Divorce and Transitions: Mardi Winder-Adams
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
The number to the National Domestic Violence Hotline is 800-799-SAFE (7233), and if you are in an abusive situation, this number is available 24/7/365 for help. The website is thehotline.org, which provides a wealth of practical information and resources.
“Staying safe during this critical time requires specific steps to avoid leaving a digital trail.”
All Abuse is Abuse:
Attempting to leave an abusive relationship is the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence. It is when the abuser feels their control slipping that they become aggressive and are most likely to isolate, coerce, and use physical force. They also use pets, kids, and threats against other family members to keep the victim under their control.
Emotional, financial, or mental abuse is just as dangerous if the abuser suspects the partner is attempting to leave. Staying safe during this critical time requires specific steps to avoid leaving a digital trail. However, there are ways that you can stay safe while finding professionals to help you through the process.
Avoid Using Your Personal Devices for Searches or Calls:
The following tips can be used to help cover your searches and keep your activities and movements safeguarded from the abusive partner. However, it is almost impossible to completely erase your actions online, so using a computer at a library or work and not your personal phone, laptop, tablet, or home computer is always the best option.
- Assume you are being monitored – it is best to assume anything you type, any website visited, or any phone calls made from your personal devices can be discovered. If possible, use a public phone/computer or a trusted friend or family member’s device and always delete the browsing history. Text messages and phone calls may also be retrieved if the abuser is the account holder or you are both on the account.
- Do not use social media messages or private group posts – social media private groups, messages, and DMs are anything but private. Avoid using them even when sending messages to trusted people, as abusers often gaslight and manipulate others, tricking them into sharing messages.
- Your phone is a tracking device – there are many hidden apps and programs that can be added to your phone to provide specific GPS information that turns your phone into a tracking device. If you are going to a lawyer’s office or meeting with community support services, leave your cell phone at home.
“Don’t forget to leave your phone in the vehicle and do not carry it on your person, as it may also be tracking your movements.”
Vehicles Can Be Tracked:
- Your vehicle is a tracking device – if you have a newer model vehicle, it probably comes with location tracking technology. However, GPS trackers are also readily available online for less than $50, meaning older vehicles can be just as easily tracked. If you are driving to appointments, park in a grocery store or shopping mall and walk to the appointment to keep your final destination private. Don’t forget to leave your phone in the vehicle and do not carry it on your person, as it may also be tracking your movements.
- Change your purse or leave it at home – tiny GPS trackers can be easily dropped into a side pocket or a compartment in your purse. Leave it behind, and take cash and credit cards in your pocket. Check your jacket pockets, strollers, diaper bags, or any other items you carry with you before leaving the house and remove anything suspicious.
- Set up a new private email account – to communicate with your lawyer, therapist, shelter worker, or anyone else supporting you, open up a new email account at a library or on a trusted friend or family member’s device. Do not use your real name in the address, and do not use a password you have used before. Keep this email isolated, and do not open it on any of your current devices to avoid keystroke loggers recording your username and password. Give all professionals working with you this new private email, and do not connect that email to any existing accounts (bank, phone, work, other emails). Do not use email forwarding from this address or to this address.
Stay Safe When Researching Divorce:
It may be wise to buy a pay-as-you-go phone if you have a safe place to keep it away from your partner. Use this number when communicating with professionals or when making private calls.
Being safe and preparing to leave are important steps in getting out of an abusive relationship. It takes a lot of courage to go, and please know you don’t have to do it alone.
National Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233
About the Author:
Mardi Winder-Adams is an Executive and Leadership Coach, Certified Divorce Transition Coach, and a Credentialed Distinguished Mediator in Texas. She has experienced her own divorce, moved to a new country and started her own business, and worked through the challenges of being a caregiver and managing the loss of a spouse.
Handling life transitions and pivots is her specialty! In her professional role as a divorce coach, Mardi has helped hundreds of women before, during, and after divorce to reduce the emotional and financial costs of the process. She is the founder of Positive Communication Systems, LLC.