Planning for your safety
One of the things that you can do to help yourself is to have a safety plan for those times when you feel unsafe or at risk of being hurt. The following safety plan is an example of what you can do to prepare for a time when you are in danger and need to leave quickly.
- Decide who you will call if you feel threatened or in danger. This will probably be the police but could also be a neighbour, relative or friend.
- Decide where you will go if you need a safe place. You may need to leave the house in a hurry if you think you may be hurt. If you have children, develop a safety plan for them such as working out where they can go that is safe if you are unable to get away. This could be a neighbour or someone else who lives close by. Once there, you can telephone the police or DVConnect. This organisation can arrange safe accommodation for you and your children.
- Decide what arrangements you might need to make for your pets if they will be at risk of being harmed. The RSPCA Queensland and DVConnect's Pets in Crisis domestic violence program provides temporary care of animals with trained, volunteer foster carers. People who need to stay in domestic violence refuges but are unable to find alternative care for their pets can contact DVConnect Womensline on 1800 811 811 to arrange pet accommodation. Prior to fostering, the RSPCA will examine the animal and provide immediate care and assessment for animals needing vaccines and basic assistance.
- If possible, save some money for a taxi, bus or train for emergency transportation to a safe place.
- Keep extra keys to your house and car in a safe place.
- Make a list of emergency phone numbers.
- Consider keeping some clothing, medications, important papers, keys and some money with someone you can trust.
- Practice travelling to the location that you have chosen as a safe place.
Technology safety planning
Some non-physical forms of domestic and family violence include controlling behaviour and stalking. This can include using technology to keep track of where you are, who you talk to and what you do with your money.
If you are experiencing domestic and family violence, it’s important that you are able to keep in touch with friends and family and keep your personal affairs in order by using technology such as internet banking, email and social media. However, if you are concerned that your partner or a family member is monitoring you by reading your emails, checking your phone calls or following your movements through social media, there are steps you can take to protect your personal information and increase your security online.
If you use a landline and you are concerned someone may try to track your calls, dial a different number immediately after your phone call so that your call history can't be tracked. For example, if you call a domestic violence service for advice, after this call, dial another number that is frequently called from your landline, like your mobile number.
Mobile phones and smart phones
Calls made and received on your mobile phone can be removed from the device by deleting them from the call log. In most phones the call log can be found via the settings menu. Make sure you use a pin code or pattern lock to access your mobile phone. Set your device to time out and lock after a few minutes of inactivity.
Internet searches and visits to websites can be easily traced in a computer's browser. Computer monitoring software such as Spyware is commonly available and can be installed easily to monitor a person’s computer use. When you visit a webpage, it is recorded in three places on your computer’s browser: the cache, history and typed URLs. You can clear these lists temporarily, but you would have to do this every time you use the internet to hide the websites you have visited from other users. It is not possible to delete or hide all of the ‘tracks’ you leave when using a computer. Try to use a safe computer when you look for help or access your personal accounts.
Use a safe computer to access your accounts. This could be a family member or friend’s computer, or a computer at your local library or internet café. Some internet accounts hold personal information such as your address details and mobile phone number. Consider setting up new online accounts or change your password and login details for online banking, email, Facebook, PayPal, Google, Medicare and eBay. Do not use the same password for all of your online accounts.
Many online accounts will provide a function to remember your login details, or to keep you logged into the account even when you navigate away from the webpage. Always say no to prompts for the computer to remember your details and ensure you log off the account before exiting the site.
If you are concerned that someone may have access to your email account, consider setting up an alternative email account on a safe computer. Free web-based accounts such as Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo are easy to set up and can be accessed from any computer or mobile device. Use a non-identifying username, e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org, change your password for the account every three months, and always ensure you log off before exiting the site.
Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram provide an easy way for someone to find, track and follow a person. If you are using social media accounts, your privacy settings and the automatic location sharing settings may be putting you at risk.
Use the privacy settings to control who can see your personal information. You can also adjust your account settings to block users who you don’t want to see your profile. You may want to consider changing your profile picture from a photo of yourself to a more generic image. It is also a good idea to change the password for your account every three months.
Location Services, GPS and Bluetooth
Smartphones and mobile devices have a built-in feature that can pinpoint where you are. This information can be published online through social media sites, or used by location-based services such as maps. It can also be saved in images you take with your device. ‘Checking in’ on social media sites lets people know where you are and what you're doing. You can switch off location services by going into the settings menu on your phone.
If you use Bluetooth, you can change the settings so that your phone cannot be ‘found’ by other people’s phones. Double check your privacy settings, so that if you do share location information, it’s only accessible to the people you want to see it.
Before installing any app for Android or iOS, make sure you view the rights and permissions that the app will have once it is installed on your device. The permissions can include making calls, connecting to the internet, making use of your contact lists or browsing history and sharing your use of the app. If you are not comfortable with the permissions the app will have, cancel the installation.
Smartphone tracking and spyware
Most modern mobile phones and mobile devices, including tablets, can be used to track the owner’s location. Tracking and spyware applications can be installed on a mobile phone or device without the owner’s knowledge or consent and use the mobile device’s GPS or Wi-Fi data to relay tracking information to another person.
Some applications also remotely monitor additional private information such as calls, texts, emails, websites visited and photos taken using the device.
Removing or exchanging a SIM card is not enough to prevent tracking as the application may remain on the phone. Having the mobile device turned off will avoid data being sent to another person, but this is not a practical solution and the risk returns if the device is switched back on.
If in any doubt about your mobile phone or tablet’s security, the safest way to remove such an application is to reset your mobile device from within the settings menu i.e. factory data reset. It is important to backup or write down your contacts first as these will be deleted. Other items such as photos and music which are saved on the internal memory will also be deleted. Items stored on an external (removable) SD card should not be affected by a data reset.
If you feel that the security of your mobile device could be compromised, the following actions may help:
- Turn off the GPS functionality (Location Services) on your phone/device in the ‘Settings’ menu to stop location tracking.
- A factory data reset will restore the device back to its original state. It will delete the internal storage, erase all personal data and settings and will remove all installed applications including any tracking or spyware apps. This option can be accessed through the ‘Settings’ menu for most phones/devices (Android, Windows, Blackberry, iPhone). Apple products can also be restored to the original settings through the iTunes software.
- A factory data reset will also remove contacts and messages. Therefore, you may want to save your contacts to the SIM card, back up contacts to an SD card or computer or write important contacts down. For most mobile phones, applications are available to back up contacts and SMS if required. Photos and music can also be backed up to an SD card or computer before resetting the device.
- Check the applications list in your phone/device for any applications that look suspicious and that you did not install. They are likely to appear in the applications list under an unassuming name such as ‘radio’ app. Uninstall any apps that you did not install.
- Buy an alternative second-hand or inexpensive mobile phone to use until you feel confident that your other phone is not relaying your location and private information.
- Turn off your phone and only use it in an emergency.
If you experience issues in resetting your mobile phone or mobile device or erasing the storage, content and settings, a mobile phone store should be able to provide assistance.
Debbie and Zoe
Debbie, a teacher at the school Zoe’s 3 children attended, contacted DVConnect when she noticed Zoe was distressed that her husband had breached a ‘no contact’ order and had tracked down her whereabouts. After leaving her abusive husband, relocating her family and settling the children at a new school, Zoe was terrified when he phoned her at work one day after finding her new location via a Facebook friend. DVConnect worked with Debbie to arrange Zoe and her children’s relocation to a safe refuge, reporting the breach of the order to the police, organising a police escort to help her safely collect her belongings from the house before she left, and facilitating the children’s enrolment in a new school.
Cathy and Anushka
Cathy met Anushka at the school their children attended. Anushka had been living in Australia for 5 years, having emigrated from India with her husband and 2 children. From the outset, Cathy was concerned about the treatment Anushka received from her husband. Unsure of the cultural nuances, she resisted raising her concerns with Anushka for several months, but after witnessing Anushka’s husband verbally denigrating her and using intimidation and non-verbal threats, Cathy could no longer remain silent. She called DVConnect to help her navigate the cultural sensitivities in explaining to her friend that, although the husband’s abuse was not yet physical, it was still domestic violence and laws were in place to help her stay safe. DVConnect gave Cathy advice to help her friend make plans to leave the relationship safely.