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Digital domestic abuse is on the rise

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Photo: Video by tmj4.com

Digital domestic abuse is on the rise

By Stephanie Graham, Susan Kim. CREATED Aug 11, 2014

The constant calls, the threatening texts -- Brittny said her ex-boyfriend's electronic communication was relentless.

"I was always fearful of not answering my phone when he called and not responding to his text messages," she recalls.

After months of high-tech harassment, Brittny said she realized she was a victim of 'digital domestic abuse.' It's a new problem psychiatrist Gail Saltz said is growing.

"Now, sadly people are using digital technology to exert their power, their influence, control 24/7," Dr. Saltz explains.

Digital abuse is just starting to be recognized by experts and goes beyond constant phone calls and text messages. At the National Domestic Violence Hotline, many callers report their partner's smartphone and social media surveillance is increasing.

"Things that range from constantly checking to what they're posting on social media, asking for passwords, to more extreme cases as where partners create fake identifies on Facebook to see if they can get their partner to engage with someone else, and then accusing them of cheating and flirting in appropriately," said Katie Ray-Jones, the president of the hotline.

Dr. Saltz said  the popularity of being constantly connected can make recognizing a problem difficult.

"Isn't this what everybody does? You know, everybody is on social networking, everybody is texting, isn't that just normal behavior?" she said.

That normal behavior can turn to obsession. It's important to recognize warning signs, like extreme jealousy, monitoring, and isolation.

Art Bowker is a cyber crime specialist. He warns digital abusers can escalate their surveillance by using apps which monitor their partner's location through their phone's GPS, or installing key-logging software that records what they type on a computer.

"No one needs to be a computer genius to install this software," he said. "This software is very, very easy to install."

Dr. Saltz said even more troubling -- digital abuse can turn dangerous.

People of all ages are vulnerable to the use of digital technology to basically be abusive and that abuse that starts in that way can often lead to, directly to physical abuse," she said.

Brittny said when her ex-boyfriend's digital abuse became physical she ended the relationship. Now she warns others who think their digital boundaries may be violated to reach out for help right away.

"When I was going through this, I felt like I was completely alone. I didn't tell anybody about what was happening," she explains.

The head of the National Domestic Violence hotline said it's difficult to estimate exactly how many people digital abuse affects, because some victims don't even recognize it. Experts said in some cases, it's a relationship red flag that can be fixed if you work through it, but in others it can rise to the level of stalking or harassment.

If you feel your safety is in jeopardy though you should immediately contact local police.