Domestic Violence during COVID-19 and Tips to Counter Electronic Surveillance
By Shalini Nangia, Varnum LLP | 04/14/20

A scary and unintended consequence of stay at home orders is a marked increase in incidents of domestic violence. Hotlines around the world are reporting a huge surge in the number of calls reporting both physical and psychological abuse. People often assume that domestic violence only refers to physical violence, but other common forms of abuse include isolation from friends, family and employment; physical and electronic surveillance; and restricted access to money, food, clothing and sanitary facilities.

Being isolated in homes nearly 24 hours a day provides abusers with the perfect opportunity to exert power and control. Survivors – often women and children – no longer have jobs, school, friends/family, or even daily errands to provide cooling off periods or support. To make matters worse, abuse can often be intensified when abusers face financial strain. What resources are available while we are all stuck at home?

  1. Legal Action. Though most courts are essentially closed to civil matters, they are all addressing emergency motions and petitions for personal protection orders. If your client is in immediate danger, call 911.

  2. Community Support. Community organizers, religious leaders and mental health workers and doctors are often available for support remotely, and many are mandatory reporters. Your client can call 211 for local resources, including shelters and hotlines, or have an online chat at – both provide free and confidential assistance 24 hours a day. The call traffic is busiest from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but the operators are available 24 hours a day.

  3. Tips to Counter Electronic Surveillance. As we become more dependent on electronic devices and social media, abusers have increasingly used these mediums to control their partners.
    1. Advise your client to be aware of all devices that an abuser could be using to control them – phones, laptops, tablets, cameras, thermostats, smart speakers, newer car models, and your client’s children's devices.
    2. Advise your client to not keep notes or passwords in your phone's notepad feature, as login information could be synched to the cloud, and your abuser could be reading them;
    3. Advise your client to secure all email, social media, and cloud accounts with a password manager and two-factor authentication. Tell your client to use passwords suggested by the device, and not anything personal that can be guessed. For security questions such as your client’s mother's maiden name, make up a random answer.
    4. Use burner phones that are not attached to any shared credit cards;
    5. Do not use shared accounts for iTunes, Google, iCloud, where your abuser can access your location, emails, photographs, web browsing history etc.
    6. Check privacy settings on all social media (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), Venmo, WhatsApp, YouTube and Google (including Google Maps) accounts. Set up alerts for when someone else logs into your accounts.
    7. Your client’s phone can be a critical aide for them but also the source for most of the abuser's information. Certain changes can help keep your client safer. Advise them to:
      • Secure their smartphone by using a six-digit passcode instead of fingerprints and or facial recognition, which some abusers use to try and unlock phones when you are sleeping.
      • Turn off notification options for your texts, emails and apps.
      • Turn off location services on their apps. On Android phones, open Settings/Location/App permission. On iPhones, open Settings/Privacy/Location Services.
      • Delete any unknown apps.
      • Update the operating system to improve security and possibly wipe out certain types of stalkerware.
    8. Advise your client to check out sites such as and for valuable information and counselors who can walk your client through how to create secure passwords, turn off location sharing and disable cameras and microphones on devices.
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