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Keeping Your Documents Safe in an Abusive Situation

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Abusive situations share many names including family violence, partner abuse, domestic violence, or intimate partner violence. But despite the multiplicity of terms we use, they all boil down to the same thing; through various overt and covert types of power tactics and control, one person abusively manipulates another.

This may be mental, physical, psychological, emotional, and behavioral. For the person experiencing violence, it can all too readily affect their health, happiness, and independence.

Phones and electronic devices can be invaluable in helping someone experiencing family abuse reach out for help. However, the information they collect also has the potential to be exploited by the abuser.

Digital safety is important for anyone in a present or past abusive situation. Take steps to make sure that your tech devices, such as phones and laptops are secure, and that you only have access to them.

Equally important is the need to keep documents, both hard copy and digital, in a safe place. Your documents and your devices can be the key to managing and gaining or regaining independence in an abusive situation.

Here are some ways to make sure your documents are safe and secure.

Electronic Device and Document Safety

Firstly, there are many steps you can take to keep your electronic devices safe and secure. This includes using a device you alone have set up with your own unique passwords. Make sure you are familiar with ways to check different settings on the devices and apps, for example, your location, and online history.

When it comes to electronic files and data you create or store, you have a couple of options. You may opt to use electronic internal storage systems on the device itself. Documents and files can be stored electronically in the cloud. Or they can be saved on portable devices such as a USB stick.

  • Internal storage systems: If you trust that your phone or laptop is secure, and only you can unlock them via your passwords, you may opt to store documents directly to your devices. There is a risk here, though, that if you lose access to your device or it is damaged, you will be unable to retrieve your documents. Similarly, devices can and do crash from time to time of their own accord, and data and files can be lost that way.
  • Store documents in the cloud: Keeping your documents and files online in the cloud is an alternative means of keeping documents safe and secure. Use an email address that you only have access to. And, just as with the passwords on your devices, make doubly sure that your passwords are unique and only you know what they are. Use two-factor authentication for extra security. Services that offer 2FA will ask for another email or mobile phone number to verify your identity when you log-in.
  • Use USB sticks or external storage drives: If you have a safe and secure hiding place, save documents and store your files on USB sticks or external hard drives. Added protection can be added by creating partitioned “secret” drives and encrypting data that cannot be read or seen by others.

Create Digital Copies of Important Documents

When you’re in an abusive situation your access to important personal and legal documents may become restricted. You may also find yourself in a situation without them.

Create digital and/or paper copies of your important documentation. This can be done by scanning or taking photographs of individual documents. If you need to get replacements, this can save time obtaining new ones. The personal documents necessary to receive various services and gain independence include:

  • Birth certificates
  • Marriage certificates
  • Driver licenses
  • Insurance papers
  • Medical records
  • Passports
  • Immigration documents
  • Educational and training certificates
  • Police reports
  • Court records
  • Bank and credit card accounts

It may also be an option for you to keep copies of important documents or electronic storage devices with a trusted person who doesn’t live with you. Reach out to professional organizations or services in your local communities if you need more advice and support on your safety.