Electronic Leashing: The New Abuse

A new form on the rise that uses technology to intimidate victims. It's called "electronic leashing" - and its victims are getting younger. (Courtesy: Willow Domestic Violence Center)

Rochester, N.Y. (FOX Rochester) - Domestic and dating violence has made headlines in recent years in our community. Now, there's a new form on the rise that uses technology to intimidate victims.

It's called "electronic leashing" - and its victims are getting younger.

The Willow Domestic Violence Center works with students in many schools teaching them about healthy and unhealthy relationships. Pam Graham, who works with students at Webster's Spry Middle School, says cell phones can become a tool for abusers to manipulate their victims.

"Now what turns out to be a normal text, a normal conversation suddenly will morph into 'No, you know, you wear that top and I'm going to humiliate you in front of people, so before you go to class every day, I want you to text me what you're wearing so I can approve because no man of mine or woman of mine wears that.' And that's the stuff and now we start, " Graham said.

Willow Domestic Violence Center recently put together ads that feature two women out at a restaurant. The camera focuses on one woman's cell phone as it buzzes repeatedly. The phone's screen clearly shows someone has called the woman dozens of time and left messages. The woman remarks that, "Matt just gets a little controlling when I'm out." The words "just" and "little" are then crossed out on the screen so that what remains is the message "gets controlling".

It's all part of Willow's 'Abuse is Abuse Campaign". The goal is to call attention to the ways in which society - even domestic/dating abuse victims themselves - attempt to diminish the abuse using the words "just" or "a little" or "kind of. "

Many of those who become victims of electronic leashing are still in high school. Sophia Militello is a student at Irondequoit High School. She recalled how bad things have become for one friend in particular.

"Her boyfriend actually takes her phone on a daily basis and checks it. He takes it over and says who she's allowed to talk to on her phone," Militello said. "I was talking to her about her boyfriend and he didn't like the way I was talking about him so he took the phone, posed as her on the phone and told me that we weren't friends anymore."

Willow Domestic Violence Center CEO Jaime Saunders said, if left unchecked, electronic leashing can possibly lead to the kind of dating and domestic violence that dominates headlines.

Saunders says parents should be aware of unusual behavior and big phone bills. Above all, they shouldn't feel helpless.

"Many of us are 'fixers', especially about our kids," Saunders said. "We'll do anything for our kids. We can imagine issuing ultimatums and we're going to step in and ask 'What are you doing this' and some judgement. The hardest part about dating violence is that we as parents, we as leaders, as adults and role models have to do a lot of listening and being supportive and that can be the hardest thing of all."

Saunders points out abusers have access to many more tools to intimidate because phone tracking and other surveillance apps are often free.

The Willow Domestic Violence Center has compiled together some helpful advice for parents on how to speak to their kids about dating and domestic violence.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

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