It's been 40 years since I wrote my first story about family violence, the case of Violet Roberts and her son Bruce, convicted of murdering Eric, husband and father. Mother and son had spent decades fearing Eric's violence and experiencing it. Broken bones, broken teeth and broken lives. They were eventually released after pressure from Women Behind Bars and other activists.
But evidence of family violence has changed considerably since then. We understand when a woman is murdered. We understand the hundreds and thousands of incidents which take the police to homes all over Australia.
Now there's something more - and it's so prevalent that family violence services are changing the way they operate. New research from Deakin University tells us that spyware is the next frontier - a "particularly acute threat" - in the battle against family violence.
In fact the manufacturers of spyware actively encourage and promote the use of their products the surveillance of intimate partners and of children. Of children.
It's become so prevalent workers in shelters have had to change their practice. Yes of course physical safety is key. But the CEO of Women's Community Shelters Annabelle Daniel says dealing with technologically-facilitated abuse is "now our core business".
"Every single client comes in, we have to do a device audit. We check anything that can be a trackable device at client intake," she says.
And here's why. A woman turned up at one of the shelters a few weeks ago desperate for safety and refuge accommodation. She left her smart watch in her car. Her abuser tracked the watch and banged on the door of the nearest house. Fortunately, it wasn't the refuge.
"No-one ever considers the capacity this technology will be used for evil, against women and children," she says.
Alison Macdonald, acting chief executive officer of Domestic Violence Victoria, agrees this kind of surveillance is now ubiquitous - which makes it doubly hard for workers in the sector.
"Every couple of weeks we are hearing about new forms of spyware and GPS tracking - and other ways in which privacy can be breached. It's nearly impossible to stay abreast of the new technology."
The researchers at Deakin spent a year going through that new technology. Diarmaid Harkin says they found two clear and concerning trends. One, spyware has terrible data security practices, so it's not just allowing the perpetrator to track the victim down but also leaking her whereabouts all over the internet. These are data breaches of people who have no idea they are even being surveilled. Secondly, there are plenty of abuse enablers out there, the companies who provide internet infrastructure and support. They are also taking part in that abuse - mind you, Cloudflare, most famously a former enabler of 8chan, home to violent white nationalists, must feel comfortable with this kind of behaviour.
Harkin says that's only some of the worst. Androids are more vulnerable than iPhones (but both have issues) and spyware enables the sending of spoof messages. So the abuser could be sending messages which look like they come from the victim's phone to friends and maybe even children. Abusive, hostile, controlling.
It's just another tool abusers are using - harassment, coercion, controlling behaviour - all those tactics abusers have always used.Karen Bentley
But there are solutions. The research recommendations include putting pressure on the commercial actors that host or facilitate spyware products and that includes getting Google to remove spyware from its sales program. And there is an entire raft of legal, policing and educational solutions that Harkin and his co-researcher Adam Molnar recommend to protect women. The laws we have are adequate, says Harkin, but they aren't being enforced. Their research did not turn up a single conviction for spyware use.
But there is a plan - and some ideas about how we can reduce risk. Karen Bentley, interim director of Australia's peak body for family violence services, WESNET, says their resources now include instructions for finding if your phone's security has been compromised. WESNET's been working with the Deakin researchers to develop tools - but there's much more which needs to be done. Bentley, formerly chair of the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre, says this form of abuse is not replacing the physical abuse we already know and understand - it's adding to the abuse.
"It's just another tool abusers are using - harassment, coercion, controlling behaviour - all those tactics abusers have always used," she says.
WESNET trains domestic and family violence workers to recognise this surveillance and to help women understand how to make themselves more technologically secure. As she says, software updates are there for a reason.
But sometimes all women need is a new phone, one completely clean of anyone else's interference. That program of phone provision now exists, run by WESNET and funded by the Federal government with support from Telstra, but it runs out next year.
The problem won't be fixed by then. Decades of reporting on family violence and I'm not sure the answers are getting any clearer.
- Jenna Price is a regular columnist and an academic at the University of Technology Sydney.