real life

'Stalker apps' and GPS allow domestic violence abusers to discover hidden refuges.


Trigger warning: this post discusses issues of domestic violence and may act as a trigger for some readers.

Refuges that house victims of domestic violence are increasingly being discovered by perpetrators using “stalker apps” and GPS locators hidden in their victim’s phones, cars and in one case, a child’s stuffed toy.

Support workers say victims now face the grim realisation they may always have to look over their shoulders thanks to the array of tracking technology that is cheaply and easily available.

One woman, Diana (not her real name), experienced it first hand after meeting her ex-partner on an access visit for their young daughter.

“He came with a backpack to the changeover and there was a doll in the backpack,” she said.

domestic violence refuges
A domestic violence victim found a tracking device hidden inside her daughter’s doll. (Image: ABC News)

“I was told she needs that doll and even though she doesn’t like it she still wants to have it everywhere with her and I’m like ‘okay, what’s the point if she doesn’t like it’ but we were stuck with the doll.”

Later, at a medical appointment for their daughter, Diana’s ex offered to drive the pair home.

“I said, ‘you shouldn’t know where I live’ to which he said ‘you live at this-and-this address’, which is the exact address of the refuge,” she said.

“I was absolutely freaked out and didn’t know what to do.”

The refuge told her to move immediately but could not find a spare bed in Brisbane so Diana moved in with a friend.

Then the same thing happened at a court hearing.

“At the hearing again he said ‘What does it matter that I know where you live?’ and then he said a location very close to where I lived,” she said.


“I was sitting there and had a friend with me at the hearing and we were just looking at each other just panicking.”

That night Diana and her friend opened up the doll and found a small black box crudely taped to the underside of a motor that drove the doll’s movement and sound.

“Of course you assumed it’s a GPS and it was a GPS,” she said.

Refuge director Bernadette O’Byrne said it was a chilling exercise of power against women trying to escape their partners.

“They probably think after a while no matter where I go this is going to be my life I’m always going to have to turn and look over my shoulder,” she said.

Diana went to the police but said she was told he could not be charged with stalking because the doll belonged to his own daughter.

‘I am looking at a man climbing our fence’

Another refuge director, who wishes to remain anonymous, said security breaches were happening more often.

“Seven o’clock one morning I received a phone call from one of our clients who said ‘I am looking at a man climbing our fence’,” she said.

By the time police arrived the man had gone but he was captured on CCTV.

“He did in fact jump the fence, didn’t hesitate, and went directly to [his wife’s] car,” she said.

“At that point he had a white bag, looked like a shopping bag, in his hand so we thought we’d go and investigate the car.

“We were concerned and police were concerned because when he left the white bag was gone and we didn’t know what was in the white bag, what the purpose of it was, had no idea, so police and staff started searching the car.

“It really took some time and just at the very last point one police officer noticed that the front dashboard moulding was slightly kicked up on one side so he pulled the moulding off and in amongst the wiring of the dashboard was a sock and in that sock was an iPhone and it was switched on and a locator device was switched on.

“As it turned out he had two iPhones.

“He knew when the batteries were running down and he would go to where she was and just exchanged the iPhones. That way he always knew where she was.”

Fears the use of stalking technology cannot be stopped: DV workers

Social media is another risk for victims of domestic violence.

“Facebook is a huge concern for us because there are locators through Facebook,” she said.

“Only today we’ve just come to the realisation that even as something as simple as a Go Card [public transport card] can be a way of tracking a woman who has left a violent relationship.

“If the partner, the ex-partner, has bought that Go Card, he can register it, then he can put a password on it and any time he can access the movement of that Go Card.”


The Ipswich Domestic Violence Action Centre’s operations manager Rebecca Shearman said there were hundreds of tracking apps for mobile phones and some could be installed without an icon appearing on the screen.

“We know that stalking and surveillance are what we’d term high-risk indicators,” she said.

“It indicates that the perpetrator is becoming more anxious and more interested in controlling their victim which usually doesn’t augur well.”

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has already declared the misuse of technology in domestic violence an issue for the Council Of Australian Governments (COAG) and promised a national plan by the end of the year.

It is also a key term of reference for the Federal Government’s domestic violence advisory panel, headed byformer Victorian police commissioner Ken Lay and domestic violence advocate and survivor Rosie Batty.

But workers in the domestic violence sector believe the use of technology for stalking cannot be stopped and the only defence is education and awareness.

The Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria’s website lists information on how to guard against surveillance.

This article was originally published at ABC Online. 

© 2015 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved. Read the ABC Disclaimer here.

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Domestic violence: Rosie Batty appeals for more media freedom to report on family violence.

Australian police deal with a domestic violence matter every 2 minutes.

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If you believe you may be an abusive partner, you can receive help via Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277. If you have experienced, or are at risk of domestic violence or sexual assault, you can receive help by calling 1800 RESPECT – 1800 737 732. If you are in immediate danger please call the police on 000.

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