Today is Ada Lovelace day all over the world. It is a day that we celebrate excellent women in technology – and I am sure that if you google Ada Lovelace you will find thousands of tales of phenomenal women in blogs and on twitter, and maybe a tribute or two on YouTube. This is wonderful! But it is not how I am going to commemorate Ada Lovelace day. I want to talk about the other side – the darker side of technology that takes power away from women (and men and children too).
I want to start a conversation about the uses of technology in domestic abuse. Using the Internet allows victims of domestic abuse (DV) to reach out to others to get help, plan their escape, or even just to receive information and to inform. But the same technology traps cookies, saves browsing histories and can allow your abuser to stalk you through email (both by reading yours or sending you email) or GPS. In a recent survey of 479 DV victims aged 15-74, 25% of those had their browser history monitored. 24% had been repeatedly threatened, insulted or harassed by email. 18% had their email monitored. Did you see those numbers? At least 1 in 4 victims had technology used against them as a tool to continue abusive patterns.
Why do I bring this up on a day that we celebrate women in technology? Because an overwhelming number of DV victims are women. And an overwhelming number of those are exposed to the affordances of the Internet as a tool of abuse. So my celebration today is more a call to arms. We need strategies for keeping ourselves safe online to percolate through our school, our shelters, our book circles and cafe chats until they become part of the popular knowledge. Not only to protect ourselves from the rare boogey monster lurking in the chat room, but for the much more prevalent threat of the boogey monster in our beds.
For those of our friends in the States, check out The Technology Safety Project developed by the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Abuse. They really are doing amazing things at the WSCADV. They get that the answer is not to not use the tools, but to empower the victim to use the tools well.
On Ada Lovelave day, I want to celebrate all women in DV relationships that dare to use technology as a tool towards freedom and as a tool to heal. You rock. Now, share with your friends your strategies for doing it safely.