Smart home devices being used as tools for domestic abuse

Smart home devices being used as tools for domestic abuse
25 Jul

DETROIT – Technology continues to make life easier. In the home, it can be the Nest to control the temperature, Alexa to play your favorite music, set timers and ask questions, or home security systems with video that enable you to watch while you're away.

However, some smart home technology is being used in a harmful manner against victims of domestic violence.

“Everywhere I went, everything I did, he could hear it … he could see it,” Aubrey said. “It was awful.”

Aubrey discovered her fiance was secretly recording her inside their home.

“When I went to hit to get to his home screen, I double-clicked it and the app popped up of videos in the house and I'm like, ‘Oh my God. I see, that's me.' And so I started walking around the house, and the app shows every room that I'm walking in, all the way through the house,” Aubrey said.

When Aubrey confronted her fiance, he claimed the cameras were for security.

“To actually see yourself on somebody else's device, not knowing that that's what's going on in your life, spooky. And as safe as it may sound, I felt very unsafe,” she said.

Aubrey is not alone. A New York Times story cited more than 30 women who claimed their partners had also used technology to control, and cause confusion and fear. The women claimed their partners had remotely manipulated the home's temperature settings, turned the lights off and on, and even blasted music from the home's speakers.

Local 4 checked with Haven of Oakland County to see if it is getting reports of this kind of domestic abuse. Karen DeKett, director of social action for Haven, said they have definitely seen an increase in these types of calls, especially with the number of people who have smart home devices.

“What we see most often is survivors coming in to us and saying ‘I know this sounds crazy, but,' or ‘You're not going to believe me, but I feel like my abuser is listening in on my conversations, I feel like he's spying on me. He knows where I've been, he knows what upcoming appointments I have.' So it usually comes from this place of feeling really fearful, but really unsure of what's going on,” DeKett said.

Sgt. Melissa Holbrook, of the Houston Police Department, said most domestic cases she works still fall under what she calls old school stalking and harassment but the use of technology is growing.

“Technology has come a long way. Suspects in these cases use that technology to their advantage,” Holbrook said. “Many times, they're doing it while they're together, even before the breakup and it just gets worse after they end that relationship. ‘How does he know where I'm going? I think he's getting it from hacking into my computer.'”

DeKett said Haven has trained advocates and crisis counselors who can help survivors with a safety plan specific to their situation.

Haven's 24-hour crisis line is 248-334-1274 or 877-922-1274.

DeKett says if it’s safe to do so, Haven recommends either getting rid of the device or change the password.

People can also contact the manufacturer of the device to change access or ownership of the device. She also recommends keeping track of incidents, including the date, time and nature of them. This is helpful when reporting to law enforcement agencies.

For more information on the programs and resources Haven provides to domestic abuse survivors, click here.

Copyright 2018 by WDIV ClickOnDetroit – All rights reserved.


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