Domestic violence and abuse is something that is damaging to an individual on numerous levels. Often I hear survivors and victims say that the psychological component of the abuse they suffered far exceeded the physical wounds, but this remains the part of abuse that is so often over looked.
With physical abuse, such as a black eye or broken bone, there is an outward sign that is observable by anyone who interacts with the person. it can be easily proven to exist if a case ends up in court. The emotional and psychological side of abuse goes much deeper, but there is no outward sign that can be seen unless someone looks close and knows what to look for. No officer can show up on scene and say “Yep, look at the wound to his/her psyche; he/she is clearly abusive.”
Sadly, it is for just this reason that a person takes so long to recover from abuse. A bruise, fracture, or cut is quickly and easily treated and will heal in time, but that is not the case with the psychological aspect of abuse. Just as the officer who shows up on scene can’t easily see the damage, often neither can the survivor of that abuse who is trying to recover. Often there is a sense that “I am no longer with my abuser, I am no longer being hit, I am no longer being called names, I should just get over it already and move on”.
The biggest step in the recovery from any abuse is the realization that just because those words or fists are not being thrown at you, it doesn’t mean that the internal damage should magically be healed. This realization is important because the abuser often finds a way to continue to harass the survivor, even once the relationship is over. The abuser spews lies and they send messages designed to exert control. The abused are fooled into thinking there was no abuse and into believing that they are a liar or crazy. The greatest thing in these times is the support of those who have been through abuse or who are going through it. These individuals are able to say, “My abuser does or did that too, and you are not crazy.”
The amazing aspect of social media is that it has opened up a new way for these survivors to receive support and join together to help one another heal. Go to Facebook and search for domestic violence, abuse, or survivor, and thousands of pages will come up. There are pages for domestic violence organizations, such as the one I am executive director of, Acts of Random Kindness. Pages that are set up by survivors who want to lend aid to others who are going through abuse such as Abuse No More. And pages that show the daily journey of escaping an abuser and attempting to heal, such as one of my favorite pages on all of Facebook, Real Love Doesn’t Hurt .
As a social worker who has a huge passion for domestic violence work it is no surprise that I am the fan of dozens and dozens of pages, but sadly there are countless times I have seen the same thing happen to those pages. A survivor starts a page and posts about the events of their abuse, thousands can like and comment in support of the post, and most of these pages get regular interactions that far exceed what other pages get.
What happens when a survivor has escaped the beatings, escaped the words, made this realization, and starts using social media to seek that support only to have their abuser find the page? Sometimes the abuser sees this post, whether the abuser’s name is a part of the post or not, knows it is about them and they report the post. Often the post is removed as offensive. The survivor shares a picture of their bruises they received from one of the beatings they suffered, again the abuser reports it and the picture is removed by Facebook. Do this several times and the survivors account is suspended and are no longer allowed to use Facebook to prevent them from posting on the page. Do it more often and the page can be deleted leaving the user banned from Facebook.
I know what you are thinking at this point, HOW CAN THAT HAPPEN? That is what I would love to know as well. Facebook boasts…
“The Facebook Safety Advisory Board is comprised of five leading internet safety organizations from North America and Europe. Facebook consults with these organizations on issues related to online safety.”
Under this “help page” they cover child abuse, domestic violence, family safety, and cyber bullying. Facebook says that a part of their advisory board is the National Network to End Domestic Violence and stated…
“The Safety Net Technology Project of the U.S. National Network to End Domestic Violence is the leader in online safety for survivors of domestic violence, dating abuse, cyber-stalking and harassment. Based in Washington, D.C., it represents coalitions against domestic violence in every U.S. state and territory and works to address technology and safety with sister organizations worldwide.”
Facebook says that they use the Safety Net Technology Program to protect survivors and victims from cyber-stalking and harassment, yet this sort of protection is not afforded to abuse victims An abuser seeks out domestic violence pages after their victim leaves and finds the page where that individual is seeking support. They create a fake Facebook account, tell friends and family, or uses their own account to report the page or make disparaging comments. Now they have those friends or family members, who think the abuser is an angel, and report the page, report pictures, report statuses, or use a fake account to do so. On what level is this not seen as cyber-stalking and harassment?
While I am not a tech guy, I am curious to know if Facebook could develop an algorithms that allows them to know if these two accounts belong to the same person. They also should be able to reason through “this person reported the page or picture and they are friends with a person banned the day before.” Especially if Facebook claims they look into all reports and make statements about preventing stalking and harassment.
Yes, Facebook is an optional thing and a survivor doesn’t have to use it for support, but it has the ability to work in such a positive way. Facebook has the ability to be a great source of therapy and introspection for someone who is recovering from abuse. Punishing the survivors/victims is serving to do the exact opposite. Facebook is not just preventing the use of social media to seek support, they are doing far worse by allowing that abuser to continue to affect the abused. It also serves to down play the damaging nature of the psychological abuse that is connected with that control.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Facebook and use it daily, but this can’t continue. While it is not Facebook’s job or obligation to protect anyone, it is their job to make sure that they are not used to commit a crime; cyber-stalking and harassment are both. Furthermore, if they are going to claim to have the leading experts on preventing these acts then they have the responsibility to follow through with that policy. If Facebook wants to make the claims they do, and do not want to be a tool for abusers, then they need to start thinking through who is censored, suspended, and banned.
By: Justin Nutt, LMSW
SJS Staff Writer