INDIANAPOLIS — When a victim of domestic violence walks from an abusive situation and into a family service shelter in Kokomo, the staff asks the victim to remove location apps from the cellphone.
The phones can be used by an abuser to track the victim’s whereabouts and lead to more harassment, officials said Thursday.
“They can be used anywhere with the ability to stalk the victim," said Lindsey Davison, director of the Howard County shelter. "Victims are already burdened with domestic violence and abusers can stalk them on Facebook. It’s tough enough for a victim to leave the abuser."
A bill receiving unanimous support in the Indiana Senate would let victims of domestic violence obtain a separate cellphone account from the abuser.
“Unbeknownst to the victim, they (abusers) can launch those apps on phones to track them just like we often do as a safety mechanism to know where our children are," Laura Berry, executive director of the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said at the Indiana Statehouse on Thursday.
Current law provides no court mechanism for victims to change their existing account for wireless service when the victim is not the account holder.
Senate Bill 323 received unanimous support in the Senate and faces a hearing March 13 in the House Committee on Judiciary, where an amendment is expected to clarify the process for switching accounts. The process can move without approval by the account holder who could be the abuser.
“It will allow a victim to keep their vital information and stay connected to their network, their family and friends and most importantly have the ability to find shelter, support and guidance,” said the bill’s author, Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem.
The bill has support of groups fighting domestic violence and support from cellphone providers AT&T Indiana and Verizon.
Research has shown that one in four women and one in seven men will be a victim of domestic violence, said Catherine O’Connor, president and CEO of the Julian Center shelter in Indianapolis.
“We all know domestic violence is all about power and control over another individual. Victims of domestic violence are isolated from every support system that the abuser can get them isolated from. So this provides a tool and an option for those survivors to gain back power and control,” she said.
In Kokomo and many shelters, victims of domestic violence are often given a new cellphone provided through the HopeLine. Through that program, Verizon collects used cellphones, and accessories are reprogrammed for use by domestic violence victims.
The bill would allow the victim and his or her children to keep their phones and numbers.
"Anything that can be done to increase confidentiality ... is always going to be beneficial," Davison said.