postpartum

Pregnancy and Abuse: Safety During Postpartum

This post was contributed by Rebecca Donley and is the final post in a series about pregnancy and abuse. Read the first, second and third posts.

postpartumThe period immediately following childbirth can be immensely joyful for new parents. It is also often overwhelming to deal with the care of a new baby and adapt your lifestyle to what that entails. For parents with an abusive partner, this time is often a period of escalated stress and danger. Some studies have shown that experiencing abuse is a risk factor for postpartum depression and other postpartum mental health issues, so it may be helpful to share incidents of emotional, verbal and physical abuse with your prenatal healthcare provider so they can help you identify preventive measures for the postpartum period. You may also want to consider researching information on symptoms and support. Postpartum Support International has a wealth of information, including a page on pregnancy and postpartum mental health, a local support search and tools for self-assessment and self-care.

Your body will also be readjusting physically after pregnancy. After your body goes through childbirth, you will need a period of healing before engaging in sexual activity. Your doctor, nurse or midwife may advise you about this length of time depending on your birth experience. Your abusive partner may try to reassert power and control by dismissing or downplaying these recommendations using guilt, threats or even forcing sex before you are ready. These behaviors are sexual abuse and can create health issues or an extended healing period for you. Contacting your healthcare provider or a domestic violence program about these incidents may allow you to create a safety plan to increase your sexual and physical safety during this period. Examples of strategies you may use could include:

  • A support person staying in your home during the length of your healing;
  • Staying with your baby at a supportive family member or friend’s home or a shelter while you heal;
  • Sleeping in a separate part of the home from the abuser;
  • Adjusting your sleep schedule to times when your partner is away from the home;
  • If you are concerned that your partner is trying to get you pregnant again, identifying safe and undetectable contraceptive methods that don’t interfere with your child feeding choices.

As always, you know your situation the best, and these suggestions are not recommendations, but ideas for possible exploration if you think they could increase your safety.

As advocates, we use tools called Power and Control Wheels to discuss different types of abuse. There is even a Power and Control Wheel specific to the pregnancy and postpartum period. One of the sections on the original wheel is Using Children, and these tactics during this period can be especially impactful. It’s common for new parents to have to negotiate their preferences for child raising with one another. In an abusive situation, the abusive partner may ignore, override or sabotage the other parent’s wishes and concerns.

One area where this may come up is how to feed your baby. Some parents may wish to breastfeed, and others may choose to use formula to feed their child. In order to move forward with either of these methods, having your partner’s support is very important to feel successful. Breastfeeding has many benefits and may increase connection with your child and even help lessen the impacts of postpartum mental health disorders. However, it can also be physically and emotionally draining for some parents. If your partner belittles you for challenges that you have with breastfeeding, prevents you from having time to breastfeed or pump or pressures you to breastfeed without providing support, these may be red flags for abuse. Using formula to feed your child also has benefits, and may allow for increased healing and relief for new parents. This feeding method also requires funds to purchase formula and may take time to make bottles to feed your child. If your partner refuses to provide financial assistance for formula, makes you feel guilty for using formula or pressures you to feed your child with formula but will not help with making bottles or feeding your child, these may be red flags for abuse.

Another area where you may experience this is around your baby’s sleep. There are many methods and theories for helping infants (and their parents!) sleep. You can expect to make decisions around how to respond to your child when they wake, where to make your child’s sleeping area, what makes a safe sleeping atmosphere and who will respond to the baby. If your partner prevents you from creating a consistent sleep routine, purposefully starts fights near the child’s sleeping area, prohibits you from comforting your child or refuses to assist when the child awakens, these may be red flags for abuse.

If you are noticing these types of behaviors, it may be helpful to reach out for additional support. While you may have received immediate support from family and friends following your child’s birth, you may begin to feel isolated as visitors thin out. Your partner may behave in ways that make visitors uncomfortable, or you may just be entering a new phase that your friends do not relate to yet. There are many sources of support for new parents, and connecting with them can help get perspective on your new role and how to best deal with your partner’s concerning words and actions. Your pediatrician or postpartum care physician may have information about support groups for new parents and their children, so it could help to contact their office about finding some resources. Social media and parenting websites like Baby Center, Parenting, The Bump, and What to Expect have forums where you can reach out to other parents and sometimes even find local groups and resources in your area.

You can also find groups that offer support that are specific to your parenting choices. Be mindful when joining any group that there may be parents who view parenting choices in a very concrete way and may not be as understanding of the circumstances you are dealing with in your relationship. Give yourself the space needed to separate from any group that is more about judging and giving advice than about supporting members with diverse life experiences. La Leche League International provides support and resources to breastfeeding parents; on their site you can look up information on local support meetings.The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program provides assistance for both breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women; you can find agency contacts for their nutrition and breastfeeding support programs on their website. Attachment Parenting International also offers information and resources to connecting with local parents who want to practice attachment parenting principles. Babywearing International is another group that has local support meetings for parents interested in babywearing practices.

If one-on-one support is more in line with your needs, you may want to consider reaching out to a postpartum doula. A postpartum doula provides assistance to parents acclimating to their new roles. They may provide support and education for breastfeeding and other skills that increase bonding between parents and babies, to grow parents’ self-confidence. You can use this search tool to find local postpartum doulas. If your insurance does not cover the costs of a postpartum doula, you may choose to ask if doulas offer pro bono or sliding scale services.

You can always contact The Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233 or live chat on the website from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. CST to discuss these issues and more. In addition to creating a personal safety plan with you, we can also help you connect with local domestic violence programs which may offer support groups, advocacy services, individual counseling and child care assistance.

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Pregnancy and Abuse: Planning a Safe Child Birth

This post was contributed by Rebecca Donley and is the third in a series about pregnancy and abuse. Read the first post here and the second post here.

pregnancy-3For many first time parents, childbirth is an exciting yet frightening event. While there are many ways to prepare yourself for the birth of your child, everyone has a different version of the perfect birth, so these steps will vary from person to person.  Some people create a birth plan to outline what they would like to happen during and immediately following birth. A birth plan can include measures for safety if you are also concerned about the impact or role of an abusive partner during the birth.

As you are creating this plan, consider the allies that you will have available during the birth. If you plan to give birth at a hospital, doctors and nurses will likely be present during much of your labor process. If you are giving birth at a birthing center or at home, you may have a midwife present. Depending on your prenatal care options, you may have been able to inform these professionals about your concerns about the abuse. If not, contacting the professionals beforehand and planning some items to add to your birth plan for safety may be a possibility. You also might have a professional like a doula for support at the birth. Birth doulas provide support at hospitals, birth centers or home births, and unlike a doctor or nurse who may be supporting several patients and present only during certain parts of labor, your doula will stay with you throughout your labor process. Though doulas may not have training in domestic violence or supporting someone who is experiencing abuse, you still may be able to reach out to them for added support during your labor. While doula costs may not be covered by insurance, some doulas may be able to provide services pro bono or on a sliding scale. If you do not have a birth doula, you may want to identify a family member or friend to take on the role of labor support. When considering who to ask, keep in mind that you may want someone who will safety plan with you as opposed to for you.

Childbirth requires a lot of energy and focus. Even if you have a c-section planned in advance, that’s a major surgery that deserves your full attention. No matter your birth plan, it’s important that you be able to fully access your reserves without having distractions. If you feel like your abusive partner or ex-partner will attempt to prevent you from taking necessary steps for a safe and stress-free birth, consider adding strategies to your birth plan that will refocus and energize you. Different strategies work for different people, so practice these in advance to see what is most effective for you. These include movement exercises, breathing exercises, guided meditation or relaxation narratives, listening or singing to music and repeating positive affirmations. The key is that you are able to stay relaxed and positive.

If you have left the relationship, or go into labor while your partner isn’t present, you may determine that preventing them from finding out that you are giving birth is the safest thing for you and your child. You may be able to do this by only alerting your labor support person when you go into labor, and ensure that they know to not share this information with anyone else. When determining where you will give birth, you may want to consider whether your partner or ex knows your due date, and if they will try reaching out to area hospitals, birth centers or your support network to try find you. Once you determine a plan, let the staff at the place where you give birth know to alert you if someone tries looking for you, as well as to not provide any information about your presence or status. Give them a picture of your partner/ex, and ask that staff alert you if anyone matching their description is reported in the area. If you are giving birth outside the home, you may want to take a cab or have a friend or family member take you in a vehicle that your partner/ex will not recognize. When you leave the facility, ask your labor support to check the parking lot to ensure that your partner/ex is not waiting for you. While it is understandable that you would want to share information of your birth with social networks, consider safety before sharing updates or information. Pictures online can often be viewed by friends of friends, even if the abuser is blocked. If family and friends visit, ask them to wait on posting any photos that they take with you or the baby until after you’ve returned home.

You may need to have a plan for staying safe with the abuser present during labor as well. Creating activities to occupy your partner, like asking them to contact family and friends or pick up items from the store if they are distracting you, may be one strategy to create space for you to focus. As part of your safety measures in your birth plan, you could determine a code word to use with your doctor, nurse, midwife, doula or other labor support to alert them if you are feeling unsafe and would like your abuser removed from the room. You could also have a friend or family member stay with your partner to prevent them from interrupting your focus during childbirth. Brainstorming other strategies ahead of time is key because you will want your full energy to go towards ensuring a safe and peaceful birth. Even if your partner has limited your birth planning options, you may be able to mentally prepare yourself by researching childbirth and making a personal safety and self-care plan for each stage. Obtaining access to a phone to dial 911 in the case that your partner has prohibited you to leave the home to have the baby may be one part of an emergency safety plan. Identifying a room where you feel most safe and relaxed to labor, and preparing it in advance with the items and materials that you will need is another strategy to reduce stress during labor without external support.

Whatever your circumstance or needs, The Hotline is available to help you, whether that’s identifying local options or national resources that may enhance your safety, developing a personalized safety plan that helps you maintain your reserves for childbirth, or providing emotional support and validation during the last phase of pregnancy. We are available 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233 or via live online chat from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. CST.

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Staying Physically, Emotionally and Financially Safe During Pregnancy

This post was contributed by Rebecca, a Hotline manager, and is the second in a series about pregnancy and abuse. Read the first post here

pregnancy-2While often portrayed as a magical, happy time, pregnancy—with the associated physical, emotional, social, and financial changes—can be challenging, even with a supportive partner in a healthy relationship. Because an abusive partner may see the unpredictability of pregnancy as an opportunity to increase power and control, if you’re pregnant it’s important to explore options to enhance your physical, emotional, financial and legal safety.

Your physical safety needs may change as pregnancy progresses; what may seem safe at one point may not feel that way a few weeks later. Getting prenatal care may be a way to maintain both your and the baby’s health during this time. It also may be a way to connect with a service provider that you can turn to if you are concerned for your safety. If you are unsure about accessing prenatal care, you may be able to get more information by contacting 211, a local resource line available in most communities. You can also sign up for Text4Baby, a free service that sends you tips about staying healthy during pregnancy up through your child’s first birthday. If you have concerns about not being insured, you may be able to get insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Survivors of domestic violence can enroll at the healthcare.gov website at any time, using the Special Enrollment Period (SEP). For more information about this option, visit the What’s New? area of the Health Cares About IPV website.

During pregnancy, your center of gravity shifts and joints loosen to allow for easier childbirth. This can make getting around more difficult. If you live with the abuser, consider mapping the safest routes out of the home or apartment from the rooms where you spend the most time. Try avoiding rooms with weapons, hard surfaces and areas near stairs. If it is becoming difficult to drive, consider identifying some safe people that you can contact if you need transportation. Keeping cab or bus fare stowed in a packed bag may be another way to get out quickly if needed.

Protecting and maintaining your emotional energy during this time is also important and closely linked to physical safety, as stress can adversely impact your pregnancy. Creating a self-care plan is one way to achieve this. Some people use prenatal yoga, walking in nature, journaling, art or spending time with loved ones as part of their self-care. Creating social connections with other parents can be particularly important during pregnancy. Meetup.com is a website where you may be able to a group of parents expecting children with a due date close to yours. Other parenting and social media websites may have similar groups that you can join to find support and connection. If finding a group online doesn’t fit your needs, you could ask your healthcare provider to ask about classes or programs for expecting parents. Seeking out the support of a counselor may be an additional way to get perspective during this time. The Hotline can offer information about local domestic violence programs that offer counseling and support groups. If you’re looking for counselors that specialize in other areas, GoodTherapy is a website that offers assistance finding a local counselor, as well as articles and resources on issues that impact emotional well-being, including during pregnancy.

Pregnancy is also a time when financial and legal options begin to shift. Knowing your rights around these issues is a first step to creating a plan to protect yourself and your new child. While workplaces may differ in their support for pregnant employees, there are certain employment laws that they must follow. The Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau has a website where you can review your rights during pregnancy and as a new parent. Some state domestic violence coalitions also have dedicated projects that offer support for protecting yourself financially. One great example is the Economic Justice Project of the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence called Get Money, Get Safe, which offers general tips on banking, credit and other issues for survivors of domestic violence. Knowing your options regarding custody can also be confusing, especially if you have several plans that you are considering for both your and your future child’s safety. WomensLaw offers a wealth of legal information including custody information and parental kidnapping laws searchable by state.

Safety plans are not one size fits all. Each person has a right to safety and a right to define how that will look, and these suggestions are not meant to serve as a guarantee or a direction. At The Hotline, we believe that you are the foremost expert in your situation. If you see some ideas that seem fitting and would like to expand on them, you’re always welcome to call us 24/7 or chat online between 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. (CST) to fully discuss creating a personalized safety plan.

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Prenatal and Early Pregnancy: Tips for Staying Safe

This post was written by Rebecca, a Hotline manager, and is the first in a series about pregnancy and abuse.

prenatal-and-pregnancyDeciding if and when to have a child with a partner is a big decision. This decision can be even more challenging when you are with someone who is threatening, controlling and manipulative. Pregnancy and parenthood cause physical, emotional, financial and social changes, and therefore it is understandable to want stable and reliable partners for support during this transitional time. Unfortunately, some abusers use this transition as an opportunity to gain or maintain power and control through tactics known as reproductive coercion. These tactics can play out differently in every relationship and may seem confusing.

In a healthy relationship, you’re able to talk openly about your feelings around having children without fearing retaliation from your partner if you disagree about the timing or decision to have a child or more children. Differing feelings and desires may lead to a mutual decision to end the relationship, which may be difficult but it would not cause a concern for your safety. If you feel afraid to disagree with your partner’s wishes around if and when to have children, this could be a red flag of an abusive relationship.

Whatever your decisions are, you deserve to be safe with your partner. If you are finding that it’s difficult to safely share your choices and needs with your partner, you might turn to other sources for perspective on these decisions. A big piece of any safety plan is determining who is in your support network. If you are thinking of becoming pregnant, or if you are in the early weeks of pregnancy, you may want to consider reaching out to a healthcare provider, such as a nurse or Ob-Gyn, to learn more about how to take care of your physical health needs during this time. You can also discuss with them a plan for getting supportive care that allows space for you to share your needs with them without your partner in the room. Another part of a support network may be a counselor or therapist – someone who you can trust to be nonjudgmental and supportive as you sort out your feelings and concerns around having children with your partner. Trusted friends or family members may also be able to offer support, whatever your decisions may be.

It also can help to get more information from sources that lay out your full range of options. Backline is a national organization that has an informative website around pregnancy and parenting and a toll-free talkline where you can explore a full spectrum of options. Futures Without Violence also has a lot of great information on their website, including projects dedicated to increasing reproductive and sexual health. Planned Parenthood has information on their website about factors and information you may want to take into account when considering pregnancy. The Hotline is also here for you 24/7 by phone (1-800-799-7233) or chat (7 a.m. to 2 a.m. CT) to brainstorm more ideas for support and information.

While putting together your support network and exploring resources, it’s important to consider whether your partner may be trying to monitor your activities. You may want to reach out for support on a phone or computer that your partner can not access. If you share a phone account, consider getting a go phone so your partner cannot observe the numbers that you’ve called on your bill. You may also want to use a work or public computer or a friend’s smartphone to explore online resources instead of a computer or smartphone that your partner could monitor.

These decisions are big, and you deserve access to the support and information that can help you choose the options that feel best to you. You are the expert in your situation and are the one best-suited to make these decisions. Whatever you decide, The Hotline is here for you every step of the way.

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Abuse and Mental Illness: Is There a Connection?

Mental-IllnessThis post was written by Alexander, one of our digital services advocates

A common assumption we hear at The Hotline is that abuse is caused by a partner’s mental health condition, for example: bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), narcissistic personality, borderline personality or antisocial personality. While these are serious mental health conditions, they do not cause abuse. Nothing in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM 5) states that a mental illness solely causes a partner to be abusive in a relationship; however, there are a select few diagnoses that can increase the risk of abusive patterns to show up in a relationship and in other areas of life. Mental illness tends to impact all areas of a person’s life, such as work, interactions with friends, family engagement and personal relationships. In contrast, abuse primarily impacts personal relationships and typically not the other areas of life. Abusive behavior in an intimate partner relationship and mental illness are two separate entities.

Since abusive behaviors happen primarily in one’s intimate partner relationship, it’s common that an abusive partner will not show their negative or harmful behaviors with friends, coworkers or family members. An abusive partner tends to put on what can be considered a “fake mask” for the rest of the world to see. When it’s just the victim and the abusive partner together, that mask comes off and the victim sees a different side that others aren’t allowed to see. The impact of being the only person to see this behavior is often isolating for the victim, as they may think (or the abusive person may even say) that no one else will believe them, since no one else has witnessed the abusive behaviors. This also makes it easier for the abusive person to make their partner feel responsible for their abusive behavior, which reinforces the isolation.

Lundy Bancroft, author of Why Does He Do That? (2002), clarifies that an abusive partner’s “value system is unhealthy, not their psychology” (p. 38). Yes, it can appear like an abusive partner has a mental illness when they get upset and use physical or verbal abuse. If the abuse were caused by a mental illness, the partner would also yell at and/or hit their family members, friends and coworkers when upset. With domestic abuse, however, the abuser usually yells at and/or hits only their partner.

Abuse and mental illness can coincide. There are cases of individuals who have mental illness and are also abusive to their partners. There are also many individuals who have a mental illness and are healthy and supportive partners. If your partner does have a mental illness and is abusive towards you, it’s important to keep in mind that the mental illness and abusive behaviors need to be addressed separately by the abusive partner. It is the abusive partner’s responsibility to seek out support and create their own plan for managing their mental illness and be accountable for their abusive behavior. If your partner is not owning up to their actions, is not admitting to how much they’re hurting you, and is not seeking out professional help then that’s a sign that your partner isn’t willing to change. If that’s the case, then the abuse in the relationship tends to continue and escalate over time.

The following questions may help clarify whether what your partner is doing is abuse or abuse with mental illness:

  • Does my partner yell or scream at others (friends, coworkers, family members) outside of our relationship?
  • Does my partner make others check in to see where they’re at and who they’re with?
  • Does my partner hit others outside of our relationship?
  • Does my partner minimize or verbally tear down others?
  • Does my partner pressure others to do things that they aren’t okay with?
  • Does my partner make threats to others when they say something my partner doesn’t agree with?

If you answered no to most of the questions, then most likely your partner is abusive without mental illness. If you answered yes to most of the questions, then it’s possible your partner is abusive and also may be experiencing some form of mental health issue or illness. Lundy Bancroft’s book, Should I Stay or Should I Go?, has a chapter on untangling a partner’s mental health issues from abusive behaviors. Additionally, connecting with a support network, including a domestic violence advocate or counselor who specializes in domestic violence may help support you in determining your options.

Even if your partner does have a mental illness, there is NEVER an excuse for abuse. Abuse is a choice someone makes in order to maintain power and control over a partner. If a partner is abusive towards you, regardless of whether they have a mental illness or not, they have no right to treat you in that manner. You always deserve to have a healthy, loving, supportive, trusting and safe relationship 100% of the time.

If you have any questions or concerns after reading this post, please feel free to reach out to one of our advocates by calling 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) any time or chatting online from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. CT.

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Safety While Traveling Part 2: Traveling with Children

safe-travel-2Previously we offered some general tips for staying safe while traveling with an abusive partner. If you have children and are traveling, you might consider taking some additional precautions.

If your children are traveling with you, make sure to have additional copies of their documents, as well as your own. It might work best to have a trusted family member or friend hold on to copies at home, as well as asking someone at the front desk of the hotel you’re staying at to hold copies for safekeeping. Without disclosing too much, you could let them know that these documents are only for you to request (e.g. “My partner has lost our documents before and was embarrassed about it. Please don’t let them know that I’m asking you to keep these just in case.”).

It could be helpful to know as much as possible about your custody rights if you decide to go with the children into hiding while traveling out of state or abroad. For interstate custody, you may be able to research this information on WomensLaw or by contacting the Legal Resource Center on Violence Against Women at 1-800-556-4053. For international custody issues, The Hague Domestic Violence Project may give you more information about your rights.

Depending on your children’s ages, you can safety plan with them about how to get assistance if needed while traveling. For example, if you are traveling outside the country, you might teach them phrases for asking for help. Additionally, you could look at markers and other places of interest near where you’ll be staying during travel and come up with a code word or phrase for the children to go there for safety if there is an emergency.

If you are traveling with your partner but your children will not be with you, these tips may help you stay connected with them while you are away:

  • If possible, arrange for them to stay with someone that you trust and who is not influenced by your partner so you can create an alternate arrangement with them if there is an emergency.

  • If that isn’t an option, asking a trusted friend or relative to do regular check-ins on them could also allow for opportunities to enhance their safety.

  • Depending on their ages, you may be able to safety plan with them about where they can go if circumstances change (e.g. If you come home from the trip early for safety or your partner comes home early and threatens to take the kids, you can have a code word or phrase that lets them know to go to a safe place where you’ve arranged to meet them).

  • Let the children’s school or other caretakers know about your travel plans, so that they can alert you or the appropriate person if any concerns arise during your travel.

As always, you know your situation best; don’t follow any advice that makes you feel unsafe. We can help you create a plan for your unique situation. Call any time of day at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or chat online from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. CT.

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Safety While Traveling: Part 1

safe-travel-1Planning a trip can be stressful, but if you’re leaving town with your abusive partner, you might be more concerned about your own safety while traveling. We wanted to offer a few tips that may help you protect yourself.

We always emphasize creating a safety plan for any given scenario. Having a plan can help you cope while traveling or provide opportunities for escape if necessary. If you are traveling with your abusive partner, consider making a plan for your emotional safety. What this looks like can differ from person to person, but it might include books, music or other favorite activities that calm you or make you comfortable. Don’t forget to incorporate self-care while on the road, even if it’s something small, like a quick meditation. Calm.com offers guided meditations in varying increments of time and even has apps for Androids and iPhones.

It’s also important to consider your physical safety and health while traveling, if you are concerned your partner might become physically abusive. You may want to fully know your rights and options for seeking safe/affordable healthcare while travelling away from home. Because reporting laws for medical providers are different from state to state, you may want to ask your provider what they would need to disclose to the authorities if they are made aware of it (e.g. “If someone was to disclose that someone else harmed or attempted to harm them, would you have to contact law enforcement to make a report?”) This way you can best decide what you feel comfortable and safe disclosing. If you do decide to make a report to a healthcare professional, ask if a copy of the medical report can be given to you or sent to a safe address for documentation.

If you have insurance, you can contact your health insurance company about how your benefits transfer if you seek medical care outside your network, or try searching for in-network providers in the area that you are traveling to. If you do not have health insurance or your insurance does not offer affordable care options in the area you are traveling to, you can look up information about low-cost, sliding scale HRSA health centers.

If you are pregnant and traveling, you may want to talk to your home pre-natal care provider about suggestions for staying safe during travel, including stress-reducing strategies. Keep their number in a safe place so you can contact a nurse or doctor in case of emergency during your travel.

Other tips to consider:

  • Give your itinerary, including where you’ll be staying and all contact information, to a trusted friend or family member.

  • Keep copies of your documents (passport, driver’s license, visa, etc.) with you if possible, and/or leave copies with a trusted friend or family member who will not be influenced by your partner.

  • Have a stash of money for yourself that you keep in a safe place. Consider keeping enough for cab fare and a night at a hotel.

  • Be aware of the available resources, such as shelters or coalitions, in the area you’re traveling to and keep their information readily available to you. Visit Womenslaw.org for a directory of domestic violence shelters in the U.S by state. It may also be a good idea to have a list of nearby hotels you can stay in if you have to escape your partner.

  • Know the emergency number for the city/country you’re staying in.

If you are in the United States, you can always call The Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for help finding resources near you. If you are traveling internationally, these resources may be able to assist you:

UK: call Women’s Aid at 0808 2000 247
Australia: call 1800RESPECT at 1800 737 732
Worldwide: visit International Directory of Domestic Violence Agencies for a global list of helplines, shelters, and crisis centers. (Note: The Hotline has not vetted all resources listed on this site, but it’s a good place to start if you are traveling to another country)

If any of these tips would make you feel unsafe, don’t use them. You know your situation best. If you need assistance creating a plan for your unique situation, give us a call any time at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or chat online on our website from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. CT.

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Drugs, Alcohol and Abuse

drugs-alcohol-abuseBeing in an abusive relationship is already a difficult and dangerous situation. Alcohol and/or drug abuse only make matters worse. When a partner is under the influence, the risk of all types of abuse (physical, verbal, emotional, financial, and sexual) increases, leading to a very troubling situation.

Blaming the Booze

“It wasn’t me, it was the beer talking!”
“I would never do that if I was sober.”
“I’m not really that person. That’s who I am when I’m high.”

An abusive partner who is also using alcohol or drugs might make statements like these. They may blame drugs or alcohol instead of accepting responsibility for their behavior or actions. It can be all too easy to just accept what they say and move on without addressing the real underlying issue of abuse. We often hear from survivors who say, “If I could just get them to go to rehab, everything would get better.” But because drugs and alcohol aren’t the root issues of abuse (abuse is about power and control), achieving sobriety doesn’t necessarily end the abuse. There are plenty of people who use drugs and alcohol and don’t become abusive. Drugs and alcohol can affect a person’s judgment and behavior, but using them doesn’t excuse violence or abuse.

In this article about domestic violence myths, Claudia Garcia-Rojas, co-director of the Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls & Young Women, explains: “In partner abuse situations, drugs and/or alcohol certainly play a role but they are not the root cause of the violence. Assuming so perpetuates the idea that partner abuse is caused by a single issue, when in fact, there are multiple factors that contribute to the dynamics of why a partner chooses to be either emotionally, physically, financially, and/or psychologically abusive, though it is very common that an abuser will use alcohol/drugs as an excuse for why they are abusive. While these problems overlap, they are independent of one another.”

The Cycle of (Substance) Abuse

When one partner has a drinking or drug problem, a vicious cycle can occur. The issues created by their habit — like financial stress, neglect of responsibilities, or legal problems — may lead to fighting with their partner, and then to take the stress off, they may drink or use more drugs. While this cycle continues, abusive behaviors might get worse. Additionally, the stress of the abuse might cause victims to turn to drugs or alcohol as coping mechanisms.

Treatment is available to help with drug addiction and abusive behavior, including counseling, self-help meetings and support groups. However, an abusive partner who is using drugs must decide for themselves to seek help for both their abusive behavior and their substance abuse.

If you or someone you know is in a relationship with a person who is abusive while using drugs and/or alcohol, we are here for you. Call us anytime at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or chat online from 7AM-2AM CT.

Additional resources:

ID-Theft

Identity Theft in Abusive Relationships

ID-TheftWith so many of our daily activities happening online, identity thieves have more and more access to our personal information. But for people in abusive relationships, the biggest threat to their identity and personal information could be their abusive partner.

From our experience at The Hotline, we know that an abusive partner often has access to or control over their victim’s bank accounts, credit cards, passwords and other sensitive personal information. There are many ways an abusive partner might use this access for harm. For example, an abusive partner might threaten or coerce a victim into opening a new credit card in the victim’s name and then max it out, leaving the victim with ruined credit. Some abusive partners might use personal information to stalk, harass or intimidate their partners.

LifeLock, a leading provider of proactive identity theft protection services for consumers, offers some basic tips that may help protect a victim of abuse from stolen identity or fraud:

1. If you can safely do so, change your passwords. Be mindful that this sometimes sends a “flag message” to the email accounts listed in their system. If your partner has access to those, it could give them a heads up that you’re taking measures for your safety. If you’re concerned that your partner will be made aware of the change, or if you are concerned that this could escalate your level of danger, you may want to create new accounts that are not linked to the old ones that you can move your business to discreetly. If you currently reside with your partner, consider not accessing these new accounts from devices that they would have access to. Consider using an incognito window when accessing these accounts, so that your browsers do not share your search/ passwords to connected devices. For more information on private/incognito browsing, check out our post, Reducing Tech Footprints.

2. If your Social Security number has been taken, order your credit report from all three credit reporting agencies:

Equifax: (800) 525-6285
TransUnion: (800) 680-7289
Experian: (888) 397-3742

When you call each credit reporting agency, you’ll have the opportunity to place a fraud alert on your report. If you think that your partner may notice this fraud alert, consider possible explanations (“I left my wallet out at work and was worried that someone may have copied my card information”) that may lower their level of concern, or call our Hotline to discuss whether this preventive step could lead to a heightened escalation of threat from your partner.

3. Call the Identity Theft Resource Center at (800) 400-5530. They can answer many of your questions and help you determine additional actions you should take to help protect yourself. Keep in mind that you are the expert in your situation, so follow your instinct. General tips do not work for every circumstance, so consider whether you may be able to adapt a suggestion to increase your safety without escalating risk.

4. Monitor your transactions by keeping an eye on your credit and debit card accounts, looking for any transactions that you didn’t make. If you feel that it is safe to do so, report suspicious transactions using the phone number on the back of your credit or debit card. If you do believe that your accounts are being accessed by your partner and it does not seem safe to address this, consider opening a new account that they are not aware of and have the information sent to a safe email and location that they will not be able to access (e.g. work, PO box, trusted family or friend). You may be able to discretely transfer funds to this new account by changing your direct deposit at work, or writing a check from the old account to a trusted friend or family member, and having them write you a check that you can deposit into the new account so there is no record of transaction between the accounts.

5. If a retailer or employer offers you free credit monitoring as a result of a breach, find out if there is a way to access this service without alerting your partner. It is possible that this could be used to document your partner’s financial abuse.

6. Secure your mobile device with a passcode. If your partner is concerned about this, you can share that you are worried about forgetting your device and a stranger accessing it. If your partner demands access, consider keeping a safe device that your partner does not know about and using that to access your support and safe accounts. Keep your old device as a prop to help prevent them from suspecting that you have a safe device.

7. Keep computer systems up to date so you have the latest patches to protect from viruses and other malware that may have been installed. Be mindful that any devices your partner has access to could potentially be used to track your activities. Many browsers now allow you to share your activities on multiple devices. Be aware of which browsers do this and learn about how to avoid accidentally linking safe accounts to an unsafe device. Explore NNEDV’s Safety Net Project for more information.

These tips are meant to be general and may not apply to everyone’s situation. Remember, don’t take any actions that make you feel unsafe. If you would like to discuss more specific ways to protect yourself, please call us at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or chat online everyday from 7 AM-2 AM CT.

emotional-safetyplan

Emotional Safety Planning

emotional-safetyplan

This post was written by Diane, a Hotline advocate.

A safety plan can help you stay safe while in an abusive relationship, while preparing to leave an abusive relationship, or after leaving an abusive relationship. Often, emphasis is placed on planning around physical safety, but it’s important to consider your emotional safety as well. Emotional safety can look different for different people, but ultimately it’s about developing a personalized plan that helps you feel accepting of your emotions and decisions when dealing with abuse. Below are some ideas for how to create and maintain an emotional safety plan that works for you.

Seek Out Supportive People
You deserve to feel safe while expressing yourself and your opinions, and having supportive people around you can help foster this space. A caring presence such as a trusted friend or family member can help create a calm atmosphere to think through difficult situations and allow for you to discuss potential options.

Identify and Work Towards Achievable Goals
Dealing with abusive situations can be very overwhelming and stressful, and taking one step at a time can be very helpful in overcoming larger tasks later. An achievable goal might be calling a local resource and seeing what services are available in your area, or talking to one of our advocates at The Hotline. Remember that you don’t have to do anything you aren’t comfortable with right now, but taking small steps can help options feel more possible when you are ready. Reading this page and looking for strategies to be emotionally safe is already an amazing step that you have taken!

Create a Peaceful Space for Yourself
Designating a physical place where your mind can relax and feel safe can be good option when working through difficult emotions that can arise when dealing with abuse. This can be a room in your house, a spot under your favorite tree, a comfy chair by a window or in a room with low lights. Whatever space works for you personally! Incorporating other elements such as calming music, plants, or tools to journal is an option to explore (just be sure that your abusive partner does not have access to personal journals). This is your safe space, so whatever brings you peace is a great choice.

Remind Yourself of Your Great Value
You are important and special, and recognizing and reminding yourself of this reality is so beneficial for your emotional health. It is never your fault when someone chooses to be abusive to you, and it has no reflection on the great value you have as person. You deserve to remind yourself of this! Writing messages to yourself about things you like about yourself or saying these things out loud every day can be good ways to start. Even if you don’t feel comfortable with this, just thinking “I matter and how I feel matters” is a great thing that you are doing for yourself. It is the truth, and you deserve to hear it.

Remember That You Deserve to Be Kind to Yourself
It is easy to fall into a pattern where we put extreme pressure on ourselves to make the right decisions right away. This isn’t always possible, and it’s completely okay to take whatever time you need to make whatever choices are right for you. You deserve support from other people, but you also have a right to be kind to yourself, and remember that you are going through a very difficult time. Taking time to practice self-care every day, even if it is only for a few minutes, really creates space for peace and emotional safety. It’s healthy to give yourself emotional breaks and step back from your situation sometimes. In the end, this can help you make the decisions that are best for you.

If you need to talk to someone about your situation, or if you need help creating a personal safety plan, our advocates are here for you. Call anytime at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or chat online from 7am-2am Central.

police-and-PO

Quick Look: Police Reports and Protective Orders

police-and-POVictims of domestic violence often feel isolated and aren’t sure where to turn for help. At the Hotline, we’re here to help you find resources and discuss your options if you are in an abusive relationship. For some victims, those options include taking legal action against their abusive partners. Often these actions include filing police reports or obtaining a protection order.

Keep in mind that proceeding with a police report or a protection order is a personal choice, and you should only take these steps if you feel safe doing so. But first it’s important to understand what these documents are and what they can do for you.

Police Reports

A police report is one way to document the abuse and can be the first step toward filing criminal charges. You will be asked detailed questions about the incident and about any witnesses and the perpetrator.

How do I file a police report?
It’s best to file as soon as possible after an incident. Typically, you will need to go to the police station to file a report, or an officer can be dispatched to you. You may be able to file the report by phone by calling your area’s non-emergency number. In some cities you can file the report online. If it’s been a while since the incident happened, you’ll need to bring as much evidence as possible (ex. Journal/log, photos, witnesses, etc.). Provide as much information as you can as clearly as possible, and be sure to express if you feel threatened or have any fears about your partner. Anyone can file a police report, regardless of age (but if you are under 18, the police might contact your parent/guardian).

Why would I file a police report?
It is a way to document abuse and create an official record for the abusive partner, which may be used as evidence in a criminal or civil case.

What happens when I file a police report?
Once you file the report, you become a witness in the state’s case against the perpetrator. The case will be assigned to a detective in your precinct, who will begin an investigation. The detective will likely contact you to ask additional questions and discuss the case. Once the detective has completed the investigation, he/she will submit a report to the County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

While you do not control whether the case is prosecuted, most prosecutors will not go forward without your consent. Prosecutors usually consider many factors in determining whether to prosecute without a victim’s consent, including whether there is enough evidence to support a conviction without the victim’s testimony. If you have any questions or concerns throughout the process, you have the right to contact the case detective and/or the prosecuting attorney’s office.

Protective Order

A protective order is an official legal order issued by a state court that requires the abusive person to stop the violence and abuse and maintain a certain distance from the victim. Depending on where you live, it can also be called a restraining order, protection order, an injunction, or an order of protection.

How do I get a protective order?
Different states have different processes, but as a general rule, appropriate forms have to be filled out and submitted to the county court house. A court date will be scheduled and both parties will be notified. If you are under 18, you will likely need parental consent.

Why would I get a protective order?
A protective order is legal protection against the abusive partner and can be enforced by police. Special provisions can be requested such as custody of children, continued financial support, getting the abuser to leave the residence, etc. Some states also require the abusive partner to surrender their firearms.

It’s important to note that while a protective order may help keep an abusive partner away from you, it does not work in every case. Some abusive partners continue to contact and abuse their partners despite the presence of a protective order. Some may become even more dangerous after an order is filed because it threatens their power and control over the relationship. While you cannot predict someone’s behavior, you know your situation best, and it’s a good idea to consider how your partner might react based on what you know about them before obtaining a protection order.

What happens when I get a protective order?
When the abuser does something that the court has ordered them not to do, or doesn’t do something the court has ordered them to do, they may have violated the order. You can ask the police or the court (or both, depending on the violation) to enforce the order. If you are not able to contact the police when the violation occurs, they should take a report if you call them soon afterwards. In some cases, violating a protective order might result in a misdemeanor or felony criminal conviction and punishment. These types of violations can also later be addressed by a civil court, and it is often a good idea to bring them to the court’s attention.

Things to consider before obtaining a protective order:

  • PROS: You will have legal documentation of protection; the abuse may stop; provisions can be made for children, finances, etc.; can still be enforced if you move or leave your home state
  • CONS: You will have to see the abusive partner in court; abuse may not decrease/abusive partner may not obey the order; some orders are not always enforced

Please note that police reports and protective orders are just parts of an overall safety plan and do not guarantee your safety from an abusive partner. Remember, you are the most knowledgeable person about your own situation, and you must use your own judgment about what is best for you. If you are considering taking legal steps against an abusive partner, we strongly recommend that you get in touch with a legal advocate, and we can help you find one in your area. Please call us at 1-800-799-7233 or chat online from 7am-2am CST.

Resources and additional information:

  • VINE (Victim Information & Notification Everyday): This service provides information about criminal cases and the custody status of offenders 24 hours a day
  • Full Faith and Credit: Refers to Section 2265 of VAWA and requires that a valid protection order issued in one state be treated another state as if it were one of its own. It enables the victim to travel safely without having to establish jurisdiction or secure a new protective order.
  • WomensLaw provides legal information and support to victims of domestic violence and assault.
  • Legal Services Corporation provides legal assistance to low-income individuals and families throughout the nation.
kids-as-mechanism

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. Womenslaw.org 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.