Press Release

24 November 2021

Refuge anniversary: 50 years on domestic abuse is getting smarter

50 years on domestic abuse is getting smarter: Refuge brings into sharp focus the rise of tech abuse on 50th anniversary with launch of new ad campaign.
  • Refuge has seen a 97% increase in number of complex tech abuse cases compared to the first three months of 2020
  • In the last 50 years, Refuge’s job has got harder as the progression of technology has made abuse smarter and easier
  • Refuge has created a compelling multi-platform campaign to raise awareness of insidious, growing tools of tech abuse
  • Watch the ad on YouTube

Today, Refuge, the UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, marks 50 years of providing specialist services and campaigning to end domestic abuse. In tribute, the non-profit is launching a harrowing campaign to raise awareness of tech abuse, a fast-growing form of domestic abuse.

While the formal definition of domestic abuse is ever-evolving, power, manipulation and control will always remain at its core. Despite Refuge’s immense and ongoing efforts, the ways in which perpetrators manifest control over women is becoming increasingly complex, making Refuge’s job more important than ever before.

As technology becomes ever powerful as well as accessible, perpetrators have been able to adjust their tactics when plotting abuse against their victims. Products like smartphones, smart doorbells and smart heating, mean that abuse can be carried out invisibly and remotely – these are all highlighted in the campaign. On its 50th anniversary, Refuge brings awareness of the rise of tech abuse and the expert support the charity provides for survivors to the fore.
The campaign subverts a seemingly top-end tech ad to create a dramatic rug pull effect on viewers, showcasing how easily tech can be used as a form of domestic abuse. The core message is that while domestic abuse is getting smarter, Refuge’s job is getting bigger and needs support now more than ever.
Through a dramatized film, radio, three poster ads and a tech influencer and celebrity take over from supporters like Stacey Dooley and Zara McDermott, Refuge hopes to reach more survivors of tech abuse and spread awareness of the warning signs whilst raising much needed funds.

Between April 2020 and May 2021, Refuge saw on average a 97% increase in the number of complex tech abuse cases when compared to the first three months of 2020. In the last 5 months, this number has jumped to an average of 118% more complex tech abuse cases compared to before March 2020, a statistic that illuminates this ever-growing form of abuse.

Wider research of 2,000 women in the UK, recently carried out by Refuge and Avast, uncovered data that further highlights the challenges faced with the rise of tech abuse. This research brought to light 10 Internet of Things home devices that can be used as tools to perpetuate domestic abuse. The data showed 66% of women did not know where to source information to help secure the devices in their home if they felt they had been compromised by an abuser – a statistic that rises to 79% for those aged 45 and over. 41% of women in the UK said that a partner or family member knows the password to their personal devices – with 28% of these women saying that they did not give this password willingly .

Ruth Davison, Refuge CEO said:

“50 years on from opening the world’s first refuge there is sadly little to be celebrating. The numbers of women experiencing domestic abuse, especially in the arena of tech abuse, is rising – not decreasing. Refuge has never needed support from the public to help raise awareness of and support its work more.

The rise of tech and smart products are of major concern to Refuge. Whilst tech is a massive enabler in our lives, for women experiencing domestic abuse it is an ever-growing tool used to create fear, harass, intimidate and control them.

Refuge is dealing with these complex issues head-on. It is our job to ensure we support women and meet their needs in a climate where abuse is becoming easier and more complex. It is our job to ensure that women are not forced offline, or to abandon their tech devices, but instead are empowered to use tech safely and confidently. But we can’t achieve this on our own. We need support from the public and our funders more than ever – women’s lives depend on it.”

Amy Aldworth, survivor of tech abuse, said:

“As a survivor of tech abuse, I know how intimidating and terrifying it can be to be harassed online and via personal devices. For me it started by receiving numerous harassing messages via my phone and social networks. Being on the receiving end of threatening messages interrupted my everyday life and made normal tasks feel impossible. We are reliant on our phones and social media to socialise with friends, work and be part of society but so many people still don’t realise how these technologies are weaponised against women by perpetrators of abuse, it’s very real and very scary.

This Refuge campaign shows the true story of what it is like to experience domestic abuse in 2021 as we all rely on these technologies that are supposed to make our lives easier but for survivors of abuse like myself can be the very tool used against us. Hopefully people will understand that abuse has become even more complex than when Refuge was formed 50 years ago and the need for support is bigger than ever.”


Notes to editors
About Refuge:

Refuge supports thousands of women and children on any given day, and runs the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, which is the gateway to accessing specialist support across the country. More than one in four women in England and Wales experiences domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime, and two women a week are killed by a current or former partner.

Working with creative studio Optical Arts, founded by director and photographer Dan Tobin Smith, BBH created a haunting pro bono campaign designed to lure people in and stop them in their tracks highlighting the impact tech abuse has on thousands of women across the UK and the ongoing support Refuge offers.

Please signpost to Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247, available 24 hours a day 7 days a week for free, confidential specialist support. Or visit to fill in a webform and request a safe time to be contacted or to access live chat (live chat available 3pm-10pm, Monday to Friday). For real time automated guidance on how to secure your personal devices Refuge also has a Tech Safety Tool.

Visit Refuge’s Tech Safety Website at for information on tech abuse and to find guidance on how to secure your personal and home devices. For real time automated support Refuge also has a Tech Safety Tool.


*All statistics shared within the release are taken from research carried out by Censuswide, surveying, 2,000 women in the UK

Link to assets

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