A New Kind of Tech-Enabled Abuse: Deepfakes

One of the newer, more alarming types of digital abuse is called ‘deepfakes.’ A deepfake is a video of someone whose face or body has been digitally altered to make them look like someone else. Deepfakes are particularly dangerous because they can be used to make a person appear as if they are doing something they didn’t do or would not usually consent do on film.  

According to Amsterdam-based cyber security company, Deeptrace, 96% of deepfake videos on the internet are pornographic and most of the victims are women. And anyone can become a victim—celebrities Kristen Bell and Scarlett Johansson have both been victims of deep fake videos. 

Unfortunately, deepfakes are another way abusive partners exert power and control over their victims. Similar to revenge porn, where images or video that are actually of the victim, are distributed by a vengeful former intimate partner, deepfakes can be used in the same way without needing real footage of the victim. 

Abusive intimate partners may use deepfakes to humiliate the victim with friends or family. Explicit deepfakes have also been known to lead to endangering a person’s livelihood if they are shared widely. 

Deep fakes and other forms of image-based abuse are not always about revenge, though. My Image My Choice sums up the issue like this. 

It’s not all ‘revenge’ – people share images because they want sexual gratification, control, money, or because of voyeurism, extortion, misogyny, obsession. Some want increased social status and feel entitled to share these images for a laugh. Research on unsolicited images shows that some people believe it’s flattering or flirtatious.  

It makes us wonder, is the only answer to just hope we don’t become victims? One alternative solution is legislation.  

Just in the last two years, California passed two bills to address the issue of deepfakes, and one of them, AB 602, addresses the creation and distribution of sexually explicit deepfakes. Former laws in place did address the need for consent to distribute sexually explicit material, but deepfakes fell into a kind of loophole that needed to be closed. In 2022, the current administration launched a national task force focused on preventing online harassment and abuse with the intent to prevent and address technology-facilitated gender-based violence. 

Is there anything you can do to protect yourself from deepfakes? One recommendation out of the cyber security field is to use watermarks on the digital images you share online. This can make it more difficult for someone to make a realistic deep fake of you.  

How do you protect yourself from digital abuse? Share with the community in the comments section below. 

3 Ways Abusive Partners Use Tech to Outsource Abuse

Advances in technology have helped a lot, but what do we do when they’re used to harm?  

Digital abuse is more common than one might assume. One study found that 50% of people aged 14-24 have experienced digitally abusive behavior. When it comes to digital dating abuse, 1 in 4 say their significant other has checked text messages on their phone without permission, and 1 in 10 have had a significant other demand passwords to their online accounts. 

How do we protect ourselves from tech-enabled abuse and what should we look out for? Here are 3 ways abusive partners use technology to outsource abuse, and some tips to help you protect yourself. 

#1 Blocking Your Calls to Keep You Isolated 

The call-blocking feature on cell phones helps with filtering out spam callers but can be misused in the hands of the wrong person. 

If passwords have been shared or a phone is left unlocked, an abusive person can further isolate their victim by blocking calls and texts in seconds. Messages from friends or family members hoping to check in will go unseen and unknown to the victim and their contact. 

One of the tactics abusive partners use to further perpetuate abuse is isolating their victims. They may use abusive language or physical violence to deter the victim from connecting with family or friends who could help. Unfortunately, technology and modern cell phones make this tactic easier to accomplish. 

Safety tip: Periodically check to make sure any regular contacts have not been blocked.  

#2 Monitoring Your Communications  

Tracking a victim’s communications to maintain control is a common abuse tactic. Cell phones connected to shared online accounts may reveal phone numbers from outgoing calls and texts, even if they are deleted from the phone itself. Even full text messages can be stored in the Cloud or monitored by installed applications if the victim doesn’t notice them or they are hidden. 

Safety tips: Check if your any of your applications are hidden on your iPhone or Android. If your texts are being stored anywhere online, change your password so that only you have access. 

#3 Tracking Your Location 

Location tracking was developed for a host of helpful reasons. Tracking our phones helps us find them when they’re lost, and parents sometimes install location tracking applications on their children’s phones in the event of an emergency. 

Unfortunately, these kinds of applications have added to the list of options stalkers can use to monitor, locate, and harm their victims. 

Safety tip: Turn off location sharing in your phone’s settings. 

More on Staying Safe 

There’s a lot we can do to stay safe from digital abuse, but it takes community support to break cycles of abuse. If you are experiencing intimate partner abuse, you can call CORA’s 24/7 emergency hotline for support at 800.300.1080.  

Do you have other tips for how to stay safe from digital dating abuse? Share in the comment section below.  

Introducing “Thriving at CORA”

 

Thriving at CORA is a new series that aims to show the healing clients at CORA achieve every day, and community progress against abuse. 

Dealing with abuse, things get heavy at CORA. They get dark. But so much of what happens at CORA is the light after abuse.  

So much of our work is about shifting community views so that abuse becomes unthinkable. That is what we want to show through the Thriving at CORA series. That is what we want to uplift. 

This week, we’re sharing recent client successes out of our crisis, legal, and mental health departments.
 

Legal Department 

Sometimes when survivors of domestic violence exercise their rights to safety, they are met with legal retaliation from their abuser. We were happy to successfully support two survivors with legal challenges this month–one in defeating a retaliatory restraining order that was filed against them and another with obtaining a divorce. Now these clients can move forward without these legal barriers holding them back.  

Mental Health Department 

One of the hardest parts of breaking free from the cycle of abuse is the trauma and emotional challenges that remain. This month, a mother client was finally able to secure employment after problem solving around it with her therapist for a long time. The client feels empowered to provide for her kids now that they are out of the abusive relationship.  

Crisis Support Services 

Finally, as our name suggests, we believe there is power in community collaboration. We just got feedback from a community partner, Samaratin House, that a client wanted to send her gratitude to our hotline team.  

This client came to us having dealt with physical, emotional, and financial abuse in their marriage and had left the relationship but could no longer afford to stay in a hotel. We assisted with a weekend stay as an interim solution before connecting them with Samaritan House, which was able to provide additional services they needed.

 

We look forward to sharing more light through Thriving at CORA soon.  

If you felt joy or hope after reading this post let us know in the comments and share with a friend.  

CORA Statement on Domestic Violence Homicide & Safety Planning

How Bay Area Community Can Support Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence

CORA is heartbroken by the murder of Karina Castro, a mother of two and member of our community. We send our deepest condolences to Ms. Castro’s family, and are supporting her family and community during this unimaginable time.

This event is a reminder that San Mateo County and the broader Bay Area community can work together to support survivors who need to escape abuse and want help. One thing CORA encourages is learning about safety planning for loved ones who may be in an abusive relationship and creating a safety plan if you are a survivor yourself.

A safety plan focuses on strategies to escape an abusive situation safely. For every survivor it will be different, but some key components might include times that are safest to escape, locations the survivor can go to that are unknown to the abuser, code words between the survivor and a trusted friend, a hidden go bag, and a secondary phone to avoid location tracking. In 2021, 96% of CORA’s clients completed a safety plan.

Anyone who faces abuse in their relationships can reach out to CORA, anytime, any day.  We want everyone to have information to safety plan and access to services they need as swiftly as possible.

Proud to Celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride

CORA is proud to celebrate Pride Month this June alongside LGBTQ folks and allies in San Mateo County and across the nation. Pride Month is an important time for us to come together to celebrate one another’s identities while increasing awareness of the harm that happens to LGBTQ folks and fighting against transphobia, homophobia, violence, and discrimination.  

The Bay Area has a long history of standing up against violence and oppression against LGBTQ+ folks, including in 1966 at Compton’s Cafeteria in the Tenderloin, where transwomen resisted against police violence and abuse. The Pride parade is an honoring of this continued tradition of resistance against police brutality at the Stonewall Inn in 1969 in New York City. In echo of trans activist, Donna Personna’s Pride mantra, “It ain’t a party. It’s time to act up.”  

Intimate partner violence and systemic oppression are woven together. They influence and strengthen each other. When we hold prejudices against a group of people, people are more likely to justify causing them harm because of their identities. We are also less likely to intervene when they are harmed by their families or loved ones. LGBTQ+ folks have higher rates of intimate partner violence and sexual assault than heterosexual and cisgender people. BIPOC LGBTQ+ folks are disproportionately affected and experience increased barriers to receiving services from police, shelters, hospitals and other social service providers. Our trans family and friends are extremely vulnerable and in need of our support to be out and in relationships where they feel safe and loved.  

Our relationships should be places of refuge, where our partner(s) build our confidence and encourage us to share our light – not tear our spirits down.  

CORA provides support for all survivors of intimate partner violence and leads workshops for LGBTQ+ folks on red flags and healthy relationship skills. June is not the only month we make a strong commitment to increasing safety and support for LGBTQ survivors. Please reach out if you or your loved ones are experiencing harm in their relationship.  

We strive to increase our services and awareness of abuse in the community. Pride Month is not just a recognition that we get to exist and have relationships. We hope that it is a celebration that encourages us to live healthy lives with people who love and respect us. When we are loved and respected for who we are, we create safer and healthier communities for us all.