Staying Safe On Abuse Support Sites
Previous page, Cyberstalking: Why and How focused on what cyberstalking is, who engages in it, why, and how they go about it practically. This page deals with precautions you can take to stay safe while using sites like Fort.
The internet is a great place for survivors of abuse - you can find tons of information, communicate with other survivors, speak freely and openly about deeply personal, sensitive issues without risking disbelief, judgment, gossip, public ridicule, or personal attacks (which isn't always the case with your 3d friends or family). It's a great arrangement, especially at the initial stages of healing from abuse, but it can create an illusion that people you meet online are fundamentally safer than your 3d friends, which isn't necessarily true. Outright predators, perverts, bored teenagers wanting to pull pranks on you, mentally ill individuals with their own agenda - plenty of not-so-nice folks enjoy the benefits of internet along with you, and of course prey on abuse support groups, where everyone talks of sensitive issues and thus is an easy target.
Safety of online support groups is due solely to moderation and anonymity: predators can't hurt you on site because they get banned if they try, and they can't hurt you off-site because you are anonymous and they have no way to find you. Therefore, when you disclose your identity on an abuse support site - you're opening yourself up to risks of much higher degree than you could ever anticipate from your 3d friends. There's no need to feel paranoid and withdraw from internet support altogether - but it's crucial to understand the dynamics and take precautions.
Pay attention to your privacy settings.
Read the privacy policies of all the sites you use, and always review and edit your privacy settings. Don't assume they are what you imagine they should be. It only takes 5-10min to read them, compared to the months it would take to get rid of a stalker. You need to know who will see what you type before you type it.
It's crucial to differentiate between "personal" and "identifying." The content of your nightmares is deeply personal - but absolutely not identifying. The name of the company you work for is very identifying, but not particularly personal. On an abuse site you can talk in any level of detail about personal things like what your trauma felt like or what aftermath it caused you - as long as you don't disclose any identifying information: sites you go to, nicks you use there, your full name, phone number, home address, etc. I'm not trying to sound silly, but this is a mental health site and some people don't understand the nuance - friending someone on Facebook or sharing an email address like "firstname.lastname@example.org" means disclosing your identity. Open a less obvious email/skype/msn/etc account for people you've only met online, screen photos you plan to share for identifying information, use a different nick on every site you go to, and don't update your family and friends on your online activities.
Be cautious about off-site contact:
Of course we all make friends online, and at what point you consider someone a friend rather than a stranger is up to you. However, exchanging emails with people you know through online support groups is different from exchanging emails with folks on a cooking or a gardening forum. With gardeners you don't risk much: if your new friend turns out to be a jerk, worst case scenario they'll spread Facebook gossip about you using the wrong fertilizer for your geranium. Annoying, but not the end of the world. On an abuse site they have information you don't want exposed, and can blackmail you with it: Facebook gossip would be about your abuse history and mental health, not gardening mishaps, and could ruin your relationships and employment. Most people aren't stalkers/scammers, but it's good to keep in mind that everyone behaves OK on a moderated site, including predators who are pushing for off-site contact specifically to have the freedom to behave differently.
Stay on topic:
Focus on the reason you joined the site you are at and only share personal information on a need-to-know basis. Fort is for support regarding abuse and its aftermath. DeviantArt is for sharing your artwork. Facebook is for staying in touch with friends and family. Keep communication relevant to the topic at hand: if you're here to discuss rape, the name/address of the church you go to is irrelevant, so don't mention it. Offtopic info you share about yourself accumulates over time, and eventually reaches the point where finding you in 3D or on other sites is a no-brainer.
Don't feed the trolls:
Trolls love to argue; for everyone else it's an unwanted hassle that's likely to cause cyberstalking, so why engage in it, wasting your nerves on someone you don't know and don't care to know? Choose interactions that are pleasant or productive, and disengage from everything else. Just block the argumentative person from contacting you, alert mods if necessary, don't respond to inflammatory statements, etc. Don't be naive - they might be doing it on purpose, especially if you find yourself needing to disclose identifying information to defend your integrity. Let them think what they like about you, you don't have to prove anything to them, they are a stranger, what do you care?
Disengage if you're uncomfortable:
If someone shares too much information with you, talks to you too often, for too long, asks too many personal questions, pushes for off-site contact, etc - just disengage. On one hand, you aren't on payroll and don't have to indiscriminately and indefinitely support everyone who wants you to. "Sorry, I don't feel like talking/listening to you right now (or ever)" is all it takes. On another hand, people sometimes lie online - for attention, personal gain, or as a part of stalking scheme. Doubting the integrity of everyone you talk to makes for a miserable life, but if you automatically assume that everything your new friend says is true - at least don't share your identifying information with them. There are hotlines, social services, and law enforcement in 3d; online support shouldn't involve disclosing your identity to strangers.
~ Jonathan Swift
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