Geolocation smart phone applications, like Google Latitude, MyTown and Foursquare, are growing in popularity. Maybe you, like so many others, enjoy seeing where your friends are and letting them know where you are. But there’s a downside to everyone knowing your whereabouts. Montrose Counseling Center’s Anti-Violence Program Specialist, Allison Vogt, LBSW, cautions, “It’s crucial that users become familiar with the privacy settings on these programs because you never know when someone in your circle crosses from being a friend or lover into a stalker and abuser.”
If you are running one of these applications, your location may be automatically uploaded for everyone to see unless you’ve chosen to restrict or hide the notifications. You can isolate what you want to show and to whom, but if at the end of the day, every day, your partner grabs your phone and looks to see who you have talked to, who you have texted, and where you’ve been, it isn’t very helpful. Vogt says that it may be even more dangerous for an abuser or stalker to find out he or she has been blocked. These applications are so new that the criminal justice system has not established penalties for the use of them in domestic violence situations. Right now, it’s up to you to opt out, block someone, or go “off grid,” even if it’s just temporarily so that you can get help or put together a safety plan.
While we’re on the subject of your cell phone, please program in the number to Gay & Lesbian Switchboard Houston, 713.529.3211, in case you find yourself in need of an advocate as a result of a hate crime, sexual assault or domestic violence. We can make arrangements for an advocate to accompany you to file a police report or receive medical attention at the hospital.
Vogt is quick to add, “Even though we strongly recommend taking these steps to lower your risk of becoming a victim, it is NOT YOUR FAULT if someone stalks, abuses or attacks you.” You are not alone. We are here to help.