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Domestic violence and digital abuse

In a local tragedy a week ago, a woman, Tracy Coleman, her brother and her 13-year-old son were shot to death by the woman’s boyfriend, Sharif Whitlock. The murders took place 45 minutes after the woman had filed a domestic violence complaint against her boyfriend. The perpetrator fled the scene and later hanged himself.

The case was the lead incident in a story published yesterday by my local newspaper, the Press of Atlantic City. It was entitled, Hamilton Twp. shooting deaths show familiar domestic violence outcome. The well-done story focused on the larger issue of domestic violence. In Atlantic County, New Jersey over the last two years, 13 people have been killed in domestic violence situations, including three perpetrators. A total of 21 children lost a parent.

Reading about Coleman and Whitlock, I could see all the typical signs of a sociopathic perpetrator and a well-meaning victim. The couple had broken up, but Whitlock constantly called Coleman, accusing and threatening her. For her part, Coleman felt she couldn’t abandon someone who had so many problems.

And then came the statement with caught my attention: Whitlock used technology to try to control his girlfriend.

The article quoted Yasmine Lopez, Coleman’s friend and instructor in the dental hygienist class she was taking:

Lopez said in the days before the shooting, Whitlock constantly called and texted his girlfriend so much so that the cell phone in her pocket never stopped vibrating. During one of those calls on June 2, Lopez said she overheard Whitlock on the phone, making threats and telling Coleman, “Don’t you understand? I want to kill myself.”

The article then quoted from the police report:

When Coleman spoke to a police officer June 6, she said Whitlock had broken her cell phone. The complaint says Whitlock later bought a new phone, had the number changed to Coleman’s number giving him access to her friends and family and “called subjects on (her) contact list and harassed them.”

This harassment via technology now has a name: Digital abuse.

Control in the technology age

Cell phones, e-mail, Facebook and Twitter—digital technology provides abusers with another avenue for asserting control over their victims and monitoring what they are doing.

The Press reporters interviewed Susan Risdon, spokesperson for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. She said that digital abuse often runs in tandem with verbal abuse and physical violence.

“We see a lot of instances where someone will send their partner 50 to 80 text messages a day, and if they can’t get a hold of them, they’ll text their best friend, saying, ”˜Are you with her?’” Risdon said.

“Domestic violence involves control, trying to isolate someone from their friends and loved ones, and keeping them to yourself. Digital abuse is a way to extend that isolation.”

Abuse among youth

The victim in this case, Tracy Coleman, was 44 years old. But digital abuse is even more common among those who live and breathe everything digital—teenagers and young adults. A study by the Associated Press and MTV, which was released late last year, found that 50 percent of 14- to 24-year-olds have experienced some form of digital abuse.

Here’s how the study defined digital abuse:

  • writing something online that wasn’t true
  • sharing information that a person didn’t want shared
  • writing something mean
  • spreading false rumors
  • threatening physical harm
  • impersonation
  • spying
  • posting embarrassing photos or video
  • being pressured to send naked photos
  • being teased
  • encouraging people to hurt themselves.

Last year MTV launched a campaign called aimed at stopping the spread of abuse in the form of sexting, cyberbullying and digital dating abuse. The goal is to “empower America’s youth to identify, respond to and stop the spread of various forms of digital harassment.”

The campaign is called A Thin Line, reflecting the thin line between what’s public and what should be private. The website explains several kinds of abuse: sexting, constant messaging, spying, digital disrespect and cruelty. It also offers suggestions for young people to take control of their digital domains. One of the key recommendations: If they see or experience abuse, report it.

I hope young people get the message. Maybe if they learn that digital bullying, harassment and threats are not okay, they’ll get the message that the same behaviors in real life are also not to be tolerated.


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57 Comments on "Domestic violence and digital abuse"

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Hi OxDrover,
I did see that 20/20 episode. After my brief-but-chilling experience with a psychopath and reading this site, it was obvious that he (the pastor, Matt Baker) did it. I could even predict how he would explain himself! When a former co-worker from his university days accused him of sexual assault (touching and kissing), he explained it as a hysterical girl’s fantasy, as I knew he would. These guys are so textbook. Thank goodness he’s in jail now, but even in jail, he would not admit blame. I feel so bad for Kari’s mother, she said her daughter died not knowing real love, and she is right.
Here’s more info about the case:
http://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/story?id=4408157&page=1

Heather

Thanks for the link Heather—Yea we call it the “Psychopath’s play book” and a lot of the cons and techniques they use are so PREDICTABLE it is almost laughable if it weren’t SO SAD for the victim.

Frankly, I am thankful that more women (and a few men) are not killed by their “significant others” than are, but still I think it is close to, if not THE, largest cause of death in women. According to statistics the time she is leaving a man is the most dangerous time, so it is very important that a person leaving a P take precautions.

Of course sometimes they will be murdered because the P wants them gone but donesn’t want to bother with a divorce.

Scot Petersen is an example of this….and my guess is that he abused Laci in multiple ways but she kept the a FRONT because she didn’t want anyone to know the truth. That is a sad fact too is that so many women or men who are abused keep up a fake front of “happiness” and denial of wha is going on in their lives. I even convinced MYSELF I was happy with my life. Now that’s some good acting! LOL

Oxy, I remember back in 2004, writing to Sharon Rocha’s site my sympathy for the loss of Laci and Connor. Little did I know, I was living with a Scott Peterson at the time. If Scott was anything like my EX, he didn’t let Laci know his true self. Most of them (the seasoned ones) lie any time they open their mouths. I’m sure Laci had no clue what the true Scott was until the bitter end. Of course, by then, it was too late.

As for me, I’m sure I would have known sooner, if I wasn’t so beaten down by my bosses and their cronies at the time. I was too exhausted dealing with their lies each day … just trying to keep my head above water … as I had to figure out every ridiculous charge they made against me. Charges that could never be resolved since they never happened in the first place. I would go home each night and collapse. Absolutely exhausted … emotionally, mentally and physically. Was my Ex just lucky to have my focus concentrated on the animals that called themselves managers, or was he a ringer for them? I lean towards the latter since I remember others that worked where I worked stated years earlier that the same happened to them. Not to the extreme what they did to me, but devastating to them just the same.

Wini, it is not unusual for our Psychopaths to keep us distracted or to use anything available to keep us off balance. Also it is certainaly not out of the real of possibility to be dealing with more than one at a time. In one of his letters to the Trojan horse psychopath my P son listed ways to keep me off balance and ideas for keeping me financially broke and confused. They are quite crafty at times. Fighting one is bad enough but more than one at a time is really a challenge.

Plus, they will use any emergency or problems that occur naturally as a way to help them keep you off balance. ^The old KICK YOU WHILE YOU ARE DOWN PLOY!

Wini and OxDrover,

The behaviors of the spath speak loud and clear (things that were said or done), telling us that the person is “off,” just requiring you to get apart from him/her to decipher what you’re picking up on. If it hadn’t been for me asking myself a question (is lying a symptom of something?), then doing an online search for an answer that I started to find out what my h-spath was afflicted with, concluding with the ugly truth that he most definitely is a spath. This fact is very disturbing and heartbreaking, not always knowing how to integrate this information within – too upsetting still. You carry on, not liking the information that you’ve gathered, conclusions that you’ve drawn.

Dear Bluejay,

It starts out about them, but then about learning about ourselves—healing ourselves. Yea, the truth will set you free, but first it will PITH you off! (((hugs))))

Donna, thank you so much for this article. I haven’t read all of the responses to it, but I feel that you’ve brought up a very, VERY important issue: the use of technology to continue instilling fear.

Why, precisely, do we feel compelled to even own a cell phone? Why, precisely, does a teenager need to have a cell phone? Why aren’t parents paying greater attention to what their children are involved in, online?

When I was a kid, we didn’t have cell phones or even touch-tone-dialing. We told our parents where we would be, and learned how to manage our time, or not. We weren’t parked in front of video games or computers, and social interactions were conducted on a face-to-face level.

Leaving a spath? CHANGE ALL NUMBERS AND ACCOUNT ID’s!!! “Keeping in touch” with friends via cell phones and Facebook accounts is not worth trading a human life.

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