Digital Abuse: Healthy Love Online And Off

The following article is the third article of a four-week series focusing on raising awareness about dating violence. February is Dating Violence Awareness month and we hope to educate our community on this very important issue.

One in three young people will experience dating violence in their lifetime. Locally, the Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center has been serving victims of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault and child abuse since 1978.

Last year, HCWC served 2,023 victims of abuse (face-to-face) primarily from Hays and Caldwell Counties.    

Kiara Nicholson, Primary Prevention Coordinator

Technology can be a great way to stay connected to the world and those around us. We use it to talk, text, order food, and catch up on our favorite shows. When introduced into relationships, the line between healthy and unhealthy can get confusing.  

Digital Abuse 

One in four teens is harassed through technology. Technology should make us feel connected, not controlled. Digital abuse is using technology like cell phones and social media to mistreat, control, stalk, or intimidate another person.  

Red flags for digital abuse can sound like “Who is that girl who liked your picture on Instagram?” or “I should be able to see what’s in your phone if you have nothing to hide.”

No matter what it looks like or sounds like, no one deserves to be mistreated online or off. 

What Does It Look Like? 

  • Texting or calling someone so much it makes them uncomfortable 
  • Stealing or insisting to be given passwords to another person’s phone or social media accounts
  • Sending unwanted photos or messages
  • Forwarding or threatening to share private photos or messages without permission
  • Reading texts or messages without permission
  • Sending threatening or insulting messages

Healthy Digital Boundaries 

Just like it’s important to discuss physical and emotional boundaries in a relationship, it’s important to talk about digital boundaries too. 

Everyone should be able to communicate their boundaries without being afraid of how their partner will respond and know that your boundaries will be respected. Healthy digital boundaries look like:  

Discussing & Respecting Boundaries 

In a healthy relationship, partners should trust each other and respect personal boundaries. Do they prefer not to text when spending time with friends or family? Are they ok with texting each other all day?

By discussing and respecting boundaries, couples gain a better understanding of each other’s comfort levels and create mutual respect. Are they not sure what their partner’s digital boundaries are? Talk about it!   

Keeping Passwords Private

Everyone should feel able to share things with your partner, but it’s also ok to keep some things private – including their phone or social media passwords. If they do share passwords, discuss the boundaries that come with them.

Can they use the phone passcode to play games on their phone? Can they check their partner’s Instagram DM’s to get the address to the party they’re going to together?

Remember, if someone shares a password with another person, it is a sign of trust and by using their password in ways they haven’t consented to is unhealthy and a violation of trust.   

Holding Yourself Accountable 

Being in a relationship with someone doesn’t give anyone the right to go through their phone or know what they are doing every minute of the day. No one should never pressure or guilt-trip their partner to send messages or photos they are not comfortable sending. They should also respect their partner’s privacy by not asking for passcodes or passwords to build trust. If their relationship lacks trust or honesty, it may be a red flag that the relationship is unhealthy.   

What to Do if You’ve Experienced Digital Abuse 

Here are a few safety planning steps people can take if their digital boundaries aren’t being respected or they’ve experienced abuse. 

  • Save or document any threatening messages, photo, videos, or voicemails they have received as evidence of abuse.
  • Be careful with sending pictures or messages they do not want others to see. Once they share a post or message it is no longer in their control.
  • Know and understand privacy settings. Social media often has customizable privacy settings that allow them to control who tags them in photos, who can send them messages or friend requests and allows them to block other users on the site. 


Even though no relationship is perfect, your relationships should make you feel good – building you up instead of tearing you down.

It should make you feel happy, safe, and supported, and abuse should?never?be a part of it.? Want to learn more about healthy or unhealthy relationships, visit our educational website, to find interactive polls and quizzes, articles and videos.

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