A Closer Look At Tech Abuse: What It Is, And What To Do If You’re Experiencing It

by Amanda Rodhe

Have you ever had a partner say something cruel about you on social media? Has your boyfriend or girlfriend made you feel pressured to send an explicit picture? Has your partner demanded that you provide them with your phone or computer password?

If you’ve experienced any of these behaviors in your relationship, you are familiar with tech abuse firsthand. And with most teens living significant portions of their lives with phones in hand and social media apps open, tech abuse is prevalent in teen relationships. The Urban Institute reports that 25% of teens have experienced tech abuse.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what constitutes tech abuse and what you can do if your partner is using technology to manipulate and harm you.

What is Tech Abuse?

Although tech abuse is a newer phenomenon, enabled by the proliferation of computers, smartphones, and wearable devices, the impulses that drive a tech abuser are nothing new. Tech abuse, like other forms of dating abuse, is rooted in the abuser’s desire to control, manipulate, belittle, and coerce their partner. 

Tech abuse is any kind of abuse that can be facilitated by technology and can include:

  • Bullying behavior, which might be public or private. A partner posting photos meant to embarrass you on social media, sending degrading text messages, or encouraging others to say mean things on social media or via group chat are all examples of bullying behavior.
  • Keeping tabs on your whereabouts. If your partner is using a GPS tracking app or constantly looking at social media to gauge where you are, those are stalking behaviors.
  • Controlling what you do on- and offline. Demanding access to your passwords so they can monitor who you’re talking with, dictating who you can and can’t follow on social media, and threatening you when you don’t respond to texts or calls immediately are all forms of tech-enabled controlling abuse.
  • Sexual coercion. Some people use technology to force their partners to do things they’re uncomfortable with. This might be ordering you to send explicit photos or videos that you don’t want to create or share. It might also be them sending unwanted explicit photos to you. Sharing photos or videos of you with others without your consent and taking pictures of you without your knowledge also constitute sexual coercion.

Tech abuse doesn’t usually happen in a vacuum. In fact, 96% of teens who report experiencing tech abuse also say they’ve been abused in other ways.

What if I’m Experiencing Tech Abuse?

First, it’s important to know that you have done nothing to cause this abuse; your partner’s behavior is not okay, and it is not your fault.

Some people feel compelled to downplay it or write it off when they experience tech abuse. Your partner saying harmful things about you on the internet might not feel as painful as them saying those same things to your face. But no matter where the abuse is happening—in person or online—it is unacceptable.

If your partner is using technology to abuse you or monitor your behavior, it’s likely not safe to look for help and resources on your own computer or phone. Instead, talk to a trusted friend or family member in person. Or, do research on a computer at the public library or community center, so that your partner is unable to access your browser history.

Reaching out for support when you are experiencing abuse is the first step to breaking the cycle and getting the help you need. Day One’s team is here, and we offer counseling and legal services for teens experiencing abuse. Please fill out our contact form, call us at 800-214-4150, or text us at 646-535-DAY1 (3291) if you or a friend or loved one needs help.

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