Technology Is Not Neutral

 Photo Credit kaofenglee

Photo Credit kaofenglee

The Safety Net Project began with a very simple story: a survivor wanted to flee her abuser and wrote an email of her plans to a friend. The survivor even deleted the email from her sent folder, fearing that the abuser would find it when going through her email. However, she didn’t realize that the email still remained in her deleted folder. When a survivor leaves an abusive partner, the risk of escalated violence, injury, and lethality significantly increases. This proved to be true for this particular woman; when her abuser found the email detailing her plans to leave him, he killed her. 

Today, the intersection of technology and intimate partner violence has evolved as our technology advances and changes. Every day, we hear examples of how interconnected the issue of violence against women is with technology. Stories of teenage girls committing suicide after videos of their rape circulates on the internet are occurring all too often. We hear of female gamers and bloggers being attacked, stalked and harassed for speaking out against violence toward women in gaming spaces. We hear from victims whose exes post pictures, videos, and personal information about them on revenge porn sites. Abusers, stalkers, rapists, and traffickers now have social media platforms, text messaging, internet websites hosted overseas, spoofing and disappearing text messages technologies to facilitate their crimes.

Yet technology is not the culprit. The true offenders are the individuals who use power and control to harm someone they profess to love; who take advantage of the vulnerable to coerce them to share naked images of themselves online or sexually assault them in real life; who rapes, stalks, beats, sells another person.

At the same time, technology is not neutral, and those of us who use technology, build technology, and create policies around technology can make a difference.

The Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence has changed the way the violence against women field addresses technology and abuse. At the end of July, we will host our inaugural national Technology Summit in San Jose, CA. For the past ten years, the Safety Net Project has trained more than 55,000 victim service providers throughout the United States, Europe, Canada, and Australia. We’ve worked with survivors, their advocates, law enforcement, technologists, and companies—all on the intersection of technology and intimate partner violence. We have launched national projects that look at how technology and privacy issues impact survivors and victim service agencies. We have created and supported a network of technology advocates working in the field of violence against women in each state and abroad so that this information and knowledge reaches the most important people: survivors, their advocates, law enforcement, and other service providers. The Technology Summit advances that goal.

The Technology Summit continues the national dialogue that Safety Net has begun on how advocates, service providers, technologists and technology companies can ensure that technology isn’t being used to facilitate crimes against victims. Together, we can strategize on how technology can help survivors of abuse, and create a world where offenders are held accountable for their crimes and survivors find justice and hope.