Domestic abuse victim reveals the terror of being stalked in her own home - 'He hacked my security camera'

·Political Correspondent - Yahoo News UK
·4-min read
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Refuge and Avast have warned domestic abuser are using smart home technology to abuse their victims (Getty Creative)

Smart home technology is being used by domestic abusers to abuse their victims, a leading domestic abuse charity has warned.

The national domestic abuse charity Refuge, in conjunction with digital security and privacy organisation Avast, have warned commonly used smart home technology is being used by abusive partners to target their partners.

They listed RING Doorbells, Smart TVs, and Amazon Alexa as among the most common devices used by perpetrators.

Louise, a victim of a domestic abuser using smart home technology to abuse her, spoke to Yahoo News UK about her experiences.

"During the lockdown, the abuse from my ex-partner really escalated," she said.

They were living in separate parts of the house when she noticed signs he had been entering her room.

“It started to become apparent that he was coming into my areas of the house because my possessions kept going missing or would turn up somewhere random and broken," said Louise.

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She soon discovered that he was masturbating onto her clothing, at which point she installed a home security camera in her room.

"I didn’t think he’d be able to access it but I noticed that the recording logs were being deleted,” she said.

"It was very frightening and confusing. I wasn’t sure what was happening. He was playing mind games.

"When I’d try to confront him, his aggressive and frightening behaviour would escalate.

"Now I know I was being stalked in my own home. Now I know he was using the security camera and my other tech to spy on me.”

Louise says there is a lack of knowledge regarding how smart home technology can be abused.

"I didn’t realise what was happening to my tech until I reached out to Refuge," she said.

Refuge and Avast surveyed 2,000 women and found that 48% could not name a device that was vulnerable to abuse.

Close-up of the top of an Amazon Echo smart speaker, using the Alexa service, on a light wooden surface in a suburban home setting, San Ramon, California, May 31, 2018. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Sipa USA)
Amazon's Alexa smart speakers are listed as one of the products most frequently used by domestic abusers on their victims (PA Images)

Louise is calling on the government to consider making tech companies address the issue.

"Tech companies need to do more to safeguard the women using their products against abuse and the government must do more to ensure tech companies are held accountable," she said.

"The government should also legislate to ensure that tech companies take women’s safety into account when designing these products.

"The home camera system I was abused via was far too easy to hack into. This needs to change.”

Jaya Baloo, chief information security officer at Avast, said the abuse of the technology had rapidly accelerated during the pandemic.

“Our threat researchers found that there has been a 93% increase in the use of spyware and stalkerware apps in the UK since lockdown measures were introduced and we stress-tested these ten devices reported to Refuge,” she said.

“They are all extremely popular and common, so we have focused on providing clear and actionable advice for women on how to keep their devices secured from misuse.”

Like Louise, Ruth Davison, CEO at Refuge, said the government has a responsibility to address the issue.

"The government must ensure that tech abuse is taken seriously and legislate for better regulation of tech companies," she said.

 A protester holds a placard that says End Violence Against Women during the demonstration.
Crowds of people gathered in London to protest against the heavy-handed response by the police at the Sarah Everard vigil, as well as the government's new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which would give the police new powers to deal with protests. (Photo by Vuk Valcic / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
Two women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales (PA Images)

"The Online Safety Bill is the first such opportunity and poses an important chance to regulate social media companies, which we know are also regularly used by domestic abusers to harm women" she said.

"Key to increasing the safety of smart home devices is ensuring that tech companies design their products with women’s safety in mind.”

The Home Office have been approached for comment.

Domestic violence and domestic abuse have soared during lockdown; between April 2020 and February 2021, Refuge reported 13,162 calls and messages to its National Domestic Abuse helpline - up more than 60% on the average monthly figures at the start of 2020.

One in three women will experience domestic abuse or domestic violence in their lifetime in England and Wales and two women are killed per week by a current or former partner.

Refuge and Avast have partnered to produce information on home tech safety, which can be found here.

If you or someone you know are experiencing domestic violence or abuse, you can call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline at: 0808 2000 247.

You can also ask for “ANI” at independent pharmacies and Boots and a specially trained pharmacy worker will assist you.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Abuse can take many forms and can be done through many means including using new digital technology. This year’s landmark Domestic Abuse Act recognises this fact by broadening the definition of domestic abuse.

“We’re continuing to fund new perpetrator research and intervention programmes to better understand ‘what works’ in addressing abusive behaviours, including through the use of technology."

Watch: NHS encourages people to see help if they are victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault

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