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Web scary place for survivors

Practices can halt abuse on social media

Like it or not, we live in an increasingly digital world. For good or bad, social media create a more open and connected world – one that allows people to share details of their lives with family and friends.

While divulging daily minutiae online is fun for some, for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, that seemingly ubiquitous status update could put detailed information at their abusers’ fingertips.

“[Social media are] kind of a really easy tool for someone to get information, which is a danger for anyone, but then specifically when you’re in that situation – be it dating or domestic violence,” Turning Point’s Molly Horton said. “For someone to have that information, it heightens that danger.”

A simple post can reveal where a survivor is, who he or she is with, and what they’re doing – a move that can put them at risk.

Facebook responded with a recently released privacy guide for survivors of abuse created in partnership with the National Network to End Domestic Violence. The guide mentors survivors about the privacy controls they can place on their profiles to keep from being exposed to their abusers, all while allowing them to maintain important connections with family and friends and resources.

Simply telling a survivor to sign off these popular networks isolates them further.

“When it comes down to it – [social media are] one of the biggest things that we have out there for people to communicate with each other,” said Horton, a child advocate at the county’s domestic violence agency. “You’re asking for someone to cut off a lot of their important relationships and something that gives them an outlet.”

The most dangerous time for a victim of abuse is when he or she is preparing to leave or has left an abusive partner, said Cindy Southworth, from the National Network to End Domestic Violence, on Facebook’s Safety page that announced the new guide.

“It is critical that survivors have the information they need to navigate their lives safely and, in today’s digital age, a significant part of our lives are online,” Southworth said.

While advocates applaud the efforts of Facebook, they say it’s important to remember that these behaviors can carry over to any social media network, email and text messages.

Even maintaining a presence on these sites can open the doors to abuse in a way that advocates never have seen before. The signs of abuse are not always cuts and bruises, Horton said.

“We’re often associating abuse with physical abuse, and not recognizing the signs of verbal, emotional and even stalking behaviors like that,” Horton said.

Behaviors such as continually sending hurtful messages, checking up on someone’s whereabouts or a barrage of comments, posts, messages, texts and emails.

“That constant invasion of [one’s] personal space,” Horton explained.

“[Social media are] something that feels really positive, and something that you have a lot of control over, but at the end of the day ... there is that darker side of social media that could really lead someone down a dangerous path,” she said.

On the Net

Facebook’s privacy guide, created in conjunction with the National Network to End Domestic Violence, provides tools for protecting one’s privacy and maintaining safety. It can be found at

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