking may often be a warning sign of attempted homicide in situations of domestic violence. Technology-assisted stalking, however, is commonly misunderstood and minimized by those who see it as less of a threat than physical stalking.[3] Yet, as more individuals carry smartphones and surveillance technology becomes increasingly affordable, the threat of technology-assisted stalking increases.

One recent study of technology-assisted stalking found that “there are many spyware and/or tracking apps that anyone can download, many of them available on official app stores. Moreover, in addition to apps that are specifically intended to facilitate abuse, there are also dozens of legitimate apps that can be misused by abusers.”[4] Often personal reviews left on the pages for different apps and devices reveal the more insidious uses for harmless-sounding programs, such as those that tell potential buyers that an app intended to help find a lost phone is useful if one suspects their partner is cheating.[5] Other apps market themselves as a useful tool for monitoring a child’s internet usage while simultaneously posting blogs about how to use the app to read deleted messages on a partner’s phone.[6]

The same study found that “[i]n addition to enabling abusers to search for information on how to abuse, the Internet also enables abusers to find information that can help them locate a victim. Personal and organizational websites, blogs, social media platforms, and more, often provide names, photos, contact information, and other details.”[7]

Use of Smart Home Technology

Along with the proliferation of smartphones, the use of smart home technology has increased substantially, from 17 million connected homes in 2015 to 29 million in 2017.[8] These homes contain devices such as internet-connect televisions, thermostats, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, lights, and door locks. Men make up the majority of those purchasing and installing smart home technology, and therefore are the ones who have primary access to controls and passwords.[9] As these items are internet connected, they can be activated from afar and can be used to monitor or harass victims in their homes. One domestic violence advocate told reporters “callers have said the abusers were monitoring and controlling them remotely through the smart home appliances and the smart home system,” while another noted that victims “feel like they’re losing control of their home…[a]fter they spend a few days [at the shelter], they realize they were being abused.”[10]

Due to the rapidly changing nature of the technology, advocate, law enforcement, and legal professional must all be aware of how to account for smart home technology. One tactic suggested by some advocates is to ask judges to include smart home devices in restraining orders. However, “even if people get restraining orders, remotely changing the temperature in a house or suddenly turning on the TV or lights may not contravene a no-contact order.”[11] Further, others caution that restraining order that include smart home technology may be found to be over-inclusive and therefore unenforceable until laws are amended to reflect updates in technology.[12]

Nonconsensual Distribution of Intimate Images

Another concerning form of technology-aided domestic violence is nonconsensual distribution of intimate images (NCII). NCII occurs when a perpetrator—often a former or estranged intimate partner or spouse—publically shares private sexual images, videos, or messages of or by the victim without the victim’s consent.[13] NCII is often colloquially referred to as “revenge porn,” but this phrase can be misleading “because it suggests that a person shared the intimate images as a reaction to a victim’s behavior.”[14]

Countries have moved at varying speeds to address NCII. For example, Canada  has made it a crime to “knowingly publish[], distribute[], transmit[], sell[], make[] available or advertise[] an intimate image of a person knowing that the person depicted in the image did not give their consent to that conduct….”[15] Additionally, Australia has instituted a civil penalty, under which an individual who has posted without consent or threatened to post an intimate image of another person on an applicable platform is subject to a fine of 500 penalty units,[16] totaling AUS$105,000 as of 2019.[17] However, while women have been able to successfully sue their former partners in the United States for publicizing private sexual content, attorneys who have worked on the cases find that U.S. law “lag[s] behind technology.”[18]

[1] Pew Research Center, Online Harassment (Oct. 2014), 4–5 (available at

[2] Id. at 27.

[3] Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Hundreds of Apps Can Empower Stalkers to Track Their Victims, N.Y. Times (May 19, 2018),

[4] Diana Freed et al, Digital Technologies and Intimate Partner Violence: A Qualitative Analysis with Multiple Stakeholders, 1 Proc. ACM Hum.-Comput. Interact 1, 10 (2017).

[5] Valentino-DeVries, supra note 3.

[6] Id.

[7] Diana Freed et al, Digital Technologies and Intimate Partner Violence: A Qualitative Analysis with Multiple Stakeholders, 1 Proc. ACM Hum.-Comput. Interact 1, 10 (2017).

[8] McKinsey & Company, There’s No Place Like a Connected Home (2017),

[9] Nellie Bowles, Thermostat, Locks and Lights: Digital Tools of Domestic Abuse, N.Y. Times (June 23, 2018),

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] William Vogeler, Can Smart Home Devices Be Covered by Restraining Orders?, FindLaw (June 28, 2018),

[13] National Network to End Domestic Violence, Facebook’s Proactive Approach to Addressing Nonconsensual Distribution of Intimate Images, Technology Safety (July 10, 2018),

[14] Id.

[15] Canada Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c C-46, § 162.1(1).

[16] Enhancing Online Safety (Non-consensual Sharing of Intimate Images) Act 2018 (Cth) (Austl.).

[17] Penalty Units, AUSTRAC (last modified Dec. 21, 2018),

[18] Christine Hauser, $6.4 Million Judgment in Revenge Porn Case Is Among Largest EverN.Y. Times (Apr. 11, 2018),