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Behind the screens: Survivor opens up about digital abuse at the hands of same-sex partner

"He felt he was the one who brought me to Australia, so I owed him my life here." Source: Miguel

Miguel never got hit and was never bruised. His assailant wasn't even in the same room at times. But he suffered greatly, his life forever changed with a few taps on a mobile phone.

SBS Filipino's 'Breaking Our Silence' series sheds light on the different forms of domestic abuse, including the experiences of Filipino millennials who suffered at the hands of their Australian partners. This series focuses on the survivors who aren’t just digits in the statistics, but people with compelling stories to tell.

Technology is meant to connect us. It is meant to keep us safe and to make life easier. But with all the needs technology is supposed to satisfy, it can make abuse easier to assert.

Abuse doesn't only necessitate physical injury. An assault can occur through words, through ill-intended control, and even through harassment instigated through the tiny screen of a mobile phone.

Digital abuse is real. It's life-changing. And it's what 37-year old Miguel* went through with the man who was supposed to love him.

This is his story.

*Miguel is a pseudonym. Listen to his story here.

In the beginning, it was perfect...until it wasn't.

The relationship between Miguel and his former partner began when the two met during Miguel's business trip to Australia.

"It started as a friendship, which then deepened in time," Miguel says.

Deeper feelings prompted Miguel to leave a successful sales career in Europe to be with the one he loved.

"[When I arrived in Australia,] it was perfect. I couldn't ask for anything more. We were living as domestic partners then because same-sex marriage wasn't legal yet.

When we applied for a [de facto] partner visa on May 20, 2016, everything changed. He felt he was the one who brought me to Australia, so I owed him my life here.

This belief manifested in how Miguel was treated. The change in behaviour was abrupt, unexpected - so much so that Miguel tried to make sense of it by attributing it to cultural differences.

"I wasn't allowed to use my Instagram or my Facebook if he wasn't around. I thought that maybe he was just being protective of me. I thought it was just a cultural thing.

"He told me to get a post-paid mobile number but under his name. He also gave me an Apple watch which I thought was [sweet], but then I found out later on that he installed a tracker on it, so he knew where I was at all times."

According to Earvin Cabalquinto, a digital media scholar from Deakin University, the abuse Miguel went through with his former partner is common because technology makes it easy.

Technology can facilitate abuse. In the case of an intimate relationship, there's a level of trust.

“There is also a power differential when one is able to control what his partner does online.”

Control escalates

Like other victims of digital abuse, Miguel resigned himself to accepting this online control. In time, his partner's dominance worsened.

"I also found out that he deactivated my Facebook Messenger, which I mostly used to communicate with my parents in Manila. He deleted my Instagram followers as well - from 500, it became 20," he says.

Not only did his partner assert control over his online accounts, but he also reigned over Miguel's life offline.

"I was only allowed to leave the house for 30 minutes at a time. The only time I could be out for longer was if I were walking the dogs with his sister.

I felt like a prisoner in my own home.

To have a 'valid' reason for leaving the house, Miguel decided to take on two jobs; however, his partner continued to harass him even while he was at work.

"He would constantly call me, but of course I wouldn't be able to answer my phone. Even my boss noticed the constant calls and the stress it was causing me.

"My ex-partner would get extremely angry when I wouldn't accept his calls. When I would get home, he would throw away the things that had sentimental value to me out on our lawn - like things I worked hard for, things given to me by my parents."

Breaking point

Confrontations happened too often and Miguel came to a point that justifications for his partner's behaviour no longer made sense.

"I knew what was going on was wrong. I tried my best to make things work, but I grew up free. My parents allowed me to live as I chose to."

I just kept on thinking things would get better the next day - they just never did.

With a deep breath, Miguel shares that there finally came a point where he could no longer sustain the life he shared with his former partner.

"I didn't know what I was doing that was so wrong, to make him treat me the way he did. I just couldn't live like that anymore."

No longer wanting the life he had, Miguel's breaking point occurred when he came home to his possessions once again thrown out into the yard.

He was forcing me to apologise. I refused and he demanded I leave. Instead of crying, I actually felt relieved.

"It was 2am and I decided to leave and go to the house of a friend. After I left, my ex immediately cancelled my mobile plan that was under his name. I didn't have GPS because of that. Luckily, I was able to find my way to her house."

Finding his way to his friend's house, he thought he had also found a way out of the relationship he was in; however, the abuse and the threats continued.

He brought me here

Miguel discovered that not only did his ex take out 50 loans under his name, but the loans also were never repaid. His former partner reported Miguel's car as stolen and had it towed and, also accused Miguel of stealing jewellery and gadgets.

"He emailed my boss and our head office about the accusations; but my boss, knowing what I went through, helped me go to the police to make a report.

As if the accusations weren't enough, his former partner cancelled his visa, claiming that they never had a relationship.

"He had prior access to all my accounts and had deleted the photos and messages we had so he could claim we were never together," he shares, adding, "They revoked my visa, but I applied for reconsideration. I was invited by the court to explain my side and submit the evidence I had."

Luckily, Miguel's old phone which he had passed on to his sister to sell still contained evidence of the former pair's relationship.

I used to be such a happy person; but I became numb. I was always so quiet, and it felt like if one more thing went awry, I was going to snap.

"I blamed myself for getting into this situation. I had nothing in the Philippines or Europe to go back to. I didn't know what to do."

My life

Not knowing what to do is the reason why many victims of domestic abuse suffer in silence or refuse to speak up.

According to Em Tanag, a migration agent and domestic violence advocate:

We have rights here in Australia - just because you're not a permanent resident does not mean you don't have rights.

"For those enduring abusive relations for fear of not getting a permanent visa or being deported back to the Philippines, know that there are laws here in Australia that will still enable you to get a PR if you're able to prove that your relationship was genuine and that you suffered domestic and family violence in the hands of your sponsor."

Luckily, Miguel was able to prove to the court both a genuine relationship and domestic abuse; however, the trauma of his former relationship had forever changed him.

"The experience made me a different person. After, I would always look over my shoulder and worry about my safety and security."

Psychologist Aimee Santos concurs that paranoia and trauma are normal in such situations.

"In tech-initiated domestic violence, what it is is psychological abuse, which could potentially lead to physical abuse if you're being tracked down," she shares.

It's hard to recover from this, but acceptance is the better strategy to move forward and heal.

Fully accepting the situation and with a deep desire to move forward, Miguel has since settled the case and is now in a healthy marriage and a more stable life in Australia.

"It was a struggle to go back to my happy self. I've learned to prioritise my well-being now. If you're being maltreated through control or threats, it's abuse. Don't stand for it. Tell someone.

"This experience has taught me to fight. I make my own decisions now. This is my life."

If you or someone you know is experiencing family violence or sexual assault phone 1800RESPECT/1800 737 732 or visit For counselling, advice and support for men who have anger, relationship or parenting issues, call the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491 or visit

See What You Made Me Do premieres 8:30pm Wednesday 5 May on SBS and SBS On Demand. The three-part series continues weekly, and every episode will be simulcast on NITV. (Episodes will be repeated at 9.30pm Sundays on SBS VICELAND from 9 May).


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