By Kaofeng Lee, See the Triumph Guest Blogger
In the work that I do, every day we hear horrific stories of how perpetrators use technology to stalk, harm, and harass victims. One would think I hate technology, but I don’t. I love technology. While technology can be misused to harm, it can also be used for good. Because we also hear of how service providers are using technology in innovative and transformative ways to support survivors, whether it’s through education via an app or through an awareness raising campaign on social media. There is power in technology, and service providers – and survivors – are using it to empower themselves.
As we consider ways in which technology can be used to help survivors, it’s important to keep a few principles in mind.
1. Safety First. When developing innovative tools, always keep in mind that each survivor’s situation is unique, and what may be safe for one survivor may not be for another. Respect survivor’s privacy and choices. For example, many programs are considering new methods for how survivors can reach out for help, such as texting or chatting, but they’re doing so with thoughtful consideration for survivors’ safety and privacy as well as their own obligations to protect survivors’ confidentiality.
2. Technology is a tool, not a solution. Be careful not to offer a false sense of security by implying that a particular technology will make someone safer. Technology can facilitate better communication, offer access to services or help, or educate people about abuse, but the technology itself will not stop sexual assault or end domestic violence. Apps that not only educate users about healthy and respectful relationships but offers realistic, tangible resources so survivors can get help are great.
3. Place accountability with the abuser. There’s a thin line between giving survivors tools and options and burdening them with the responsibility of managing their victimization. Technology that encourages survivors to document their assaults, create a circle of friends who can come to the rescue, or push a button to create a loud noise to frighten the attacker can be helpful for some survivors, but they remind me of telling women to carry rape whistles or mace. It’s important to not perpetuate the idea that a survivor can control and even prevent abuse or assault.
4. If survivor’s technology is compromised, don’t take it away. Technology is a big part of our lives: it allows us to connect with friends and family, it entertains us, and it keeps us current on what’s happening in the world. Survivors use their technology for all those reasons as well, and even if someone is using their technology to stalk or harass them, the solution isn’t for them to give up their technology but to learn how to use it wisely: safely and privately.
For more resources on how survivors can use their technology in safe and private ways, visit http://techsafety.org/resources-survivors. We also have handouts specifically for service providers on how they can use technology effectively and safely. Check out our suggestions on best practices here: http://techsafety.org/resources-agencyuse.
Kaofeng Lee is a Deputy Director of the Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV). Kaofeng advocates on behalf of survivors of interpersonal violence by educating others on how technology can be misused to stalk and harass. She also provides trainings, resources, and other technical assistance to increase the knowledge and capacity of victim’s advocates so they can help those in need. Before joining NNEDV, Kaofeng was a bilingual advocate for a local domestic violence program, edited for a publications and design agency, and provided project management for a top 5 accounting firm, where she learned that listening is most important, the Oxford comma should be king, and obsessing over details is totally okay. Kaofeng has a Masters in International Relations from American University and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Communication from Iowa State University.