Zoom calls. . . Webinars. . . Slack chats. . . group chats. . . Many of us have found ourselves relying on tech in new ways lately. But these new ways to connect can actually be disconnecting for some people. For survivors of abuses like stalking, harassment, revenge porn, child sexual abuse material, sextortion, and intimate partner violence, being beholden to our device can feel like a prison in which trauma is re-experienced constantly.
“Right now we are being forced to move our entire world on to our phones, computers, and other electronic devices. But what if the internet was a place you have been trying to escape from?” asks Francesca Rossi – a former client of ours and now therapist who specializes in digital abuse.
“For those of us who have experienced digital violence, living online comes full of trauma. Being on our phones can make us fearful and trigger our brain to go into fight, flight, or freeze mode. We already feel isolated in our PTSD symptoms – people do not understand how triggering the internet is for us as technology has been the weapon of our abusers.”
Francesca knows this as well as anybody. Francesca came to C.A.Goldberg when she was being stalked and harassed, as we found out, by the man she was in a relationship with. He had surveilled Francesca and hacked her devices. At first, he would use this info to sweep her off her feet, later he’d weaponize it to bring chaos, confusion, and terror into Francesca’s world. He tried to get her fired from her job, sent messages to her claiming to have sex tapes that he threatened to expose, causing Francesca to fear that he had secretly recorded her. He created imposter accounts to harass and defame her. He portrayed her as a pedophile, and a racist, and accused her of spreading STIs. He targeted her friends and family too with stalking and death threats – a total of 47 people including her ninety‐two‐year‐old grandmother.
On an online message board notorious for attracting users who advocate violence against women, he posted Francesca’s photo and home and work addresses and urged users to harass her. We call this tactic “harassment by proxy” – with a few clicks on his keyboard, he recruited hundreds of foot soldiers to join in his attack. Finally, he made hoax bomb and shooting threats in her name.
“For victims, an alert doesn’t just bring anxiety. It brings fear based on the re-experiencing of our trauma. We have been faced with death threats, extorted with pictures of ourselves naked and broadcasted to millions, stalked, sexually abused, financially exploited, harassed online and worse,” says Francesca.
C.A. Goldberg recently began investigating the claims of individuals whose images of being sexually abused as a child were shared on the internet. Last year, tech companies reported over 45 million online photos and videos of children being sexually abused; more than double what they found the previous year. Victims of child sexual abuse materials describe themselves as trapped by the internet in an ongoing cycle of abuse. The recorded abuse becomes inescapable with every click, share, and download. They say they don’t know who has seen them and live in constant fear of being contacted by ‘fans’.
Francesca explains the damage this sort of digital violence can do, “A ping does not just bring annoyance and agitation – it sends signals to our central nervous system that we are in danger. Those of us that are victims and survivors of digital violence – we were and may still be at risk.”
Together, we managed to get Francesca’s abuser sentenced to five years in federal prison. Now, she helps others through her therapy practice Thriving Through. She is living proof of our mantra: Victim to Warrior.
In our next newsletter, we’ll be sharing advice for coping with Covid-19 when you are a survivor of digital violence. If you know someone who might benefit from reading it, forward them this link to sign-up!
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Our attorneys and staff have never been more devoted to helping clients. We are fully staffed (although working remotely) and are able to do consultations, meet with clients, and handle all aspects of legal cases remotely. Please contact us or call 646.666.8908 to schedule a case evaluation.