Email Use Precautions for Those Experiencing Domestic Abuse

Joshua Fogel, PhD


Topics in Advanced Practice Nursing eJournal. 2003;3(3) 

To the Editor:

Crane and Constantino[1] suggest a novel way for those experiencing domestic violence to communicate and seek information by using email. I agree that email use is a potentially good idea to reach out to help those often isolated and afraid to seek help. In their summary and clinical recommendations, they state the important point of determining if the "abuser has access to the woman's email account." If the abuser does, they recommend suggesting to the abused woman to have a separate email account or to access email at a library or at work.[1]

The authors may have been unaware of new software such as Spector Pro 4.0[2] that can monitor and record every keystroke typed on a computer, including such features as email monitoring and chat and instant message recording. Other software such as eBlaster 3.0[2] can capture emails and immediately forward them. It can capture both sides of chat conversation and instant messages. It can record the Web sites visited and can also record every keystroke typed.

Although created for important uses such as preventing children from accessing and using improper sites or for monitoring spouses seeking sexual information or having extramarital relationships on the Internet, the potential exists for an abuser to use this for harmful purposes. An abuser who would install these programs on a home computer could potentially conduct more abuse after seeing his wife's correspondence to others about his abuse.

Does this mean that email correspondence should be avoided in cases of domestic abuse? That is not my conclusion. Rather, for advanced practice nurse practitioners recommending this email use, they should also discuss the monitoring that may exist. My discussion with the technical support of SpectorSoft Corporation,[2] the company that produces the above computer packages, better informed me of the capabilities of these programs and a possible solution to avoid monitoring by an abuser. The way these packages are accessed is with a series of keystrokes and a password that only the one who installed this package can access. Only this person knows the keystrokes and password to uninstall these programs. There is no way to check in the "program directory" of the computer to determine whether any of these programs have been installed on the computer. The solution is to purchase special software that can detect "spyware." One such product is SpyGuard 2.0,[3] which can detect whether any of these keystroke detecting software packages have been installed on a computer. It can then eliminate this software.

I hope that with the proper precautions, email use can be a potential resource for those who are living in abusive situations. With the above knowledge, those experiencing domestic abuse can feel comfortable using email as a way to cope with and seek solutions to minimize the abuse occurring in their lives.

Joshua Fogel, PhD
Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, MD


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