Securing Sexuality is the podcast and conference promoting sex positive, science based, and secure interpersonal relationships. We give people tips for safer sex in a digital age. We help sextech innovators and toy designers produce safer products. And we educate mental health and medical professionals on these topics so they can better advise their clients. Securing Sexuality provides sex therapists with continuing education (CEUs) for AASECT, SSTAR, and SASH around cyber sexuality and social media, and more.
Links from this week’s episode:
Digital domestic violence, Power and control wheel, Reproductive coercion, Data privacy, Safe abortions, National Domestic Violence Hotline, Coalition Against Stalkerware, and Operation Safe Escape
As technology continues to evolve, so do the ways in which abusers can use it to control and manipulate their victims. Stalkerware and digital domestic violence are two of the most common forms of abuse that survivors face today. Stalkerware is a type of malicious software that is installed on a victim's device without their knowledge or consent, allowing an abuser to monitor their activities and communications. Digital domestic violence is any form of abuse that takes place online, such as cyberstalking, cyberbullying, or using social media to harass or intimidate someone. For survivors of abuse, it can be difficult to know how to protect themselves from these types of threats. This guide will provide information on how you can protect yourself from stalkerware and digital domestic violence.
1) Understand the risks: The first step in protecting yourself from stalkerware and digital domestic violence is understanding the risks associated with these threats. It’s important to be aware that your abuser may be using technology as a tool for control or manipulation. They may be monitoring your online activities or using social media platforms to harass you. Knowing what types of behaviors constitute digital abuse can help you recognize when it’s happening so you can take steps to protect yourself.
2) Be aware of your devices: It’s important for survivors of abuse to understand how their devices work and what security measures they have in place in order to protect themselves from stalkerware and other forms of digital domestic violence. Make sure all your devices are password protected with strong passwords that are changed regularly, as well as two-factor authentication if available on your device(s). Additionally, make sure all software updates are installed promptly when available as this helps keep your device secure against potential threats like stalkerware.
3) Use secure communication tools: If you need to communicate with someone who may pose a risk (such as an abusive partner), consider using secure communication tools such as Signal or WhatsApp instead of traditional text messaging services like SMS/MMS messages which could potentially be monitored by an abuser if they have access to your phone number/device(s). Additionally, make sure all conversations are kept private by avoiding public forums like Twitter or Facebook where anyone could potentially view them without permission (even if they don't follow/friend you).
4) Monitor activity on connected accounts: If possible, try monitoring activity on any connected accounts (such as email addresses associated with social media accounts) for suspicious behavior such as logins from unfamiliar locations or IP addresses which could indicate someone else has gained access without permission - this could potentially indicate an attempt at installing stalkerware onto one's device(s).
5) Seek help: Finally, if you feel unsafe due to any form of digital abuse (including stalkerware), seek help immediately by contacting local law enforcement authorities who will be able to provide assistance in protecting yourself against further harm caused by an abuser's use of technology against you - remember there is no shame in seeking help!
Protecting oneself from stalkerware and other forms of digital domestic violence can seem daunting but following these steps should help keep victims safe while also providing them with peace-of-mind knowing they have taken proactive measures towards protecting themselves against potential threats posed by abusers who use technology for malicious purposes against them.
Hello and welcome to Securing Sexuality, the podcast where we discuss the intersection of intimacy and information security. I am Wolf Goerlich.
He's a hacker and I'm Stefani Goerlich.
And she's a sex therapist and together we're going to discuss what safe sex looks like in a digital age. Today we're talking to Chris Cox, the founder of Operation Safe Escape about digital domestic violence.
Hey Chris, how's it going?
It's going great. Thanks for having me. I look forward to talking to you.
Yeah, pleasure to have you on.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and Operation Safe Escape?
What does your team do?
Okay, it's an amazing team and I always like to say that if I'm the smartest person in the room, I'm in the wrong room. And it's certainly the case here. There's a lot of really smart people that volunteer their time working pro bono to help other people to stay safe. It's really inspiring to see.
So, we're a 501c3 nonprofit organization. We formally started doing this in about 2016, informally in 2014.
And as a nonprofit organization, we bring together security and safety subject matter experts from all over the world, all sorts of different industries who choose to spend their time, what little free time they have in the industry, to work pro bono, help individuals escape domestic violence, help shelters and safe houses protect themselves and their clients, work with social workers, work with public safety, all sorts, all towards that same common goal.
So, we kind of live in that in an area right between advocacy and the security world, to speak bold.
So, what got you started doing this work?
What led you, motivated you to found Operation Safe Escape?
You know, I think that it's like everything else that us hacker types do, it comes down to laziness. And what I mean is that I realized that I needed to be a little bit more efficient in what I was doing. I needed help because I just didn't have enough time.
So, I needed to be a little bit more efficient in order to achieve the goals that I had set for myself.
So, like a lot of people all over the world, really, once you've set yourself, once you made it clear that you have a way that you can help people and you're willing to help people, people will find you.
And so, initially, it started off like many of us with someone close to me, someone in my personal circle, and I did what I could to help that person and they became my friends. And they became safe, they became safer. And people talk and a friend of theirs came to me for some help and so on.
Eventually, I realized not only do I not have the resources myself to help as many people as I want to help, but also I lack the knowledge. I feel like I'm fairly well established in the fields that I work in, but other things such as some physical security concepts, the really, really super smart OSINT people, I needed to ask other people for help who were better at it than me.
And so, that's the way it started. I started asking people that I knew that were experts in different areas, and they came together, they were helping other people, and eventually, we realized we were being reactive. We were helping people as they came to us as a loose conglomeration of people, but we needed to be able to do it better.
We needed to be able to reach out to people and let them know that we were there to help them.
So, at that point, that's when we started to really formalize, really become a little bit more efficient, and we haven't looked back. In that timeframe, since we started doing this, we've participated in over 3,000 successful escapes. We're creeping up on 4,000, and we're extremely proud of that.
So, I am the tech-adjacent person between the three of us, and you use the term OSINT.
So, tell me what that is, and tell me more about the people that are helping you.
What sort of different specialties do they have?
What are the...
Who are your adventures?
Tell me about your team.
So, OSINT is open source intelligence, and it's a really, really fancy way for saying the ability to find information in public sources.
So, there's all sorts of information available out there about a person that can be used to help or hurt us.
And so, one of the things that works really well with this skill set is it allows us to help find that information before the abuser does.
So, if someone is out there, if someone is trying to stay hidden, trying to stay safe, they've fled an abusive situation, we know that the abuser has nothing new but time. They have nothing but time. They have a very laser focus on causing harm.
And so, they're going to sit down on the computer. They're going to try to look at social media. They're going to try to look at any resource they can to find out where that person's gone.
And so, it happens over and over again all the time.
So, by leveraging these skill sets, sometimes related to what you might call business intelligence or OSIN in the military sectors, or just there's a lot of different names for the same things, then we can find that information first and help the person to kind of shore that up and tighten it up, get rid of it so that it can't be found.
You know, it's something that people do in the, like I said, in the military and the government. People do it in the business sector. They do it all the time because it's a really effective way to get information before your adversary does.
So, I like to say that the entirety of the OSC team is the A team. There's some really, really incredible people, some of which choose to be public with their help, some of which choose to kind of work behind the scenes or at least not let their affiliation know, just so they don't put a target on their back.
And the amount of skill sets, we're talking about literally centuries of experience in different security domains. One thing that I think often sometimes comes up as a misconception about Operation Save Escape is that we're a tech organization. And we are. We focus on tech. We have a lot of tech experience, but that's not the extent. We try to look at the situation from a holistic perspective.
So, if someone's fled an abusive situation, sure, they need help getting their accounts, you know, secured. They need help disappearing online. They need help with all of those things. But it's also a matter of talking about new habits. It's also a matter of talking about what we call OPSEC or Operation Security, which is trying to protect the information that might reveal where you've gone.
Simple things like a picture with a sunset or a picture of a house or something else that can give away that information.
So, everything from counter surveillance to physical security to even building up the skills, such as represented here with the trauma-informed care, are all things that we bring into one organization.
So, what are some of the ways that abusers use that technology?
How do they keep tabs on and control their partners?
What are they doing that you guys are working against?
So, it's something that's definitely getting worse and worse as it becomes easier and easier.
So, it kind of depends on the level and the measures that the abuser is going to use to control the victim. And control is what abuse is all about. Sometimes the abuser tries to hide it.
Like, they don't want to know or they don't want the survivor to know that they're being watched.
So, they're trying to be a little bit discreet. And sometimes they don't care. Sometimes it's a matter of phone checks and other really, really invasive ways of checking up on a person.
So, there's still the traditional methods.
You know, there's still a matter of, you know, checking in, following the individual, looking at their mail, looking at their browser history, looking at their phone, all sorts of things like that. But because of the way that technology kind of permeates all of our lives, tech-facilitated abuse and dual-use technology has really, really become a threat.
Tech-facilitated abuse, meaning using technology to further the abuse, such as shutting off phones, such as, you know, using GPS tracking, things like that. And dual-use technology, meaning using a legitimate service for an illegitimate purpose.
So, one perfect example, this has been kind of taken care of in a lot of ways, but things like family sharing plans or find my phone, find my iPhone, things like that, could be used to locate where the person is and keep tabs on their location without their knowledge, without their consent.
But also things like phone trackers, also things like controlling accounts, demanding passwords, which shows where the person logged in, things like that. I think that's one thing that we often overlook, especially in the security community, is we have our strong passwords. We have our multi-factor authentication, our password managers, and all of those sort of things.
So, we kind of make the assumption that we're allowed to keep that secret. If you're not allowed to keep your password secret, then password strength doesn't really make a difference. Another thing that we're seeing more of is the rise of stalkerware, which is tools that can be used to track a phone.
It's almost like a form of malware that can track a person's location or track their activities on the phone or other devices. One thing that's really interesting, and kind of where you find the intersection between advocacy and technology, is in the advocacy world, there's something called a power and control wheel.
It was developed as part of the Duluth domestic violence model back in the 80s, I believe, that talks about the different ways that an abuser will try to control and isolate their victim. I think there's eight or 10 different spokes in that wheel.
But when you look at it from a technology lens, a lot of those can really directly be applied to ways that technology is used for the same purposes that have been used for decades and decades. So when we look at the technology side of those things, and that power and control wheel had me perking up, because I know Stefani has talked about that in previous talks.
I'm actually just going to come back with some information about that or questions about that. But on the technology side, I've looked at different products and had conversations with product managers. And you're right, there doesn't seem to be a lot of emphasis put on the way that programs are built, the way that software is developed, anything from banking to IT administration.
There's a general assumption that the users are going to be pretty much good people and the users are going to be your consumers and that the software is not going to be abused.
And so when I have conversations with a product owner, I'm like, hey, what would it look like if someone did this?
What would it look like if your tool was used as a stock or what information can people gain from it?
And I was wondering if you had any examples specifically about stock or where or anything within that umbrella that you just covered that could really highlight some of the risks where you think that the software is benign or you think the feature is all right, but it ends up putting someone at risk.
Yeah, and unfortunately, countless. So it's really interesting what you said about how easy it is for developers to overlook this threat model, this risk.
And I think that a lot of that comes in a lot of cases, it really comes directly from a lack of diversity or lack of different voices in the planning sessions, in the boardrooms and the testing groups and things like that, where there's not enough voices that have different experiences that are able to say, wait a second, this could be misused.
And when you talk, when we're considering that one in four women, one in seven men, and the statistics can go on in shocking ways, will be a victim of intimate partner violence at some point in their lives. We're talking about a significant portion of the population, any sizable product, any sizable website, anything else, a large chunk of their customer base has this unique risk that's assigned to them.
So I can almost think about anything from in one particular case that I remember working with, and this is an individual that allows me to share this story, so I'm glad that I could, is she was very, very diligent right after she made her own escape, before we got a chance to talk to her, about changing all of her passwords, because she knew that her abuse of X had had access to all of those accounts, and she did not want him to know where she was and everything else.
And she was extremely diligent. She changed every single one to unique password, everything that we would say, to unique password, she used two factor authentication, strong passwords and everything else, and she got almost all of them. She missed one, and it happened to be her Verizon Fios account.
And so shout out of everything else, her abuser did what he could left and he logged in and he deleted all of her favorite television shows and all of her favorite timers for no reason other than to... It was one of the pettiest things you'll ever see. So that's what we're talking about. We're talking about how dedicated these adversaries are.
So when we actually give them tools, if this is what they do when they lack tools, if you put tools in their hand that can be used to cause actual harm, these are things that could cause a lot of damage, a lot of personal harm.
There have literally been cases where because of GPS tracking tools or stalkerware apps, as we talked about just a little bit ago, were used to track down, find information that the survivor didn't want that person to know, and it resulted in serious harm and in several cases, murder. So you mentioned that passwords are only as strong as your ability to keep them private.
And as a sex therapist, one of the things that I see occasionally after an act of infidelity, murder, breach in the relationship will be a move towards or a demand for shared social media. We'll see the, I don't know, Wolf and Steph on Facebook as a joint account instead of his individual things.
How can somebody ensure that sharing social media or an ask to share accounts isn't laying a foundation for coercion and control later on?
Yeah, that's actually a great question. It's something you see a lot of my grandparents, for example, they have one social media account that they share, but the important interests or the important thing is that that's something that they both willingly do.
Stefani, the work that you do is wonderful. It's amazing. I followed you for some time. And as someone who myself is very kink friendly, the consent is king and it is extremely, extremely important in all things, not only in that community, but also in everyday life.
So something like a scenario where you mentioned this is, it's a common tool that abusers will use in order to control their control, their victim and to say, I'm going to see who's talking to you. I'm going to see what's, what's going on. Now in some, some can argue and there's an argument that can be made that that being overt is a little bit less concerning than being done behind the scenes.
Meaning that if someone wants to talk to someone who is in a, um, talk to a friend or whatever it is, sends them a private message. They know they're sending a message to both parties. And if that's consensual on both, that's awesome and wonderful.
Whereas if the account is being surreptitiously monitored or if it's being forced to be monitored without people knowing that's the case, then they may be a little more forward with what they're saying.
But in a case like you described where there is a shared account, that may be a case where it's always good to keep an eye on the individual and look for some other red sign, you know, red flags, look for perhaps instances where they don't feel like they could speak, be forthcoming or talk openly or things like that.
And maybe at a certain point, have that conversation with the individual about your concerns.
You know, one of the things that I'd like to hear your perspective on Chris is the way that, um, parents have monitored their kids and use some of these same techniques with their kids and then we tell the kids, well, it's because we love you and it's because we care about you.
Is that leading to this view that some of these ways of stalking or tracking or misusing technology is now in some people's mind associated with love?
Like is this crossing, are these abuse strategies crossing from adults to kids and therefore preventing the seeds for it to go from kids back to adults?
It certainly can. And I think that because that kind of this technology is relatively new, I'd be interested in seeing kind of the long-term studies as that applies, but it is certainly something that in a way normalizes, um, certain forms of tracking. Now in my mind, there's a huge difference between you are a child, you are at a teenage age, there's risks out there and I want to know what you're doing.
So we're going to talk about those things, maybe even there's parental control apps or things like that where the child knows that's being done. Cause in that case, there's, they may not have much of a choice if they want to use their phone, but at least they know that it's being done.
At least that's something they can have, they can have the conversation with where I get very, very concerned are the tools that are designed to track the child's and we'll say child is the big old asterisk because we know what else is done with that. Track their activities without being, uh, without alerting them. That's where I feel there's definitely a line that's crossed. It's definitely establishing a trust issue with that child.
When they learn my parents have been following me, they've been spying on me. It's really no different in a lot of ways than sneaking into a kid's bedroom and reading their diary. It's still a violation in that sense. What's interesting about that is it really in a certain way that normalization almost went the other direction.
You may remember some years back, the stalkerware type companies were open the advertising, catch your cheating spouse. You can catch your cheating spouse. You can spy on your partner. This is a great tool to do that. And then several, four or five, six years ago, um, that actually there became a backlash where companies actually started.
There was a CEO of a company and I forget which one I always do ended up getting arrested for their role in enabling these illegal acts. So they all went underground. They all moved overseas. They all changed their marketing. You can see it at the same time, same timeframe. They all changed their websites to say, no, no, no, not your spouse. That's not what we meant.
Look at your kids, keep them safe. Look at your employees, make sure they're using the resources. They kind of use these dog whistles that imply that you should only use it for legal purposes. So in a sense, it went the other direction and the very, very illegal acts was used in a way to kind of switch to something that was a little bit more socially acceptable and big old air quotes.
And because it's the same tools, because the same techniques and in some cases, in many cases, same targets, it's really not much of a difference. It really does normalize that act.
Are, are, are technologies that are intended to protect children being used against adults?
Um, and I would, I would hazard a guess to say more often than it's used to actually protect children or protect children. As I mentioned, a lot of these stalkerware applications and I use stalkerware to, you can also call it spouse where there's a lot of terms, but I use that to encompass any type of software that's used to surreptitiously secretly monitor, particularly a partner is what it would be used for.
And these are things that can get into the person's email accounts or things that can read text messages. It can activate their phones, actually may inactivate the microphones, cameras, all these sort of things. It's designed for stalking. There's no other way to put it.
And so even though the companies are trying to be very, very clear on their website and say that, well, you're only supposed to use it for legal purposes, almost like the old, the old disclaimers, novelty purposes only. It's one of those things where it's very, very well understood what it's being used for. There is an interesting, there's some interesting research that showed the justification that's being done. It's for the tech clinic.
I forget this. I'm going to be embarrassed when I remember it down the road. Or remember, hopefully we can update some, update the description for this. But they showed the justification that the users use of stalker where people have actually purchased this to say, no, it's okay. It's normal what I'm doing when in fact it really isn't.
So extending the idea of childhood to the idea of infancy and even before infancy into pregnancy, talk to me about how all of these tools, all of these strategies that abusers have are impacting women who might become parents in the future.
Are there specific concerns for pregnant people these days?
Definitely, definitely. And before I forget, the actual, the organization I was thinking of because it came to me is the Clinic to End Tech Abuse, CETA out of Cornell Tech. They do amazing research and one of it was on stalkerware and the justifications to be used for that. So I just did not want to forget. We will put it in the show notes. Thank you.
So to your question, that's a very good question because there's definitely, there's a long established connection between any form of reproductive health and domestic violence.
In fact, 20% of domestic violence survivors experience some form of what we call reproductive coercion, which means that they're either forced to begin or terminate a pregnancy, forced to initiate birth control, forced to stop taking birth control or tampering with their birth control. So there's definitely an established connection between domestic violence and pregnancy or the ability to get pregnant or the plans to get pregnant.
One thing that you see a lot, and this is a very common trend when it comes to domestic violence, is removing, is what we call a rapid repeat pregnancies, where the abuser, in order to force the victim to force the survivor to stay in the situation and even to perpetuate the cycle of abuse, will get the victim pregnant over and over again, which in their mind, kind of locks them into the situation.
And that's some concerns that I have with where we kind of see things going and how that can affect people who may end up getting pregnant. That was something that came to my mind today. There was a story going around about somebody who had purchased a pregnancy test at Walgreens and then received a box of formula and congratulations on your future baby sort of things delivered in the mail.
And those are not necessarily things that people know will happen. But if somebody is buying a pregnancy test secretly because they might not want to share that information with their partner, things like that become a real pressing concern. Yeah. There was a horrifying, I saw the same story and it was horrifying on so many different levels.
On one hand, just the data privacy level in that we all hate our data getting sold to companies like a market and things like that. That whole privacy act, you go there because you want to save a couple of percentage points or save a couple percent off your bill when you buy something and suddenly you're signed up for everything. So on one hand, that's somewhere between annoyance and horrifying.
But what is really horrifying, as you mentioned, is that can really put an individual at risk.
If the person had received that was in an abusive situation or perhaps they were underage and their parents were, and they were concerned about their safety should their parents find out, that decision by Walgreens and Infamil, I think was the company that actually sent it out, is a huge misstep that can cause a lot of harm.
And that gets back to what we were talking about earlier, right?
Which is oftentimes if you don't have the voices in the room, if you don't have some of the insights and these stats, you're not aware of the harm you're doing from a product company perspective or a retail perspective, which is absolutely frightening.
From an individual perspective, what can people do to protect themselves?
So that's really the important question is what individuals can do and what we can all do together.
So on one hand, it's a matter of what we call the basic cyber hygiene, right?
The basics really take care of a lot, they protect a lot. Things like strong, unique passwords. A lot of us, maybe not me, maybe not us, but a lot of us out there have a bad habit of reusing passwords. And that allows for certain types of attack where if one password gets known, then it probably works on other websites. Using things like multi-factor authentication, two-factor authentication, things like that, hardware tokens.
I'm a big fan personally of the UB key. Another one is to be aware of what we call phishing, which is when you get those messages that say, oh my God, you really need to click this link very, very quickly. If you don't do the next couple of minutes, something bad is going to happen with your bank or with an order or an iPhone or whatever it is.
I have a friend who I love dearly who falls for that all the time. I have to keep reminding him, stop clicking those links, stop calling them. So a lot of the fundamentals will help with that. A little bit of healthy paranoia, such as things when it comes to information that we're linking that we're giving companies, such as in the Walgreens infamil case that we just spoke about.
If you sever that connection, if you don't give actual information that can come back to you, then you can protect yourselves a little bit from those business interests. Another thing, and I'm a huge fan of this, it's called lying, big fan of lying. Such as in that case, putting some false information. But another one is password reset questions.
This is always, always an issue where companies, and this goes back to the thing we said multiple times already, they're not thinking about the actual threat model that a huge portion of their audience considers. So they put these questions on websites or tools or software, whatever it is, and said, hey, if you forgot your password, just prove that it's you. Just answer these questions.
What street did you grow up on?
What was your pet's name, favorite color, and things like that?
And the chances are good that a stranger doesn't know those things about me. It's not hard to find if they wanted, but they probably don't know it off the top of their head, but my significant other sure does. She could very, very easily, if I told the truth on password reset questions, she can get on there and say, I know where he grew up.
I know what his pet's name is and everything like that. So I always advocate for using incorrect information on there.
In fact, well, if you mentioned something about banking information early on in this conversation, a fun fact, kind of a fun fact, is the question about mother's maiden name. That came from banking regulation in 1888, when if you were somewhere else and you're trying to bank by telegraph, there's a good chance that anyone where you were going to be away from your hometown.
And so anyone away from your hometown, probably they knew your last name, so they could guess your father's name last name. But mother's maiden name was something that only people would know locally. It's written in the family Bible and everything else. So they said, this is a great way to protect your information. It probably was back in the late 1800s, but certainly not today. So that's another one.
And so kind of another one is to it's important to understand that you're you in the corporate sense, your threat model is unique. So it's important to do it makes sense to you.
So for me, my concerns are maybe a little bit different from someone who is getting ready to leave an abusive situation. So it's important to kind of understand what's likely to happen, kind of the capabilities of whoever might be watching and kind of tailor it to you. And that not very safe. We're always there to help. We're always there to help an individual do that.
What about what about the individuals who do need Operation Safe Escape?
Like, what can people do to support folks that care about who might find themselves in a controlling or abusive situation?
So as I mentioned, we're always there to help. We often get that where someone reaches out and they say, I haven't heard from my sister. I haven't heard from my brother. I haven't heard from my whoever it may be in a very long time. And I'm very, very concerned about them because they're in this situation.
So a lot of the instances that we end up helping with are ones where it's someone that's concerned about a loved one. And so once we start having that conversation, we can help them figure out a safe way to reach out and to start having some of those conversations. That's where you can start to break through that isolation.
One of the first things that an abuser does is they try to isolate their victim. They try to isolate them in whatever way they can digitally, physically control who they can talk to, what they can say and all these other things. Can't work, can't go to school, whatever it may be.
And so once you get a chance to work with someone who's close to the survivor or even the survivor themselves and break through that and say, here's some safe ways that you can talk, let's talk about burner phones, let's talk about tools and techniques that you can use. Then you really start to kind of break that isolation, give some hope. And then you can start to give that person a chance.
Are there other areas or ways in which people can support folks who might not feel like they're able to make full informed autonomous choices right now?
Wolf and I just did a two part series on sort of the aftermath of Roe. So that comes to mind, talk to me about sort of the broader implications for privacy for all kinds of people right now that might be in relationships that aren't safe or comfortable. Yeah.
I mean, a huge part of the origin of Roe versus Wade was privacy laws, not the entirety. There's other aspects, sure. But the privacy of the individual to make their own health decisions was the cornerstone of Roe versus Wade. And eroding that in any way is going to lead to a scary place.
And I'm very, very concerned about some of the individuals that we may be working with or have worked with in the past who have plans to get pregnant or want to avoid getting pregnant. Like I mentioned earlier on, we're talking about 20% of people of survivors of domestic violence have been affected by reproductive coercion.
So they've either been told you have to get an abortion or you have to carry the child the term or whatever it may be a choice. You're right. Like you said, that they did not have, that was not their choice to make.
So by taking away the ability for that to be, for the individual to make their own decisions, that will, I'm saying this as a fact, not an opinion, it will lead to further harm, further case of domestic violence and further injuries or worse. One of the big concerns that I have is in areas where I think they may or plan to take away access to birth control.
That leads very easily to coerced pregnancies and it ultimately increases the cycle of abuse. We're talking about a situation where someone is forced to have a child into an abusive home. They don't have a medical ability to do otherwise. And abuse is cyclical. So the abuser is not going to stop simply because of the child. We're talking about something that can now affect multiple generations.
Not to mention the fact that pregnancy is stressful. It increases stress and already abusive or volatile relationship. And ultimately, one of my greatest fears is that this is going to lead to unsafe home abortions in cases where the abuser demands it. So this is a terrible decision and we as an organization are very concerned about the victims of this decision.
I agree with you about the potential for coercion and for coerced abortions. One thing that I am really grateful for is the progress that has been made in reproductive health care. I know that a lot of reproductive advocates have been really trying to change the narrative around sort of the coat hanger symbolism because so many legal abortions are medical now.
And there are ways to have safe abortions at home, even in states where perhaps it might not be legal to do so. But what we want is for those choices to always be the pregnant person's choices. It becomes a problem for me and obviously should for anyone when somebody else is making those choices for them. Right.
Especially when it's someone who has shown they don't have an interest in the well-being of that individual.
Directly, I'm talking about the abuser, but I can leave it open if we're talking about it in any other political context. So if somebody is listening to this and they are hearing you and they're thinking to themselves, you know, my partner does some of those things. My partner wants me to have find my phone on. My partner seems to know what I'm emailing my sister about.
What sort of things can they do to mitigate their risk, their exposure to protect themselves from potential harm from somebody that they're living with?
So there's a lot of things. And fortunately, that's something that is going to be, it's something that's increasing in terms of resources that are available to an individual. So someone who's in that circumstance can always reach out to us in terms of some of their security concerns, safety concerns. We can always help them to figure those things out.
Also reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline just to talk about the circumstances.
Simply to ask the question, is this abuse?
And frankly, in most cases where someone asks the question, is this abuse?
The answer is very often yes. When it comes to some of the technical threats, such as you talked about where the abuser seems to know where they are, seems to know the contents of the email and things like that. So we might be talking about a stalkerware situation. That's something that we can help find. That's something that we're uniquely qualified to help the individual look for.
But we're also, we're founding members of what's called the Coalition Against Stalkerware, which is an amazing organization. It started with, I think, seven or eight different agencies and organizations. It's grown from there. And essentially, it's these organizations that have gotten together and said, we're going to do what we can to stop stalkerware.
It's multiple antivirus companies, major antivirus companies, domestic violence organizations, and other privacy security type companies who have all gotten together to try to find out some of those best practices.
And one of those best practices that emerged from that, almost counterintuitively, is the decision that the stalkerware companies have changed the way that they detect and deal with stalkerware, excuse me, the antivirus companies have changed the way they deal with stalkerware, previously it was treated like any other form of malware, any other type of virus.
It found it, it removed it, and it went on its day and it did a very, very good job. But one of the things that we realized as an organization is someone's monitoring on the other end that stalkerware tool. And if it gets removed, that can escalate a situation.
And they can say, was I detected?
Should I be concerned?
Am I going to, how do I stop them from leaving in that case?
And that's when it can turn into something that's violent or harmful. So in those cases now, it detects, it says, hey, you have this problem, now you can make your own decision what to do with that information. So it doesn't force a decision for the individual.
So really it kind of comes down to as much as possible, you want to give agency to the person who's often has that agency taken away from them, often not allowed to make those choices instead saying, now you can make the choice based on what makes sense for you. So really kind of a matter of doing something that makes sense for the individual and is safe for them.
That makes a lot of sense. And I like that as a point to end on is returning agency to the people affected. Chris has been great having you on. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience. One last question, actually a two parter last question.
Any final thoughts?
For our listeners and where can people go to find out more about you and Safe Escape?
Yeah, you know, I just want to let people know that we're not the only ones out there that are doing what we can to help. There's different organizations that we've partnered with, different organizations that we work with, different organizations that are working on the same type of thing as far as keeping people safe. And so there is hope.
I think that's the important thing to remember is that there is hope, there are people out there that can help. And more and more, the odds are becoming in the favor of the survivor. One example that I'll give, it comes back to stock aware, just because that's been on my mind a lot lately. It's a real, real problem.
And it used to be at one time that it was very, very difficult to use and install. It was expensive. You had to know how to use cryptocurrencies in order to even get it. There's a barrier to entry. And then phase two, it became extremely easy. You can use PayPal.
Yes, you can still use PayPal to buy software to spy on your spouse. I have a problem with that, but that's another conversation. It became very easy to use and very easy to install.
In fact, they'll even help you do it. These companies will even walk you through the process. Even if you tell them what it's being used for, it's terrible. So that was kind of a really, really difficult time period for people who are trying to leave an abusive situation. But the tide started to turn because so many people are taking a stand and saying abuse is wrong, full stop period.
So many organizations are saying anything that's technologically facilitated abuse, we are against it, full stop period. So many organizations and people are standing against this now that the stalkerware, as an example, it's easy to detect. There's tools that can detect it. It's not difficult. Any antivirus company is looking for it. And there's more and more research. More of these companies are being shut down.
And more importantly, the perpetrators are being caught and in some cases even prosecuted. So more of the power is shifting to the survivors. And it's very, very exciting to see. To the second part of your question, Wolf, there, as far as how can people reach out and get some help, we're always here. We try to make ourselves available in as many ways as possible.
If you go to our website, safeescape.org, you can find us. We have a form that can be used anonymously or can be used to get whatever information you want to give us so we can contact you. We have a phone line that's actively monitored. We accept email. We have social media, Twitter, Facebook, you can just search for Operation Safe Escape.
We want to make sure there's as many ways as possible for someone to reach out to us. And if you do, someone will get back to you. A real person will get back to you to help. That's fantastic. Thank you. Thanks for joining us, and thank you for all you've been doing in this topic. Thank you. Thanks for having me.
And to the listeners, thanks so much for tuning in to Securing Sexuality. Your source for information you need to protect yourselves and your relationships. From the bedroom to the cloud, we are here to help you navigate safe sex in a digital age. Be sure to check out our website, securingsexuality.com for links to more information about the topics that Chris discussed today, including links to Operation Safe Escape.
And join us again for more in-depth conversations about the intersection of sexuality and technology. Have a good week.
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