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Wyden, House colleagues reintroduce legislation to keep domestic abusers from using tech to target survivors


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

“Domestic abuse survivors are already recovering from tough situations – they shouldn’t also have to worry about their abusers hacking their social media or tracking their location. Unfortunately, these frightening scenarios have become increasingly common, and yet, not enough is being done to support and protect survivors from this misuse of technology,” Wyden said. “Increased education, resources and services are essential to making sure survivors get the protection and care they need.”

“Technology has allowed domestic violence abusers to threaten, stalk, and harass with little effort and free tools.,” said Eshoo. “That makes the recovery process for survivors even more difficult and longer. It also makes it harder for advocates to support survivors since most of them are not tech professionals. Advocates report that domestic violence victims have low levels of confidence in being able to recognize and address technology-enabled abuse. Our legislation will provide resources to survivors and advocates to prevent and address this heinous psychological abuse.”

"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. As more capabilities and opportunities continue to be exploited for technology-enabled abuse of this tragically vulnerable population, our resolve must be even greater to ensure that these survivors receive the care and attention they deserve,” said Lesko. “I am grateful to again join this bipartisan coalition of legislators to show Congress’ unwavering devotion to every one of America’s brave survivors.”

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 that survivors recognize or know how to prevent technology-enabled abuse. From the most basic social media platforms and phone-based apps to specialty spyware apps, technology-enabled abuse takes many forms and engaging in this type of abuse does not require huge financial resources or complex technological savvy.

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.

The legislation 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.

Statements of Support

Ruth Glenn, CEO of Public Affairs, The National Domestic Violence Hotline: "As technology becomes an even greater part of our lives, the ability of an abusive partner to leverage this technology to abuse, control, harass, and stalk a survivor continues to grow increasing the harm to survivors of domestic violence. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is proud to endorse the Tech Safety for Victims of Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking Act introduced by Senator Wyden. This bill ensures that the systems who support survivors experiencing technology-related abuses have the necessary resources available to best serve those needing services." 

Thomas E. Kadri, Director of Policy and Legal Advocacy, Clinic to End Tech 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. This Act could expand access to similar support services and develop knowledge about evolving forms of tech-enabled abuse."

Martina Shabram, PhD, Executive Director, Sexual Assault Support Services of Lane County, Oregon: "The availability of new and emerging technological tools far outpaces the resources, services, and laws needed to combat perpetrators who use those technologies to facilitate their abuse of others. The Tech Safety for Victims of Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking Act helps service providers catch up and build out the resources that survivors of technology-facilitated abuse deserve. Advocates are experts in providing trauma-informed, survivor-centered care, but we're not tech professionals! This act lets us bring together the multidisciplinary teams that we need to combat technology-facilitated abuse; advocates, tech experts, and survivors will be able to work together to create a safer world. On behalf of all of us at Sexual Assault Support Services, we thank Senator Wyden for the support he has provided for survivors of sexual violence throughout his career."

The bill is endorsed by National Domestic Violence Hotline, National Network to End Domestic Violence, Legal Momentum, Clinic to End Tech Abuse, EndTAB, New Beginnings, Natalie Dolci of the Technology-Enabled Coercive Control Initiative (endorsed in her personal capacity), Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Sexual Assault Support Services of Oregon, Center for Hope and Safety of Oregon, and the Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force.

The text of the bill is here

Article Topic Follows: Oregon-Northwest

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