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Wyden, reps introduce bill to prevent domestic abusers from targeting survivors with technology

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WASHINGTON (KTVZ) -- Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Reps. Anna G. Eshoo, D-Calif., and Debbie Lesko, R-Arizona, introduced bipartisan legislation Thursday to help prevent domestic abusers from using technology to stalk, harass or control survivors.

Technology-enabled abuse takes many forms, from the most basic social media platforms and phone-based apps to specialty spyware apps, demonstrating that this sort of abuse does not require huge financial resources or complex knowledge of technology. Despite the seriousness and rise of technology-enabled abuse — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic — programs providing support to victims of intimate partner violence report low levels of confidence in recognizing and addressing technology-enabled abuse.

The Tech Safety for Victims of Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking Act would help close this gap in support by providing new grant funding to clinics and other partnerships focused on addressing domestic violence and technology-enabled abuse, as well as supporting new training and education to equip more organizations with the specialized services needed to help more survivors.

"Survivors of domestic abuse shouldn't have to worry about an abusive partner tracking them on social media or hacking into their email or other accounts to get information on their location or other aspects of their life. These scary practices have become all too common, and yet, there are not enough resources to help protect survivors from the misuse of technology by their abusers," Wyden said. "Education and training, as well as support for more clinics with expertise in domestic abuse and technology, are desperately needed to get survivors the care they need."

“The proliferation of technology has made nonphysical abuse more common and more devastating for victims, and tech-enabled abuse has only escalated during the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Eshoo. “Despite the scope of tech-enabled abuse, advocates who work with domestic violence victims and survivors report low levels of confidence in being able to recognize and address tech-enabled abuse. Our legislation hits at the cross-section of domestic violence and tech by establishing two grant programs to improve services and resources for victims.”

“I am a survivor of domestic violence, so I know firsthand the devastating impact it has on survivors and the difficulties they face as a result,” said Lesko.“Unfortunately, perpetrators have utilized modern technology to further harass and abuse their victims. I am proud to work with my colleagues on this important, bipartisan bill to improve the resources and services available for survivors and help combat tech-enabled abuse.”

The Tech Safety for Victims of Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking Act would take two significant actions to combat technology-enabled domestic abuse:

  • It would authorize a pilot project run by Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women to establish more tech-enabled abuse clinics. The grant program would provide $2 million grants for up to 15 clinics and other partnerships providing support to sexual and domestic violence victims who are experiencing technology-enabled abuse.
  • It would establish an additional grant program, also under the Office on Violence Against Women, for nonprofit organizations and institutions of higher education to develop and implement training and educational programs and technical assistance for organizations and individuals who provide support for victims of tech-enabled abuse.

Click here for a one-page summary of the legislation.

Click here for the bill text.

The bill is endorsed by the following organizations: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, National Network to End Domestic Violence, Legal Momentum, EndTAB, New Beginnings, Clinic to End Tech Abuse, Technology-Enabled Coercive Control Initiative housed in the Sexual Violence Law Center, Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Sexual Assault Support Services (Oregon), Center for Hope and Safety (Oregon), Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force, and Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence (Oregon).

"Technology-facilitated abuse leaves survivors feeling alone, confused, and endangers them and their families," said National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) President and CEO Deborah J. Vagins. "The National Network to End Domestic Violence is pleased to endorse The Tech Safety for Victims of Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking Act. We see a great need for its clinics to provide individualized assistance to survivors of technology-facilitated abuse."

“People experiencing tech-enabled abuse often don’t know where to turn. Our clinic has helped hundreds of New Yorkers over the last few years, but survivors around the country urgently need assistance," said Thomas E. Kadri of Clinic to End Tech Abuse. "This Act could expand access to similar support services and develop knowledge about evolving forms of tech-enabled abuse.”

"The Sexual Violence Law Center and its Technology-Enabled Coercive Control Initiative emphatically support this bill," said Natalie Dolci, LICSW, of the Sexual Violence Law Center's Technolgoy-Enabled Coercive Control Initiative (TECCI). "Years of direct services with survivors as well as a body of research demonstrates the need for service providers to be trained in how to provide specialized services to survivors of tech abuse. In addition to the direct services, the education component of the bill is critical. Prevention and an investment in coercive control informed design are necessary strategies to a safer future."

"Survivors are left vulnerable every day to continued abuse simply by having a phone in their pocket. It is critical that survivors, and the advocates who serve them, have access to up-to-date information about technology, the risks to an individual survivor's safety, and available measures to protect them," said Jennifer Becker, Legal Director, Legal Momentum the Women's Legal Defense and Education Fund. "The Tech Safety for Victims of Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking Act promises to bring together tech experts with gender-based violence experts and advocates in a way that will empower survivors and reduce the power abusers find in exploiting digital technology to further their harm. This investment in preventing and addressing emerging forms of gender-based violence is a critical step forward." 

"For too long, people who perpetrate interpersonal violence have taken advantage of new and emerging technologies to facilitate their abuse of others. When laws lag behind technology, survivors are left with few resources," said Sexual Assault Support Services of Lane County (Ore.) Executive Director Martina Shabram, PhD. "The Tech Safety for Victims of Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking Act addresses a critical gap in resources for survivors of technology-facilitated abuse. This Act empowers advocates to create survivor-centered, trauma-informed responses to the problem of technology-facilitated abuse. The support offered by this Act will be a lifeline for people experiencing technology-facilitated abuse and will remove barriers that prevent survivors from getting the care they need and deserve. Sexual Assault Support Services is grateful to Senator Wyden for the support he has offered to survivors of sexual violence throughout his career and for championing these causes."

Article Topic Follows: Government-politics

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