Children as an Abusive Mechanism

kids-as-mechanismAs complicated as domestic violence is on its own, it becomes even more complex when children are involved. Not only can they be affected by the abuse (whether they experience it or witness it), they are sometimes used as a mechanism for the abuse by the perpetrator.

What do we mean by “abusive mechanism”?

Abusive partners exert power and control over their significant others through many different tactics — and unfortunately, using children can become a tactic.

Many times, abusive partners will threaten their significant others by telling them that if they leave the relationship, they’ll take custody of the children. This threat is a form of emotional abuse that the abusive partner uses to keep the victim in the relationship.

Even if an abusive partner hasn’t threatened to take the child away, if they feel like they’re losing control in the relationship they might see the child as an opportunity to regain control. This can often happen in relationships even where the partners aren’t married. If there’s no legal tie between the couple, then the child might be the only link that the abusive partner can use to maintain their control.

What can you do?

There’s no way to prevent an abusive partner from filing a petition for sole custody of the children in court, as they have legal rights and are entitled to access the court system. That being said, in some cases custody provisions may be added to a protection order, which may allow for a window of time to plan for next steps with custody. If a custody petition is filed by the abusive partner, the other parent may wish to reach out for support to help them.

Victims of abuse who have children with their partners may want to reach out to their local domestic violence programs. These service providers may offer much needed support, or possibly make connections to legal aid. Some domestic violence programs may have legal advisors who can provide guidance on the steps for accessing the court system regarding custody issues.g . If you decide to look for an attorney, the local domestic violence program may have recommendations for attorneys who are trained in the dynamics of domestic violence. It also may be useful to use this list of questions from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence as a guide to determine whether an attorney will be able to best represent you in your custody case. is another useful resource to find suggestions for working with an attorney, information about custody proceedings in your area, contact information about local courts, and other assistance. Legal Momentum also offers a free legal resource kit to download on domestic violence and custody issues.

If you are dealing with custody issues, it’s important to make sure your children know that you are there to keep them safe. Let them know that what is happening is not their fault and they didn’t cause it. Try to maintain regular activities and schedules as much as possible, and create a safety plan with them that is age appropriate. And most of all, tell them often that you love them and that you support them no matter what.

If your abusive partner has threatened or is attempting to file for sole custody of your children, give us a call at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Our advocates will listen to and support you, help you brainstorm safety plans, and may connect you with local services where you can find the legal help you need.


When Your Partner Threatens Suicide

partner-suicide“I’ll kill myself if you leave me.”

It seems like a no-win situation. When someone you’re close to says something like this, it can feel like the world just stopped spinning.

People who have a mental illness, such as Borderline Personality Disorder, typically have a higher risk for suicide. Depression, a history of substance abuse, and other disorders carry risks as well. If your partner truly wishes to die and has a plan and intention to follow through, get immediate help. Call your local emergency number, or call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

But what if your partner regularly threatens suicide, particularly whenever you’re not doing something he or she wants you to do, or when you’re trying to leave the relationship? First, understand that this is a form of emotional abuse: your partner is trying to manipulate you by playing on your feelings of love and fear for them. You might get angry when this happens, but you also might feel like you have to give in to them in order to avoid a potential tragedy. When your partner makes these threats repeatedly, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and possibly help your partner as well.

Tell your partner you care about them, but stick to your boundaries. Giving in to threats over and over does not make a relationship healthy, and it only creates anger and resentment on your end. You could say something like, “You know I care about you very much, and I understand you’re upset right now, but I will not _____.”

Put the choice to live or die where it belongs – on your partner. You can’t be responsible for another person’s actions, no matter what – and this includes when your partner chooses to be abusive. An optional response is: “I think our relationship should be based on love and respect, not threats. I really care about you, but this is your choice and I can’t stop you from making it.”

Remember that no matter what your partner says, you don’t have to prove anything. Even though they might be saying something like, “If you really loved me, you’d stop me from killing myself,” the real truth is that there are unhealthy patterns in your relationship. Until those unhealthy patterns are addressed, they will most likely continue no matter how many times you give in to your partner’s demands.

If your partner often says they’re going to kill themselves when things aren’t going their way, they’re not showing you love – they’re likely trying to control your actions. If this is the case, consider the tips above and try to get help where you can. You might try talking to a counselor or other professional therapist, if that’s an option for you. But remember, you are not your partner’s counselor, and you can’t force your partner to get help if they don’t want to. They have to make that choice for themselves.

Please keep in mind that these tips may not be right for everyone; you know your own situation best. If you’d like to talk through these tips with one of our advocates, please get in touch with us by phone 24/7 or online chat everyday from 7am-2am CST. We’re here for you!


Keeping Your Pets Safe

petsInternational Homeless Animals Day is on Saturday, August 16th this year. There are many reasons why beloved animals may become homeless: overpopulation due to lack of spaying and neutering, pet owners who decide they no longer wish to keep their pets, pets that run away from home, pets who are abused by their owners. Many pets are also displaced as a result of domestic violence.

According to Safe Place for Pets, up to 65% of domestic violence victims are unable to escape their abusive partners because they are concerned about what will happen to their pets when they leave. In many cases, victims of domestic violence may try to take their pets with them when they are able to leave the relationship, but find that their local domestic violence shelters do not accept pets. Fortunately, this is changing, and shelters for domestic violence and abuse victims are beginning to create spaces for pets. Thanks to the Animal Welfare Institute’s Safe Havens Mapping Project, it’s becoming easier to locate shelters that accept pets.

Check out the Pets & DV page on our website and click to find shelters in your area.

If you are in an abusive relationship and have pets in your home, it can be a good idea to make your pets part of your safety plan. Here are a few suggestions for safety planning with pets:

  • If possible, don’t leave pets alone with an abusive partner.
  • If you’re thinking about getting a protective order, consider that some states allow pets to be a part of these.

If you are planning to leave:

  • Talk to friends, family or your veterinarian about temporary care for your pet. If that is not an option, search by state or zip code for services that assist domestic violence survivors with safekeeping for their pets. Try zip code first, and if there are no results, try a search by state. If none of the results are feasible for your situation, try contacting your local domestic violence or animal shelter directly. For help finding an animal shelter, visit the Humane Society website.
  • Take steps to prove ownership of your pet: have them vaccinated and license them with your town, ensuring that these registrations are made in your name (you can change them if they aren’t).
  • Pack a bag for your pet that includes:

– food
– medicine
– documents of ownership (receipts from adoption or purchase of pet, license to establish ownership, receipts for animal purchases)
– health documents (veterinary or vaccination records)
– leash
– ID and rabies tag, if a dog or cat (these will also help establish ownership)
– carrier
– toys
– bedding

  • If you must leave without your pet, remember to leave enough food, fresh bedding, litter, etc. for your pet.
  • If you’ve had to leave your pet behind with your abusive partner, try to ask for assistance from law enforcement officials or animal control to see if they can intervene.

If you are able to leave with your pet:

  • Keep pets indoors (if possible)
  • Avoid leaving the pet outside alone
  • Pick a safe route and time to walk your pet
  • Don’t exercise or walk pet alone
  • Change your veterinarian

Remember, your situation is unique, and these tips may not work for everyone. You can always call or chat with an advocate at the Hotline for more information. We can help you brainstorm ways to keep yourself and your pets safe!


The Importance of Self-Care

self-careSelf-care is a simple concept, yet for many of us, it can be incredibly difficult in practice. It is especially challenging for victims and survivors of abuse, who are often made to feel like they are not worthy of love or care. But the truth is that everyone deserves to be cared for, and we all have the power to be our own caregivers. That’s what self-care is all about; taking care of yourself in ways that feel best to you, focus on your own health and well-being, and bring you comfort.

If you have experienced abuse in your life, self-care may seem like a foreign concept, exhausting, or pointless to consider. You might be questioning how it could be of any use to you, which is totally understandable. It helps to remember that self-care is not selfish or self-indulgent; it’s simply one tool you can turn to when coping with or healing from an abusive relationship. At first, doing self-care might not feel “normal” to you, and that’s okay. Start by making small, gradual changes and focus on being gentle with yourself.

Making sure basic needs are met is the foundation of self-care. Do you get adequate sleep? Do you eat regular meals? Is physical activity part of your daily life? For some people, meeting these basic needs might not be possible all at once, so it might be helpful to focus on one at a time. Others may choose to make a list to remind themselves to meet at least one basic need or do one self-care activity daily. There is no wrong way to do self-care; think about what feels right for you and your situation.

If you’ve got the hang of meeting basic needs, try brainstorming other activities that you might enjoy doing, or that you once enjoyed but haven’t done in a while. We often recommend keeping a personal journal of thoughts as a form of self-care, but only if you’re in a safe place or your abusive partner won’t have access to it. However, if journaling doesn’t appeal to you there are plenty of other options. Here are just a few examples: reading a book, taking a walk, drinking a cup of tea, knitting, drawing, painting, cycling, swimming, watching a funny movie, taking a bath, talking to a friend, baking, taking three deep breaths, praying, meditating, volunteering, taking photos, playing a videogame, playing or cuddling with a pet, attending a support group or counseling session, stretching, listening to your favorite song, dancing, singing, daydreaming – all of these things count as self-care, and some of them don’t take more than a few minutes. What matters is finding what works for you.

Do you have additional suggestions, or are there particular self-care activities that work for you? Leave a comment! Also, check out our (growing) self-care board on Pinterest.

If you need help incorporating self-care into your life, our advocates are here for you. Give us a call at 1-800-799-7233, or chat online every day, 7am-2am CT.


Why We Don’t Recommend Couples Counseling for Abusive Relationships

couples-counselingTherapy can be very effective for some couples who are working through difficult relationship issues. However, if abuse is present in the relationship, we do not recommend that couples seek counseling together.

In order for couples counseling to be successful, both partners must be willing to take responsibility for their actions and make adjustments to their behavior. Abusive people want all of the power and control in the relationship and will focus on maintaining that imbalance, even if it means continuing unhealthy and hurtful behavior patterns. Many callers to the Hotline have related stories of trying and “failing” at couples counseling because of an abusive partner’s focus on manipulating the sessions to place blame, minimize the abuse, and attempt to win over the therapist to their side. If the therapist tries to hold the abusive partner accountable for these tactics, they will often refuse to attend further sessions and may even forbid their partner to see the “biased” therapist again. The abusive partner may even choose to escalate the abuse because they feel their power and control was threatened.

The primary reason we don’t recommend couples counseling is that abuse is not a “relationship” problem. Couples counseling may imply that both partners contribute to the abusive behavior, when the choice to be abusive lies solely with the abusive partner. Focusing on communication or other relationship issues distracts from the abusive behavior, and may actually reinforce it in some cases. Additionally, a therapist may not be aware that abuse is present and inadvertently encourage the abuse to continue or escalate.

Both partners should feel and be safe in order for therapy to be effective. A victim may not feel safe with their abuser present and could be hesitant to fully participate or speak honestly during counseling sessions. Alternatively, a victim may have a false sense of security during a session and reveal information they normally wouldn’t disclose. Then, back at home, the abusive partner could decide to retaliate with more abuse.

A better option for abusive partners who want to change is a program designed specifically to address their abusive behaviors. These programs are often referred to as Battering Intervention and Prevention Programs (BIPPs), although what they are called can vary from state to state. BIPPs focus on teaching accountability and non-violent responses. These programs can be effective, but only if an abusive partner is truly committed, as real change is a difficult process that can take months or years.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, or if you are an abusive partner who wants to change, please give us a call at 1-800-799-7233 or chat online everyday from 7am-2am CST. Our advocates are here to support you and talk through your options.