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Stalkers Have Texas Shelters Addressing GPS Phone Safety

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A GPS device is seen in a car. (credit: AP/Seth Perlman)

A GPS device is seen in a car. (credit: AP/Seth Perlman)

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AUSTIN (CBS) – Domestic abuse shelters across the country say phone GPS systems are making it harder to keep victims safe. Stalkers are now using newer technologies like Twitter, Gowalla, four square and other location services to track movements.

By law, cell phones are required to have tracking technology to help emergency crews find callers. Those GPS systems have rescued lost drivers, helped police find kidnap victims and even allows parents to keep tabs on their kids. But as many shelters are now finding, it’s just as easy for an abusive stalker to activate that same tracking.

To deal with the problem one Texas shelter is changing how they do business to make sure the people it helps are protected.

A global positioning system chip in your cell phone can let people know exactly where you are, often within a radius of less than 100 feet.

“You don’t have to be an expert in technology these days,” explained Sara Kim Gilbreath, who works for SafePlace, a domestic abuse shelter in Austin.

She helps victims of violence everyday. “He was tracking her via GPS on her phone and she found out because when she came home he would ask her why weren’t you at the grocery store like you supposed to?” Gilbreath said of one victim.

According to experts, like Gilbreath, GPS and other technologies have unexpectedly made it easier for abusers to track their victims. “It’s not just by phone call or letter anymore, but have they sent you a Facebook message? Have they text messaged you? Have they showed up at a location that you posted on a Twitter account?”

Amy Temperley, the SafePlace Development Officer, advises that, “They’re going to go to every means possible to get to you and it’s so important to close all those gaps.”

SafePlace officials say they’re changing safety and intake procedures. As a part of that process they will focus more on location-tracking programs. In one instance Gilbreath says a victim, “…didn’t make her Twitter account private so he [her abuser] saw where she was checking in.”

“The people who came here have come to get to a place of safety and we want to make sure they’re not being tracked or followed to our location,” said Temperley.

Workers at shelters across the country say they’re hearing similar stories more and more. They are a stark reminder of a largely hidden cost from the abundance of tracking technology in every day life — a loss of privacy and often safety.

More than 25,000 adults in the U.S. are victims of GPS stalking every year, according to a report from the U.S. Justice Department.

If you or someone you know is a stalking victim or is suffering abuse at the hands of another there is help available –

Anyone in immediate danger should call 911.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Website or call 1-800-799SAFW (7233)

– Get legal solutions from the Texas Advocacy Project Website or call 1-800-374-HOPE or 1-800-777-FAIR.

– Get help from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Website

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