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'Epidemic' of domestic abuse by spying via mobile app

By Cahal Milmo

The use of surveillance software by abusive spouses to secretly monitor the phones and computers of their partners has reached "epidemic proportions" and police are ill-equipped to tackle it, domestic violence campaigners have warned.

Women's refuge charities have reported a dramatic rise in the use of spyware apps to eavesdrop on the victims of domestic violence via their mobiles and other electronic devices, enabling abusers to secretly read texts, record calls and view or listen in on victims in real time without their knowledge.

Nearly all offer a GPS tracking function, allowing the user to pinpoint an individual to within a few metres, as well as covert access to keystrokes, texts, pictures and emails.

The proliferation of software packages, many of which are openly marketed as tools for covertly tracking a "cheating wife or girlfriend" and cost less than £50, has prompted concern that police and the criminal justice system in Britain are failing to understand the extent of the problem.

A survey by Women's Aid, the domestic violence charity, found that 41% of domestic violence victims it helped had been tracked or harassed using electronic devices.

A second study this year by the Digital Trust, which helps victims of online stalking, found that more than 50% of abusive partners used spyware or some other form of electronic surveillance to stalk their victims.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Women's Aid, said: "Domestic abuse is about control and perpetrators will use any means available to maintain and increase their control, adding tracking software to phones, placing spyware on personal computers and using the internet to gather information about their partner.

"However, in many cases the police are not trained to recognise and understand the impact of online abuse, including tracking, and action is rarely taken against abusers."

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