SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — When it comes to toxic households, most people think of physical assault, emotional abuse and criminal neglect, but the most modern form of domestic violence involves technology.

The Cyberbullying Research Center defines cyberstalking as “the use of technology to make someone else afraid or concerned about their safety.” This can be done through email, cell phones, or on social media, and it’s meant to intimidate, harass, shame, and control a victim.

Cyber abuse can come in many forms, such as:

  • Stalking/Harassment is repeated unwanted communication or threats.
  • Sextortion is using sensitive photos or information as leverage.
  • Denigration is posting content designed to damage someone’s reputation or livelihood. 
  • Device access includes location tracking, monitoring conversations, or installing spyware.
  • Outing/doxxing is exposing someone’s private information.

Corporal John Rosado with the Savannah Police Department says this type of abuse can disorient the target of online abuse.

“The victim of any sort of cyber bullying or cyberstalking for the domestic violence realm can have long-lasting effects emotionally and psychologically. You can create a lot of stress, anxiety, paranoia, as well as other contributing factors,” Cpl. Rosado said.

Cyber-stalking isn’t just creepy, it’s a felony. Repeated unwanted communication is harassment. The Stalking Prevention Awareness and Resource Center discovered that stalking is a red flag that increases the risk of domestic homicide by three times. Special Agent Sara Lue of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation says only 29% of cyberstalking incidents are reported. When there is no paper trail, it leaves law enforcement unable to take protective action.

There are steps a victim can take to regain control.

  1. Don’t respond. Stalkers thrive off engagement from their target.
  2. Change your passwords, protect your profiles, or start new online accounts.
  3. Document the behavior with the date, time, and details of each incident.
  4. Report the abuse to websites, police, and the FBI.
  5. Request a Temporary Order of Protection (TPO).

These actions take power and control away from the abuser, and can help prosecutors hold abusers accountable. Victims can document evidence on websites designed to capture online predators. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center is a database where agents can gather and compare information for prosecution.

Victims Voice is another hub of online support. Agent Lue says the most important thing a target of online abuse can do is follow their instincts, “It’s really important to listen to your intuition. If your intuition pulls at you and says something’s not right here, something doesn’t feel right. Not only do I feel uncomfortable in terms of the actual communication that’s taking place, but I just feel like something bad might happen. It’s important to listen to that. Listen to your gut.”

Remember, abuse is never the fault of the victim, and help is available.

SAFE Shelter in Savannah 912-629-8888

Safe Haven in Statesboro 912-764-4605

Hopeful Horizons in the SC Lowcountry 843-770-1070

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 800-799-7233