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Digital Abuse: A Discussion about Teen Dating Violence

Dating violence can be more than just physical; your partner doesn’t have to physically hurt you to be abusive. Read this blog post to learn more about digital abuse and how to get help.

14 missed calls.

A text every half hour that demands, “Where are you?”

Constant questions about why you’re friends with that person from work on social media.

Insisting that you send them nude photos, even though you already said no.

Do any of these sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone.

Social media and online interaction have become the primary method of communication for many people during the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent study in May of 2020 found that the average American was spending 4-5 hours on social media per day. While shelter-in-place advisories have changed the way many people work and go to school, staying at home more can impact your relationship, too. If you don’t live with your partner, you may not see them as often as you used to, and may talk to them more on social media, on the phone, or through text messages. If you live with them, you may be at home with them more during the day.

But what if you’re at home with someone who insists on looking through your phone? Or what if you don’t live with your partner, but they’re constantly calling or texting, “just to check on you?” What if they keep asking you to send them pictures that you’re not comfortable with? What if they’re signing into your Facebook without telling you and deleting people from your friends list?

These behaviors are abusive.

Digital Abuse

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, digital abuse was a concern for many in unhealthy relationships. 1 in 3 teens and 1 in 3 adults will experience some sort of domestic abuse in their lifetime. Domestic violence can be more than just physical; your partner doesn’t have to physically hurt you to be abusive. Examples of digital abuse include:

  • Looking through your photos, text messages, or call history
  • Stealing or insisting on sharing your social media passwords
  • Pressuring you into sending sexually explicit photos, messages, or videos
  • Deleting contacts from your phone
  • Constantly calling or texting you when you’re not with them
  • Questioning your social media activity (e.g., “Who is this guy that commented on your post?” or “Why are you following all of these girls on Instagram?”)

An abusive partner might try to disguise these or other behaviors in a caring, loving way. They might say something like, “It’s only because I care about you so much” or “I just want to protect you.”

Digital harassment is never okay, whether it’s a current partner or an ex-partner. While it’s not uncommon for someone to look at their ex’s social media pages after a breakup, signing into them or monitoring their communications is a different story. A study by Express VPN found that these behaviors are a lot more common than they may appear – 30 percent of people admitted to secretly logging into their ex’s social media account after a breakup, while 25 percent said they have used a location-sharing app, such as Snapchat or Find My Friends, to track their ex’s whereabouts.

Despite what they might try to tell you, there is never a good reason for your partner to look through your phone. A 2014 study by Avast found that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 5 men admitted to checking their partner’s phone at least once. Most participants said they suspected their partner was cheating on them and wanted to find evidence, or they assumed their partner had also gone through their phone without their knowledge. Your partner does not have the right to tell you who to talk to or to read your messages, even if they ask for permission.


Sexting is best defined as sending someone sexually explicit photos, messages, or videos via text message. According to statistics by DoSomething.org, nearly 25 percent of high school students ages 14 to 17 and 33 percent of college students 18 and older have participated in some form of sexting.

It’s important that you and your partner talk about setting boundaries and what you are and are not comfortable with sending over text, Snapchat, or through social media. You should respect your partner’s boundaries and they should respect yours. An abusive partner may not do this and may try to coerce you into changing your mind. They might try to manipulate you by saying something like “You must not trust me” or “You’d do it if you really loved me.” According to DoSomething.org, 12 percent of teens who participated in sexting felt pressured to do it.

Though sexting isn’t uncommon among teens and young adults, it’s risky: Once you send something, you don’t know where it will go or who else will see it. Studies show that nearly 20 percent of teens who receive a sexually explicit photo or message show it to at least one other person. Sexting can also be illegal: Sending or receiving a sexually explicit text, image, or video under the age of 18 is considered child pornography and can result in criminal charges.

There are three phases of sexting:

1. Manufacturing: Taking the photo or video, requesting it, or coercing someone else into doing it

2. Distribution: Posting the photo or video online, or showing or sending it to someone else

3. Possession: Saving a copy of the photo or video on your phone or computer, or receiving a photo or video and never deleting it

If you are under the age of 18 and have willingly participated in sexting (thus falling under the category of ‘manufacturing’), you can still get help. The legal system is more concerned with those who are maliciously distributing and possessing child pornography than with someone who took a photo and didn’t mean for it to be distributed to others. Our advocates can help you. Please call our Domestic Violence hotline at 708-485-5254. Your call is free and confidential. 

Safety Planning Tips

Here are some tips for preventing or addressing technology-related abuse:

  • Change your social media passwords, especially if your partner has used your social media accounts before.
  • If your phone doesn’t have a passcode on it, set one up. If your partner knows your passcode, change it.
  • If you’re concerned about your partner using a location-sharing app to track your whereabouts, disable those features on your apps. Ask your friends and family not to tag you in photos or check-ins on social media.
  • Sign out of your social media accounts every time you log off. This makes it harder for someone else to access your accounts.
  • Do not send photos, videos, or sexually explicit texts to your partner if they try to coerce you into doing it. You do not “owe” it to them to do something that doesn’t respect your boundaries.
  • If you are in the process of leaving or have recently left an unhealthy relationship, blocking your ex’s phone number or social media accounts can help protect you and prohibit your ex from contacting you. Blocking your ex’s family members or friends can also help if you’re concerned about your ex trying to contact you through someone else. If your ex continues to attempt to contact you and you’re concerned for your safety, click here for more information on how to file a No-Contact order, or reach out to our 24-hour hotline for help at 708-485-5254. Our advocates can assist you with getting a No-Contact Order and help you navigate the legal system.

Feeling unsafe, overwhelmed, or afraid? If you need help or want to get help for someone you love, please reach out. Pillars Community Health offers many different services for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, including legal and medical support, counseling, and a domestic violence shelter, Constance Morris House. Call our 24-hour Domestic Violence hotline at 708-485-5254, or click here for more information on our Domestic and Sexual Violence services. Our services are free and available to everyone, regardless of age, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or any other factor.

Other resources and help:



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