One in Four…

Raising awareness about issues related to domestic & dating violence

Foursquare May Have Safety Risks for Users August 16, 2011

Foursquare, a location-based social networking website for mobile phones that allows users to “check in” at locations of interest and compete with others for both virtual and real-life rewards, has grown in popularity to over 10 million users since its launch in 2009 (including, recently, President Obama). The program uses GPS to establish check-ins, which are then sent to users’ friends within the foursquare network and linked to Twitter and Facebook if they choose.

A recent Wall Street Journal study found that 60% of foursquare check-ins in a given week are made by men, as compared to 38% by women. Tech experts often explain tech differences like this in terms of men’s greater likelihood of becoming early adopters of social media, but foursquare’s statistics may be related to another concern for women users: safety.

I don’t use foursquare because of concerns about the safety of sharing my real-time location over the internet. But choosing not to use foursquare hasn’t completely protected me from location sharing because it has become a feature on other social media platforms as well. I realized recently I’d been accidentally broadcasting my location to all of my Twitter followers with every tweet because I had unknowingly clicked a button below the text box on my Android phone. My Twitter account is public, so I was shaken to realize how much information readers had been receiving.

Leo Hickman, a journalist for The Guardian, wrote an article last year about how he was able to stalk a random woman at a sporting event based on her foursquare posts. He raised concerns about privacy issues related to foursquare. “Sure, you might earn yourself a “free” decaf latte when you check in five times at a coffee shop, but at what price to your privacy?” Hickman wrote. In 2010, a San Francisco programmer was able to capture 875,000 supposedly private check-ins through a security loophole that was later fixed.

Location-based social media have exciting prospects, but some have noted that women in particular may not feel as free to use them for fear of unwanted surveillance. Especially for those involved in abusive relationships or for victims of stalkers, foursquare and programs like it could be used as weapons. And in a culture that frequently blames sexual assault victims because of their outfits or their level of intoxication, it doesn’t seem far-fetched that victims could also be blamed for “putting themselves out there” and inviting victimization by allowing others to view their locations on social media platforms.

Many tech experts say GPS-based apps will become even more ubiquitous in the future, and other social media platforms have already begun to adopt location-based elements. My experience with the GPS feature on Twitter caused me to scrutinize my privacy settings for my other social media accounts, but I still don’t feel confident I completely understand my chosen settings. I feel concerned that sites like Facebook may have made privacy deliberately complicated, causing users to choose more relaxed settings that allow advertisers to mine their data more easily.

How will developers be able to ensure safety as they continue to curate this technology? In a male-dominated field like computer science, how can we work to ensure an individual’s unique privacy concerns are taken into consideration throughout the development of new products? Leave a comment below to weigh in!


“With (Facebook Friends Like These…”: Benson Teens Indicted for Cyberbullying Allegations) February 9, 2011

Cyberbullying takes many forms, including text, video, and audio. But regardless of the format, no one deserves to be harassed

Last Monday, Johnston County Sheriff’s deputies charged two Benson, NC teenagers with with one count each of cyberbullying, after allegedly setting up a Facebook page devoted exclusively to bullying a fellow student.

According to arrest warrants, the two set up a Facebook page and posted comments to intimidate and torment a 15-year-old classmate at South Johnston High School, allegedly going so far as to threaten to bring a gun to school to hunt down the teen, and to run him over with a car.  Investigators went on to say that the Facebook page, which was discovered and reported by the victim’s father, was allegedly created back in September of 2010.  Johnston County school officials declined to comment on the case Wednesday, but school system policy prohibits all types of bullying and harassment, including online, and warns of student discipline that could include expulsion.  If proven true, these cases would be only the most recent instance of an ongoing saga that continues to play out in schools around the country, and server as a stark reminder of the reality of cyberbullying, and the impact it has even here in NC.

According to the National Crime Prevention Council, cyberbullying affects nearly half of all teens in the United States. And indeed, here in NC, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper says that cyberbullying is a growing problem in our communities that needs to be taken seriously, “It can lead to violence,” he said. “It can lead to depression in the victim, and it can also even lead to suicide.”

The biggest challenge in discovering instances with cyberbullying specifically is that unlike traditional forms of bullying and harassment, instances of cyberbullying can often go undetected, undiscovered, and unchecked for years, if not longer, unless victims feel comfortable and confident enough to speak out and ask for help.

In this instance, the online abuse was discovered by the victim’s father, who subsequently reported the incident to police and school authorities.  However, unless victims feel like they will be heard and believed, this is not often the case.  Typically, the abuse goes on, unabated, until the victim cannot abide by it anymore, or until the abuse goes a step too far.  In the best case scenario, this means that victims reach out to their support structure, or parents and administrators discover the abuse and take action accordingly.

The announcement of the charges out of Benson come in the wake of several recent tragedies elsewhere in the US, brought on in large part by instances of cyberbullying and online harassment.  The issue was last brought to the forefront after a NY college student committed suicide, after his roommate allegedly posted an online video outing him as being gay.

In the hopes of averting another tragedy down the road, Attorney General Cooper issued a call to action: “…we need to encourage parents to pay attention to what’s happening with their children and then encourage the parents and kids – that vast majority in the middle who are neither bullies or victims – to stand up and say they’re not going to tolerate this kind of thing.”

For this reason, FVPC sends community educators into area schools as part of Start Strong, primary prevention programming to discuss issues related to cyberbullying with teens, to help kids not only understand the reality and consequences of their behavior online, but also to help teach possible victims of online abuse to reach out if they need help.  The goal of these community education programs is to help kids learn responsible online behavior, in addition to teaching them to report or help stop abuse whenever they encounter it–be they victims, bystanders, or perpetrators.

To learn more about cyberbullying, and how you can become involved to help stop digital and online abuse, visit our website at


“Textual Harassment”: The Unforeseen Consequences of “Sexting” November 10, 2010

Allyson Pereira, now 21, says she was a victim of digital dating abuse in high school.

On October 26th, ran an article which told the story of Allyson Pereira, a 21-year-old woman who is still living with the consequences of a single text she sent more than five years ago.

After weathering a blitzkrieg of cruel MySpace comments, instant messages, and e-mails from her high school boyfriend, Pereira (then 16) found herself suddenly and unceremoniously dumped. Then, a month later, he changed his mind with one proviso–that she send him a nude picture of herself, as proof of her affection and commitment. Confused and vulnerable, Pereira acquiesced, never imagining that a topless photo she sent would be forwarded to other students at her high school–and then, to the rest of the world. “I was so ashamed, embarrassed and mad,” she said, in an interview with CNN.

As a result of her experiences, Pereira recently appeared on a MTV documentary about digital dating abuse called “A Thin Line,” where she and others not only spoke out against digital abuse, but also warned teens to consider the unforeseen consequences of sexting. Indeed, the evidence suggests that this message is coming none-too-soon: a new study from the Cyberbullying Research Center shows that one in ten teens reported receiving threatening cell phone messages from a romantic partner, and another 10% say their romantic partner had stopped them from using a computer or cell phone.

This is significant because this study illustrates how cell phones can be used in a pattern of abuse, particularly to reinforce the familiar themes of power and control. Sameer Hinduja, co-founder of the Cyberbullying Research Center and associate professor of criminology at Florida Atlantic University, explains that while such behaviors may initially seem innocuous, they can rapidly escalate to the level of relationship abuse. For example, he explains that it may initially start by “checking her texts and pictures to make sure she’s not texting with any other boys,” often followed by claims that “he wants to make sure the pictures are appropriate.” But, Hinduja says, ultimately “it’s the coercion and control that borders on real-world violence.”

The trend is particularly troubling for mental health providers who primarily serve adolescents and young adults. Jill Murray, a psychotherapist in California who has worked with victims of teen dating abuse, says almost all her new cases in the past three years involve mobile technology and social networking. In some instances, she says, the victims receive as many as 40 texts a day with negative messages from their partner, and are often penalized socially and emotionally for failing to reply. “It’s the phenomenon of no place to run and no place to hide,” Jennings says. “Now, you can be stalked electronically. You can’t even see your predator coming.”As a result, young women are effectively being taught to tolerate such behavior, and become fearful of the consequences of violating it. The problem, Jennings says, comes from the very nature of mobile communications and social networking, which allow fast, unlimited access to large swaths of the population, with little to no social or financial repercussions.

Unlike traditional media, social networking and mobile devices allow abusers access to their victims 24/7, even in traditionally private environments or safe times, like the home, after school and on weekends. And because mass media outlets like Facebook and Myspace can connect thousands within seconds, they give the abusive partner more leverage than ever before, either by posting or threatening to post a damaging message online that is seen by hundreds or even thousands of the victim’s friends and family, and even total strangers. In addition, since digital abuse does not leave any physical marks on victims, parents and school authorities may be completely unaware and powerless to end the abuse, especially if kids are also afraid to report the abuse for fear of social stigma, parental disbelief or worse yet, the loss of cell phone and laptop privileges.

Two agencies working nationally to combat this issue is the The Family Violence Prevention Fund, which is working with the Department of Justice to release a series of public service announcements in their “That’s Not Cool” campaign and  Liz Claiborne, Inc. a women’s clothing company which maintains a hot line and website “Love is Respect” teens can go to for support and information.

Here in Orange County,  FVPC community education volunteers travel to local middle and high schools to educate students about the importance of identifying and reporting abusive relationships (including cyber-bullying), as well as tools and resources available to them. Students learn what to look for in their own relationships, and the warning signs that often precipitate an escalation of dating abuse.

If you would like one of our community educators to come and speak to a group of your students, give our office a call at 929 3872.


New Consequences: Bullying In the Digital Age September 27, 2010

The issue of cyber-bullying has garnered increased attention since Phoebe Price, a 15 year old who moved from Ireland to Massachusetts, hanged herself in January after classmates tormented her verbally, on Facebook and through text messages.  Prosecutors have charged six fellow students in her case and raised questions about the actions of school officials who knew about incidents of abuse.

The issue of cyber-bullying has become even more concerning with research that has recently emerged.  An article from the Washington Post states that a study released by The National Institutes of Health last week shows that as bullying has moved from the school yard to the digital realm, its victims are feeling more hopeless and depressed than ever. surveyed 7,000 American schoolchildren.  There results indicated that traditional bullying and cyber-bullying are not often mutually exclusive events.  For example, Phoebe Prince’s attackers pummeled her with a soda can 0n the day she hanged herself.  This act was in addition to other instances of cyber-bullying of Prince.

Cyber-bullying seems impossible to escape… unless adolescents give up social networking or their cell phones, a sacrifice few young teens want to make. Ronald J. Iannotti, the head of the study published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health describes the differences between face to face bullying and cyber-bullying.  Iannotti says that since cyber-bullies may not always identify themselves, victims are more likely to feel “isolated, dehumanized, or helpless at the time of the attack.”  The study also found that with traditional bullying methods, depression levels were highest among both the victim and what researchers call “bully-victims” (adolescents who are both bullies and victims).  With cyber-bullying however, victims faced significantly greater levels of depression than their attackers or than students who were both bullies and victims.

While the study found boys were more likely to cyber-bully and girls were more likely to be cyber-bullying victims, bullying victims suffered higher depressive tendencies, regardless of gender.   Consequences of bullying include lower levels of academic achievement, well-being, and social development.  Psychological and emotional wounds from bullying can also negatively affect psychological development into adulthood.

While cyber-bullying can feel like an insurmountable obstacle, there are things that we can do to help.  Bullying prevention must become a community effort.  Involvement from adults can drastically reduce bullying in all forms.  Iannotti states that “it’s really got to be a community effort- working with teachers, administrators, parents who are working with kids to improve their social skills so these kinds of things don’t happen.”

Starting this fall, FVPC heads into Chapel Hill/ Carrboro City Schools to facilitate a new curriculum, Start Strong,  which focuses on healthy and unhealthy relationships and how to avoid situations (like bullying) that can lead to violence.  Prevention programs like Start Strong teach kids how to help advocate for themselves and others; find resources, and help bullies understand that they don’t have to define themselves at the costing of others.


Domestic Violence: an ageless problem September 9, 2010

Note: Photo is not of victim, perpetrator, or anyone associated with the incident described below.

On August 31st, The Associated Press published a story about a North Carolina woman who was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend after changing her Facebook status from “single” to “engaged.”  The man then turned the gun onto himself. According to Onslow County Sheriff’s Maj. Donnie Worrell, Jacksonville native Karen Rooney was shot twice in the torso by ex-boyfriend Peter Terrence Moonan, with a .357 caliber handgun.  Moonan and Rooney had previously dated for more than sixteen years, even buying a house together in 2002, before ending their relationship in February of this year.

Neighbors reported that Rooney had already begun dating another man.

What was perhaps most shocking about the incident, however, was not just the suddenness and senselessness of the incident (there had been no previous indications of domestic violence from the couple), but the ages of the persons involved.   Rooney, age 63, was just a year older than Moonan, age 62, and both were just a few years shy of the national retirement age.  Both had apparently remained amicable even after the split, and while family close to Moonan said that he was visibly depressed, there had been no prior indications that he had been dangerous or violently so.

One common domestic violence stereotype is that instances of DV tend to involve young individuals, and usually involve at least one partner with a history of violence, depression, or abuse. However, the incident in Jacksonville serves as a tragic and painful reminder that when it comes to domestic violence, there is no “typical” DV situation; there is no “profile” that can applied, either to perpetrators or victims, and sometimes triggers for domestic violence can be as sudden and without-warning as a simple Facebook status.

As with any tragedy of this nature, there will undoubtedly be a wave of “could-haves” and “should-haves” and “what-ifs,” from all parties affected by the incident.  But if anything is to be learned from this event–and with tragedies such as this, answers are often few and far between–it is perhaps that the issues related to domestic violence are ones that transcend all boundaries; be they race, culture, religion, or age.

It is also worth noting that no incident of depression, particularly surrounding older adults or sudden life/romantic changes, should be treated as trivial or fleeting.  Even in the absence of any history or predilection towards violence or suicide, desperate individuals have, when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, resorted to drastic and desperate actions, often with tragic and heartbreaking results.

But another important aspect of this terrible incident is the role that social networking media, in this case Facebook, played in the tragic events in Jacksonville.  While by no means a “cause” for the incident, it is worth noting that “over-sharing” personal information can sometimes have drastic and unforeseen consequences–particularly information pertaining to one’s personal and intimate relationships.

From a DV perspective, this is especially important, living as we do in an age of digital communication; an age in which stories travel farther and faster than they ever could before.  All too often, information  has a way of getting ahead of us, finding its way into unexpected (and unintended) hands,  sometimes out of context, and very seldom for the better.  Simply managing all this information–both data coming in, and going out–can be confusing enough, even without the added burden of controlling who has access to what.

And when the information being shared consists of the things best kept under wraps or to ourselves–“private matters”, perhaps, if not actually our “secrets”–the need for constant awareness can be that much more important.

Think about the things that you share over social networking media like Facebook and Twitter; the photos you post/are tagged in, the messages that get left on your wall or Tweet history.  Think about the comments that you leave, or that are elicited and left by others, that together make up your electronic “internet personality.”  But beyond just thinking about what this information “says” about you, think carefully about who this information is available to; be they friends or employers, family or lovers.

And, most importantly, think about which bits of information you might share openly with one group, only to guard jealously, even possessively, against access by another.

How do you protect your information, allowing the right information to stay in the right hands, and keeping the wrong information out of the wrong ones?  How might you be vulnerable, and what steps can you take to help protect your personal details from unwanted and unnecessary scrutiny?