Written by Writer’s Corps member Frederick Heather
Thinking about checking in at the hottest new club in town to celebrate you leaving your abusive ex? Hold that thought. The actions you take online after ending an unhealthy relationship can have big impacts on your emotional wellbeing, and even your physical safety. Let’s look at some digital considerations for taking the best care of yourself post-breakup.
Stop or Limit Your Communication
First thing’s first: put down your phone. Missing your ex or wondering what they’re up to after a breakup is totally normal, but if the relationship crumbled under the weight of unhealthy behaviors, communication between you two isn’t going to magically become healthy just because you’ve broken up. Also, keep in mind the most common stalking tactic reported by survivors of stalking is repeated unwanted phone calls, voice, or text messages so you might consider blocking your ex both on your phone and through your cell service provider.
You know your situation best though, and we have heard of cases where blocking an ex sets them off, so if you have any concerns about an ex’s volatile behavior talk with a counselor or advocate who can help you assess the severity of your situation and help you create a personalized safety plan.
Not feeling ready to block your ex and delete their digital footprint from your life just yet? That’s ok! Even just moving their texts, voicemails, and pictures off your phone onto a flash drive will help wedge some space between you and their memories. If you do keep your ex’s number in your phone, we strongly recommend changing their name. Something like “I Deserve Healthy Love” can serve as a great reminder if they’re blowing you up trying to get you back, or if you’re missing them and find yourself tempted to reach out. And if they keep bothering you, but blocking them doesn’t feel doable, check if your phone has a spam filter you can put on their number.
Be Aware of Spoofing
One thing to be aware of after breaking up with someone who was abusive – in any way– is how technology can be used against you. We’ve heard from people whose exes “spoofed” — aka falsifying the information about an incoming call on the receiver’s caller ID display —the numbers of other people like their parents, siblings, and BFFs. If you answer your phone expecting to hear from your mom but it’s your ex on the other line, most likely they’re spoofing. The easiest way to deal is to screen all your calls and let your support people know they’ll need to leave you a voicemail or text you with a specific code word if they want you to call them back.
Remove Possible Spyware
If you suspect your ex installed spyware on your phone to track your texts or location, there are a few things you can do. A factory reset will clear any software installed (along with ALL your numbers, data, photos, apps, etc.) but if you suspect a GPS tracker or some other tracking or recording hardware has been installed on your phone without your consent, go to your local cell phone carrier and ask them to take your phone apart and comb through it for you. You might get some raised eyebrows or a salesperson who doesn’t know how to do what you’re asking for, but this is definitely a case where politely asking for the manager to help you is 100% the right move.
Consider a New Phone and/or Number
And if your phone security doesn’t seem salvageable or you just can’t shake the feeling that your ex is using your cell to stalk you, look into getting a new phone and a new, unlisted number. Some domestic violence shelters can support survivors with getting new phones, and you can also check out SafeLink Wireless. Always remember though that in the US any phone with a charge on its battery can call 9-1-1 in an emergency, so even if you have to dig your older generation phone out of the back of your closet, it could keep you safer.
Turn Off GPS and Check for External Trackers
If your ex keeps somehow showing up wherever you are, they may be using GPS to track you. Whether you get a new phone or keep using the one you had during your relationship, consider turning off your GPS unless you absolutely need it. Same thing if you have a navigation system in your car. Check for external GPS trackers in your handbags, wallets, even the pockets and collars on your clothes. You also want to look for a GPS tracker on your car. Check your glove box, center console, trunk, and wheel wells. You could also ask a local mechanic to give your car an inspection for anything suspicious too.
Update Your Email Preferences
We know that 36% of dating college students have given their partners their computer, email, or social media passwords.
- Step 1: Change your password AND your security questions on all accounts your ex could have access to.
- Step 2: Unlink your email as your login for any websites where you have an account, especially your banking or credit card information, and any sites you’ve shopped with.
- Step 3: Remember all the stuff we had to do for your phone? Yeah, all of that.
You can block and delete your ex’s emails, send them and any other accounts that seem spoofed or suspicious to spam, and look into creating a new email account. Especially if you’ve gotten a new phone number too. Using that to set up a new email account can help keep you safe. Going forward, use that new email address for things that need more security like banking, legal proceedings, major purchases, school, and work.
Check Your Social Media Privacy Settings
Almost 1 in 10 teens in relationships report having a partner tamper with their social media account, which is the most frequent form of harassment or digital abuse reported. Deleting your own social media accounts is probably not an option, so again, change your passwords and security settings, and block and delete your ex. Here too you want to think about deleting (or at least moving) photos of you and your ex off your social media accounts and going forward ask your friends to check with you before they post pictures that include you, tag you, or share your location. Lastly, check your privacy settings. Every app and platform have their own options, so play around with them until you’re comfortable.
Remove Your Listed Address
Enrolling in an address confidentiality program can help keep your address from being listed in the public record. Address confidentiality programs aren’t available everywhere, and in some places, they can’t keep a survivor’s address from being listed in court records or voter registration rolls, so talking to a domestic violence advocate in your local area is the best way to learn what the situation is in your state.
The heartbreaking truth is that victims of digital abuse and harassment are twice as likely to be physically abused, twice as likely to be psychologically abused, and five times as likely to be sexually coerced, so taking steps to keep yourself digitally safe after a breakup is a big deal. You can be proud of yourself for everything you’ve done up until this point to stay safe and now that this abusive relationship is over, hopefully, you can start to heal, too.
If you or someone you know is experiencing an unhealthy or abusive relationship, check out our real-time resources, or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. If you’re in imminent danger, please call 911