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Technology and Intimate Partner Abuse in the Kyrgyz Republic

The role of technology in intimate partner abuse is gaining recognition around the world, with studies revealing that 17% and 20% of domestic violence victims in Australia and the United States, respectively, also suffered from online stalking, harassment-by-text, and other forms of technology-facilitated violence by their abusive partner. As of 2018, researchers had identified over 200 apps that were marketed in the U.S. on the basis of their capacity to secretly monitor an intimate partner’s location, track her texts, log her keystrokes, and perform other stalking functions on her mobile phone.

Technology’s role in intimate partner abuse has only started to garner attention from academic, policy, and advocacy groups in the U.S., Australia, and Europe over the past 2 or 3 years. In the Kyrgyz Republic, it is almost wholly unrecognized and undiscussed. At For Families, we’re joining sufferers, technology companies, and lawyers to raise awareness of the urgent need to address technology-facilitated IPV in the Kyrgyz Republic and take steps to prevent it.

What is “technology-facilitated intimate partner violence?”

Intimate partner violence [IPV] is “any behavior within an intimate relationship that causes physical, psychological, or sexual harm to those in the relationship.” It can include not only physical violence such as slapping or hitting and sexual violence such as rape, but also emotional abuse (insulting, belittling, or humiliating a partner) and controlling behaviors such as monitoring a person’s movements, isolating her from family and friends, or restricting her access to employment, education, and finances.

Technology-facilitated IPV is any of the above forms of violence committed via or made easier by information communication technology, such as mobile phones, SMS texts, the internet, and social media outlets such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and others. It can take the form of online or Spyware-facilitated stalking, threatening or abusive emails and texts, and blackmail or stalking committed on social media sites, among other forms.

What is the impact of technology-facilitated intimate partner violence in the Kyrgyz Republic?

Technology-facilitated IPV can have a devastating effect on its victim’s freedom, psychological well-being, and emotional health. This is most evident in the descriptions of those who have suffered such violence directly [note that all names have been changed to protect the speakers’ anonymity]:

My husband put an app on my phone so my camera turns on whenever he calls. It turns on even if I don’t pick up. He calls constantly to make sure I’m not meeting my friends. He won’t let me go out unless I tell him where I’m going, and then he’ll call to make sure I didn’t lie about where I am. If I’m meeting someone he doesn’t like or am somewhere I didn’t say, then there are big problems when I get home. But at least this way I’m allowed to go out. I don’t know if I’d have permission to go out if he couldn’t check on me like this.

– Rezada, Bishkek, 2017

As Rezada’s story illustrates, mobile phones provide an unparalleled opportunity for stalking and the emotional abuse that it entails. Because we carry our mobile phones wherever we go, they give stalkers minute-to-minute data on where we are, who we’re with, and what we’re doing. And while Rezada is aware of her husband’s stalking (indeed, this awareness appears to be part of his strategy to control her), other victims may not know until it’s too late.

Our tendency to carry mobile phones everywhere we go can also intensify the emotional pain caused by technology-facilitated abuse and intimidation, as described by Anara:

I left our home to visit my mother in Bishkek. Once I got there, he started texting saying never to come back, that he was taking the children. He started threatening me and swearing at me and saying if I came back he would kill me. He texts all the time – I can’t get away from it. He won’t let me speak to the kids on the phone, all he does is text these threats every day.

– Anara, talking about her husband, Bishkek, 2018

Anara’s comments point to how technology makes harassment and intimidation easier, as well as the type of stalking that Rezada suffers. Like Anara, many victims of technology-facilitated IPV note that aggressive, threatening, and harassing texts can rob them of any sense of security or freedom. And because the texts can reach them wherever they are and whatever they are doing, there feel that there are no safe spaces where they can escape from the emotional abuse. Anara described further that not only did her husband’s texts make her frightened for herself; they were also a constant reminder that she was not able to speak with her children, couldn’t ask them if they were ok, and couldn’t comfort them even though she was far away.

Despite the harm it causes, technology-facilitated intimate partner violence is often played-down by victims, authorities, and bystanders. A common refrain is that ‘because the perpetrator is physically distant from the victim, the threat is not serious’. In the Kyrgyz Republic, where young women face pressure to marry starting from the age of 20, women’s relatives, friends, and acquaintances may push them to stay in relationships even where there is technology-facilitated IPV. Indeed, these well-meaning bystanders (and the victims themselves) may believe that the harassment is ‘romantic’ – reflecting a real attachment, concern, and love – and will decrease once a couple gets married. As Baktygul describes,

He’s very controlling. He texts 8 or 9 times a day asking where I am, what I’m doing, why I don’t respond to him. [My employer] has a schedule of meetings that’s available online – he found the schedule, so he knows when I’m in meetings and when I’m not and when I should respond right away and when I can’t. I can tell this relationship isn’t good for me. But no one understands why I don’t marry him, my family thinks I’m crazy for not marrying.

– Baktygul, Bishkek, 2018

Lawyers in the Kyrgyz Republic have noted that they have seen an increase not only in the number of  divorce cases where technology-facilitated stalking, harassment, and threats are involved – similar to the cases of Rezada, Anara, and Baktygul – but also in alimony cases where women’s ex-partners threaten to post intimate pictures of and private information about their ex-wives on social media unless those women agree not to seek financial support after divorce. This technology-facilitated blackmail is but one more example of the insidious ways that communications technologies can be used to control victims and impede their access to justice.

What is the scale of technology-facilitated intimate partner violence in the Kyrgyz Republic?

Unfortunately, no studies have been conducted on technology-facilitated IPV in the Kyrgyz Republic. Extrapolating from research conducted in the US and Australia, where roughly 20% of domestic violence victims have also suffered technology-facilitated intimate partner violence, anywhere from 1,400 to 140,000 women in the Kyrgyz Republic could be expected to have suffered technology-facilitated intimate partner violence (a wide margin indeed!).

The reason that this range of potential victims of technology-facilitated IPV is so wide is that data on domestic violence in the Kyrgyz Republic is itself inconclusive and variable. In 2016, some 7,053 cases of family violence were officially registered in the Kyrgyz Republic (Women and Men Survey [hereinafter: WMS], 113), 20% of which is 1,400 potential victims of technology-facilitated IPV. However, one in four women who were ever married in the Kyrgyz Republic have reported suffering physical violence,  commonly at the hands of their spouses (in 67% of cases) or ex-spouses (26% of cases) (2012 Demographic and Health Survey [hereinafter: DHS], 245, 249). Given that 98.5% of Kyrgyzstani women have been married at least once by the time they reach 50 and the female population is roughly 3 million, some 740,000 women (or 25% of ever-married women) will have suffered physical intimate partner violence by the time they are 50. Extrapolating, some 20% of these women – or roughly 140,000 to 150,000 – will have suffered technology-facilitated intimate partner violence. Meanwhile, the vast majority of married women in the Kyrgyz Republic experience an array of controlling or abusive behaviors: 71% undergo jealousy or anger from their husbands if they talk to other men, 69% have husbands who insist on knowing where they are are all times, and 14% are not permitted by their husbands to meet with female friends (DHS, 253), all of which lend themselves to technology-facilitated intimate partner violence.

The lack of reliable information on sufferers of technology-facilitated IPV in the Kyrgyz Republic points to an urgent need to study the prevalence, forms, causes, and consequences of such violence. Such information is key to devising effective policy interventions and direct services to victims.

What can I do if I think a family member or friend is suffering from technology-facilitated intimate partner violence?

If you are worried that a loved one or friend is experiencing technology-facilitated IPV, you should strive to support and help them while respecting their agency and right to make decisions for themselves. Some concrete ways you can support them include:

  1. Ask your friend or loved one what support she or he needs, and help her or him receive that support if you can;
  2. Check in frequently and ask how she or he is doing. But be aware that her or his devices may be monitored and thus your attempts to stay in touch could elicit violence from the abusive partner. Ask how she or he prefers to be contacted when you are meeting face to face (and preferably with any potentially Spyware infected devices out of hearing range);
  3. If you are connected with this friend or loved one on social media, refrain from posting images of or information about them online or tagging them in any events or photos. This could give their abusive partner information that they do not want made public;
  4. Check the privacy settings on your own accounts and try to limit the amount of your content that the abusive partner can see.

These tips are borrowed from SmartSafe. Additional ideas and information can be accessed at their website by clicking here.

What is For Families doing about technology-facilitated intimate partner violence?

For Families is working to prevent technology-facilitated IPV in the Kyrgyz Republic. Our current work includes:

  • Gathering case studies on technology-facilitated intimate partner violence to better understand its forms, causes, and consequences;
    • These are to be the basis of a broader study we plan to better assess the prevalence of technology-facilitated IPV across the country;
  • Raising awareness among lawyers of the risks of technology-facilitated intimate partner violence, what they can do to help clients who suffer from such abuse, and sharing best practices in electronic communications to minimize the risk that they expose their clients to further abuse;
    • We are developing a toolkit for lawyers to integrate into their work with domestic violence victims, including best practices when it comes to technology-facilitated IPV. This toolkit and related online resources will be the backbone of workshop sessions for lawyers on these topics;
  • Sharing information about international best-practices in protecting mobile phones, computers, and other electronic devices from Spyware and what to do if you think your device has been infected;
  • Recommending and lobbying for concrete changes to the legal-normative framework of the Kyrgyz Republic including, for example, the passage of a criminal sanction for stalking – which is not recognized as a criminal or administrative offense in the current laws of the Kyrgyz Republic.

Do you have more ideas for how we can stop technology-facilitated intimate partner violence in the Kyrgyz Republic? Get in touch with us at info@forfamilieskg.org or share your ideas in the comments section below – we would love to hear from you!

Protect Yourself Online

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If someone is committing violence against you or a loved one, he or she may not want you to learn about how to protect yourself and your rights. If this is the case for you, here are five ways to protect yourself while online.

1. Use a safer computer

If possible, try to use a computer that your abuser does not know about or have access to. This could be a private laptop or device that your abuser does not know about. Or it could be a public computer available at your university, an Internet cafe, or community center. You should know that there are programs that allow other people to see every letter that you type or site that you visit without you knowing it. These programs are called “Spyware” and are not easily detected. If your abuser has access to your computer, phone, or other device, he or she may have installed such programs on them. This is why it is so important to try to use a safe device that he or she has not accessed.

2. Use the “hidden” or “secret” setting on your browser

Many web browsers – like Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and others – allow you to use a special private setting while online. Choosing this setting means that none of the websites you visit appear in your browsing history and no one can see where you have been online. You can see a detailed description of how to access hidden settings on various browsers here. Note, however, that if your abuser has put Spyware on your computer, he or she may still be able to see what you type and what appears on your screen. It is safest to use a computer that he or she does not have access to and does not know about.

3. Delete specific sites from your browser history

Web browsers keep track of all of the sites that you visit and save them in what is called a “browser history”. After you leave the computer, your abuser can open up the browser history and see all of the sites you visited. To keep this from happening, you can delete your browser history – see instructions for various browsers here. But be careful! Your abuser may be suspicious if you delete the history of every site you visited – he or she will know that you were online but will see that no history comes up in the list. It is better to only delete certain sites – like this one – from your browser history after you are done with your session online.

Note, however, that if your abuser has put Spyware on your computer, he or she may still be able to see what you type and what appears on your screen. It is safest to use a computer that he or she does not have access to and does not know about.

4. Create new email, Facebook, Instagram, and other accounts

Your abuser may know how to access your online accounts such as your email, Facebook, Instagram, and others. He or she may monitor these accounts to know more about you, where you are, and what you’re doing, or he or she may log into these accounts to impersonate you and harm your other relationships. If this is the case, create new accounts that your abuser does not know about. Do this on a safe computer that he or she does not know about. Do not access or log into these new accounts on any device – phone, laptop, tablet, or other – that your abuser knows about or can access. Use an anonymous name when you set up these accounts. Use passwords that your abuser will not be able to know or guess easily and change your passwords frequently, being sure only to use a safe computer when you do so.

Be careful about closing down or no longer using old emails and other accounts that your abuser accesses. If you suddenly stop using your email or Facebook profile or close it down completely, your abuser may be suspicious and wonder why. If you cannot get away from your abuser and know that he or she will be suspicious of a decrease in your online activity, continue to use these nonsecure accounts but only for things that it is not dangerous for your abuser to know about.

5. Purchase your own mobile phone and other devices

If at all possible, purchase your own mobile phone, computer, and other electronic devices. Hardware purchased by your abuser may be infected with Spyware and other programs and settings to help him or her track your online activity. If you cannot afford your own device or worry that switching your current device will make your abuser angry, consider minimizing how much time you spend using your devices and try to leave them behind (especially your mobile phone) when out of the house. Try using a safer computer instead – such as one at an Internet cafe – especially when researching how to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your rights.

These steps can help you protect yourself from cyber-stalking and harassment by an abusive family member. If you or a loved one are being abused by a family member, you have the right to be protected by the police and the courts and to leave a dangerous environment immediately. To discuss developing a safety plan and other legal questions you may have, contact us. If you are in an emergency situation, call the police immediately at 102.

 

Marriage Registration – Why and How

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If you are like thousands of other Kyrgyzstani citizens, you may have married through a religious ceremony such as nikah without registering your marriage with the government (ZAGS). If so, you could be missing out on some important benefits for you and your children. This post goes over why and how to register your marriage.

Why register my marriage?

Registering your marriage with the government has many benefits for you and your children. While it may take some time and paperwork, it will make your life and your children’s lives easier in the future.

Benefits for you from registering your marriage include:

  • You and your spouse will have equal right to common property from the marriage. This means you will have equal rights to use and dispose of all salaries, pensions, property, cars, cattle, land, and other items acquired by you or your spouse during your registered marriage (Family Code Art. 35(2));
    • Even if you do not earn a salary – perhaps because you care for your children – by registering your marriage you make sure that you have the same right to your husband’s or wife’s salary, property, car, and other assets as he or she does (Family Code Art. 35(3));
  • If your spouse sells land, a house, an apartment, or makes another major transaction, he or she must attain your consent. If you do not agree to the sale or purchase, you can go to court to have it voided … meaning that it is as if the sale or purchase never happened (Family Code Art. 36)
  • If you and your spouse divorce, you will be entitled to spousal support (alimony) only if you have a registered marriage. You are not entitled to spousal support from an unregistered marriage, i.e. nikah or another religious ceremony.
  • If you are pregnant or have given birth within the past year, your husband cannot divorce you without your consent (Family Code Art. 18).

Benefits for your children from registering your marriage include:

    • If your marriage is registered, your husband (or wife) is automatically considered to be the father (or mother) of your newborn child (Family Code Art. 51(1)). This means that your child is automatically entitled to protection, financial and emotional support, and an upbringing from both you and your spouse (Family Code Art. 59, 68, 69).
    • If you and your partner divorce, it will be easier for your children to get child support (alimony).
      • Note: Even if you do not register your marriage – i.e. you only have nikah – your mutual children are still entitled to child support from your ex-spouse. However, you will need to prove parentage (usually paternity) in court before your ex-spouse is required to pay child support. This can be a lengthy and difficult process, and can make life difficult for you and your child.

Registering your marriage will give you and your children more financial security and will make it easier for you and your spouse to support one another during your marriage and in the event of divorce.

How do I register my marriage?

 

Fortunately, registering your marriage is easy. To register your marriage with the government, you and your spouse go to your local civil registry (ZAGS) together – click here for a directory of civil registries in the Kyrgyz Republic – and submit an application that includes:

  1. Your full name (Last, First, Patronymic);
  2. Your date and place of birth;
  3. Your age on the date of marriage registration with ZAGS;
  4. Your citizenship and your nationality;
  5. Your place of residence (address);
  6. Your spouse’s full name (Last, First, Patronymic);
  7. Your spouse’s date and place of birth;
  8. Your spouse’s age on the date of marriage registration with ZAGS;
  9. Your spouse’s citizenship and your nationality;
  10. Your spouse’s place of residence (address);
  11. The names that you and your spouse choose after entering into marriage (including, for example, any change to your last names);
  12. Your signature;
  13. Your spouse’s signature.

The ZAGS officials will provide you and your spouse with a form that asks for all of the above information. When you go to ZAGS, be sure to bring:

  1. A valid passport or ID card for yourself;
  2. A valid passport or ID card for your spouse;
  3. If either you or your spouse was previously married, an official document that proves the end of the previous marriage.

If any of the above documents are written in a foreign language (i.e. a language other than Kyrgyz or Russian), you will also need to submit a notarized translation of the document(s) to ZAGS. Additional documents are required for those younger than 18 years of age.

By law, your civil registry is required to register your marriage within 1 month of your application (or give a reason for declining your application within one month). Your official marriage date will be the day that the ZAGS official registers your marriage, and will be shown on your marriage certificate.

By law, it is free to register your marriage with ZAGS. A certificate proving your marriage costs 100 KGS.

For more information, please see: Civil Registry Service of the Kyrgyz Republic: Registering Your Marriage.

Note that you must meet certain requirements before you can register your marriage:

  • Both you and your spouse must be 18 or older (if you or your spouse is younger than 18, you will need to meet additional requirements);
  • Both you and your spouse must fully and freely consent to the marriage;
  • You and your spouse will have to pass a medical exam;
  • Neither you nor your spouse can be married to another person.

We wish you and your family happiness in your marriage!

Have questions? Need legal advice? Are you or your spouse in a situation not covered above? CONTACT US.

What is a protection order … and how do I get one?

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If you or a loved one is suffering from violence, harassment, or threats from another family member, you may want to get a protection order.

A protection order is a document that bans another family member from hurting you or communicating with you in any way, whether by phone, email, face to face, or through another person. You can get it from your local police. Once you have a protection order, the police must make sure that your family member does not continue to hurt you (Law Against Family Violence, Art. 29).

You get a protection order from your local police officer. When you go to the police, they will ask you to write a complaint about the family violence you have suffered (Law Against Family Violence, Art. 26). After they have confirmed the information in your complaint, they will give you a document – the protective order – that requires your family member to follow certain conditions, such as not communicating with you and not committing violence against you.

The police are required to issue your protection order within 24 hours and must enforce it for a minimum of 3 days (Art. 27(1)). The police will also inform the person who has hurt you or your loved one about the protection order, its conditions, and may require them to go through counseling or corrective training.

Once you have received a protection order, the police are required by law to:

  1. Make sure that all of the conditions of the protection order are fulfilled;
  2. Inform local social service agencies that you or a loved one has suffered family violence;
  3. Transport you or your loved one to a medical facility (hospital) or a safe place if you request;
  4. If you ask, extend the length of time that you or your loved is protected by the protection order from a minimum of 3 days to up to 30 days;
  5. If you or your loved one is younger than 18, inform your local child services agencies about the violence. (Art. 25).

If you have a protective order against someone but he or she continues to threaten you or break the conditions of the order, you have the right to go to court. (Law Against Family Violence, Art. 30(1), 32(1), Code of Misdemeanors of the Kyrgyz Republic, Art. 76). The court may require that person to conduct 40 to 60 hours of community service, to pay a fine, to leave your shared home for 1 to 6 months, and limit his or her parental rights, among other possible sentences (Law Against Family Violence, Art. 32(1)).

In summary:

  • A protection order can protect you or a loved one from a violent family member;
  • To get one, go to your local police and request a protection order;
  • The police are required by law to take your complaint seriously, to issue a protection order if family violence is occurring, and to enforce the protection order;
  • If your relative continues to be violent, you can appeal to your local prosecutor, advocate, or court for more help.

Need help or more legal advice? CONTACT US.

Are you worried about going to the police or not sure how to talk with them about the problems you’re facing? We’ll have information available soon on tips to interacting with the police. In the meantime, you can contact us for guidance and advice.

Links to laws referenced in the text: