Lauren lived in fear of her ex-husband. She says a ‘safe phone’ could have helped her

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jul7,2024
This article contains references to domestic violence.
Lauren knows exactly how important a ‘safe’ phone can be.
The Sunshine Coast mother of two is a volunteer for an Australian charity that gives free mobile phones to victims of domestic and family violence.
For 15 years, she experienced escalating abuse at the hands of her ex-husband, including surveillance and threats.
“I was living on high alert, in a state of constant panic and fear. I was very concerned about what may happen to me if I ended [the relationship],” says Lauren, 45.
“I felt quite trapped in my marriage. So, having an extra phone that he didn’t know about would’ve made a big difference.

“It would have allowed me to contact people without his knowledge.”

A woman in a floral dress sits at a computer in an office and smiles at camera.

Lauren volunteers one day per week at the Queensland charity DV Safe Phone, which collects and gifts mobile phones to victim-survivors of domestic violence. Source: SBS / Sandra Fulloon

Lauren was experiencing coercive control, which is defined as a pattern of physical or non-physical abuse that’s used to hurt, scare, intimidate, threaten or control someone. Mobile phones are often weaponised as part of the abuse.

“I thought he was being a nice guy when he bought me a new phone and set it all up for me. I thought he was being a nice partner,” she says.

“But later I found out that he was reading my messages. He did the same with emails.”

That kind of behaviour is called technology-facilitated Abuse (TFA) and it’s a growing area of concern for domestic and family violence services, as well as police.
“There are many apps out there that are able to be tracked, and [apps that can] be used by perpetrators to track people,” says acting inspector Jonathan McBride, who works with the Sunshine Coast District Domestic, Family Violence and Vulnerable Persons unit.
McBride said phones can also be used by perpetrators of domestic violence to contact family members and friends of victims, furthering their abuse.

“It’s a real means of control,” he says.

A police officer in uniform sits on a chair in an office.

Acting inspector Jonathan McBride from Sunshine Coast District Police says apps can be used by perpetrators of domestic violence to track people. Source: SBS / Sandra Fulloon

It’s one reason Lauren volunteers with the Queensland-based charity DV Safe Phone, which provides free mobile phones to victim-survivors of domestic violence.

“Often the phone is the first thing broken or taken from a victim of domestic violence,” Lauren says.

“And to have that second phone there allows people to contact domestic violence services or emergency services if that’s needed.”

A row of second-hand phones sitting on a shelf.

Second-hand phones are being repurposed at DV Safe Phone. Source: SBS / Sandra Fulloon

Since it started three years ago, DV Safe Phone has provided nearly 9,000 free phones to domestic violence agencies across the country.

“We’ve received over 25,000 phones from generous individuals and companies all through Australia,” says founder and CEO Ashton Wood.

A man in a white shirt sits on a chair holding up mobile phones.

DV Safe Phone CEO Ashton Wood founded the charity three years ago. Source: SBS / Sandra Fulloon

“We test the phones and make sure they work, do the repairs where possible and give working phones to victims of domestic violence.

“We buy brand new charger cables for every phone and we provide SIM cards where required that have inbuilt credit in them.”
McBride says just having access to a phone “can save lives”.

“Phones are very, very expensive, and especially in a coercive control situation where all the finances may be controlled by the perpetrator, it’s not so easy [for victims] to go out and buy a new phone.”

A man in a pink checked shirt sits at a bench working on a mobile phone.

Max Lago volunteers at DV Safe Phone. Source: SBS / Sandra Fulloon

Even so, a ‘safe’ phone must be well hidden, to ensure it remains free of tracking apps.

“It’s not necessarily safe to have a phone hiding in a drawer where it can easily be discovered,” says McBride.
“A perpetrator can then put apps on [a phone] that the user isn’t even aware of. Once it is compromised, a phone is no longer safe. So, it’s important to keep it away from a perpetrator.”

New coercive control laws came into force in NSW on 1 July. While coercive control can also occur among friends, family and work colleagues, for now, the new laws apply to intimate partnerships.

The NSW Domestic Violence Death Review Team found that in 97 per cent of intimate partner domestic violence homicide cases, the victim had experienced coercive and controlling behaviours before being killed.
“In most domestic violence homicides over the last five years, coercion and control has been an element of the behaviour and the relationship dynamics leading up to the homicide,” says Karen Bevan, chief executive of leading sexual, domestic and family violence response and recovery service Full Stop Australia.

“So, this is a really important piece of legislation that aligns what we know about how the escalation of domestic violence might occur and what we do in our legal response.”

The NSW Crime Commission says surveillance devices like GPS trackers that can attach to a car, mobile phone spyware and Bluetooth tracking devices are increasingly part of the domestic abuse pattern.
“We are definitely seeing the scale of technology-facilitated abuse growing all the time, and there are more opportunities to use different types of technology as technology advances,” says Bevan.
“What really concerns us too is the way that abusers often recruit their children into this. We have heard stories of tracking devices being placed in teddy bears which enables abusers to even track mum and the kids, for example, in a women’s refuge.

“So, TFA is really, really serious and it is growing.”

Like many victim-survivors of domestic abuse, Lauren did not report it because there was no physical violence.
“At the time I didn’t know there was even services out there for people like me. I thought that domestic violence was all physical.”

The new laws come too late for Lauren. However, with 39 women violently killed in Australia this year, according to advocacy group Destroy the Joint’s project Counting Dead Women, she welcomes steps to criminalise coercive control.

A woman in a pink floral dress faces the camera in an office.

Lauren welcomes coercive control laws recently introduced in NSW. Source: SBS / Sandra Fulloon

“I absolutely support these laws, and they definitely would have helped me.

“But we also need to have widespread education about it so that we can stop seeing the rates that we are seeing of women dying.”

 

If you or someone you know is impacted by family and domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732, text 0458 737 732, or visit . In an emergency, call 000.
, operated by No to Violence, can be contacted on 1300 766 491.
Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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