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.