Abused women in fear of texts, emails

Last updated 00:00 08/10/2007

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Breaches of protection orders by text messaging and the internet are a growing problem for people trying to escape abusive relationships, social groups say.

Rachel Harrison, communications manager of internet safety watchdog NetSafe, said breaches of protection orders were one of the most "persistent" cases they referred to police.

"It's just one of those things – people are using technology. It's not just about turning up and being physically violent.

"There is lots of psychological abuse using these technologies.

"It's not the most common (form of text abuse), but it's persistent."

NetSafe would often deal with victims whose phones had been "text bombed" – where they received so many text messages their inbox was overloaded, Harrison said.

Victims were advised to take the message straight to police.

"Now police have really clear guidelines and can involve telecommunications companies. While police are taking action, the telecommunication company can send a warning to the offender to stop texting and police can continue with their investigation."

Christchurch Women's Refuge manager Annette Gillespie said the use of internet and cellphones to abuse women was a growing problem and making it more difficult for women to escape and avoid harassment from abusers.

"Technological advances have had a sinister downside for many women who have been, or are in, abusive relationships," Gillespie said.

"Technology is providing many men with a new weapon to abuse women. They harass, threaten and taunt them through text messages, as well as through email and chat rooms.

"It is an extremely invasive way of getting to women they may not be able to physically access.

"It is a form of psychological abuse that can be used to create a great degree of fear and terror.

"The other side of this is that women are also being abused by having their access to their own cellphones and computers monitored or blocked by abusive and controlling partners."

Children could also face the same sort of abuse through cyber technology, and its impact should not be underestimated.

"It is something that police and the courts must deal with seriously, particularly when they are being used to breach protection orders."

Reports of this type of abuse were also increasingly common in other countries, Gillespie said.

Christchurch Family Violence Safety Team Co-ordinator Pegeen O'Rourke said police handled a lot of cases where protection orders had been breached through mobile phone and internet harassment.

"Often people say it's just a text but when you are already frightened, the offender knows what to say to make you more frightened, which can be more alarming."

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Police could easily deal with protection order breaches via cellphones, she said.

"It's very easily traceable ... we encourage victims to bring the phone in to the central station, show us and make a complaint," O'Rourke.

"We take it very seriously – it's a criminal offence. We understand how intimidating it can be.

"We usually suggest they don't reply, and some woman feel they need to change their phone number."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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