Safety Planning for Family and Friends

By Heather, loveisrespect Advocate  

Here at The Hotline we often hear from survivors who are afraid to leave their abusive partners because of the threats that have been made against their loved ones. Because abuse is all about power and control, as a relationship progresses abusive people tend to escalate the things they say and do to maintain the power they take from their partners, and that can include threats to hurt or even kill friends, family or co-workers. This post is meant for any family, friends or colleagues of survivors of intimate partner violence who are concerned for their own safety, and for survivors of domestic violence who are concerned for the safety of the people in their support system.

It’s important to note that survivors can utilize this lethality assessment to learn what their individual risk of being killed by their partners may be. The language in the assessment is a bit dated, and very gendered–with men as the abuser and women as the victim–but we know that anyone of any gender can perpetrate abuse or be abused. The biggest threats for survivors are strangulation (10x more likely to be killed), the presence of a firearm (five times more likely), and if the abusive person is genuinely suicidal. It is not at all uncommon for an abusive person to threaten to kill themselves if they feel like they’re losing control over their partner, but they pose a serious risk to their victim if they have attempted suicide in the past, talk about a specific plan, or have access to a gun.

Domestic violence is the single biggest indicator of murder-suicides in the United States, and unfortunately, we’ve often seen that escalate to include survivors’ families, friends, and co-workers, or even strangers. The warning signs of suicidal thoughts can include seeking out lethal means, a preoccupation with death, expressing no hope for the future, self-loathing, self-hatred, getting their affairs in order/giving things away, saying goodbye, withdrawing from others, and self-destructive behavior. For adult women who are in a relationship with an abusive man femicide-suicide risk increases with:

  • gun ownership
  • threats with a weapon
  • threats to kill
  • a step-child in the home
  • estrangement

We know that when a survivor of abuse chooses to leave the relationship that (and pregnancy) is the most dangerous time for them, so we strongly encourage any survivors who are considering leaving to reach out to us via chat or phone to talk through a thorough, personalized safety plan. Friends, family, co-workers, neighbors and even strangers who are concerned about a survivor’s safety, or their own, are always welcome to call or chat with us too.

One of the most helpful things anyone who is concerned for their safety can do is to document the abuse or threats. Documentation of threats, damaged property or injuries can help if a restraining order is needed, with a custody case, or if someone decides to press charges. This website details how the laws around domestic violence and protective orders vary from state to state.

For their own safety friends, family and colleagues of domestic violence survivors can:

  • Talk with the survivor about the risk factors above and their concerns for everyone’s safety
  • Keep a charged cell phone on them at all times to call for help if needed
  • Travel in pairs or groups/try not to be alone
  • Plan to not let the abusive person into the home or business if they are not with the survivor
  • Seek a restraining order that would make it illegal for the abusive person to contact them
  • Inform neighbors/security/human resources of concerns and if possible provide a picture of the abusive person so they are not allowed at the place of business and the police/survivor/targeted support person can be notified of the threat
  • Install an alarm system/security cameras/motion sensor lights at home
  • Get a guard dog
  • Utilize safety planning apps like Kitestring and Circle of 6
  • Create a personalized safety plan with the survivor’s input & The Hotline’s help

We know that supporting someone who is being abused, dealing with threats, and talking about lethality concerns can be really frightening, so we can’t emphasize enough that every individual in a situation like this HAS TO prioritize their own physical safety and emotional well-being. It’s important too that anyone who is affected by abuse engages in a strong self-care practice, which can include counselingmeditationsocializingmovement, or anything relaxing or fun. Advocates are available 24/7 via phone and chat if you need support or help making a safety plan.

helpful safety tips

Safety Planning With Sex Workers

Sex worker” is a term used to refer to people who work in all aspects of the sex trades, indoor or street-based, legal and criminalized. Sex work can include people who trade sex for money as well as safety, drugs, hormones, survival needs like food shelter or clothing, or immigration status or documentation.

Anyone planning to leave an abusive relationship faces obstacles, both from their abuser and the lack of understanding about why people stay in abusive relationships. When the survivor of abuse is a sex worker, they may face even more challenges when planning to leave safely, access resources, or pursue legal action.

There are various types of sex work–from phone sex workers who never have any kind of physical contact with their clients to exotic dancers and to professional dominatrices who consensually push their clients to their mental and physical limits–and many reasons that a person may choose to engage in it. The reasons why people engage in sex work are varied. Like other fields of of labor some sex workers are unable to gain employment, while others may engage in sex work as a form of subsistence living, which is especially common among socially marginalized groups, including the LBGTQIA community; non-English speaking populations, including recent immigrants; and those with mental health issues.

At this time , most types of sex work are illegal or unregulated in the United States, therefore, a  survivor who is a sex worker may face very specific tactics of abuse by their partner. An abusive partner may threaten to call law enforcement on their partner, or interfere with their ability to go to work, or withhold money that the survivor has earned–which are forms of financial abuse. Survivors in abusive relationships may experience the same behaviors of an abusive relationship with non-sex workers but here are some additional behaviors they can experience:

Tactics of Abuse That May Specifically Affect Sex Workers

The specific types of abuse a survivor is facing should be taken into consideration when creating a safety plan. If the abusive partner is involved in arranging employment for the survivor, it may be financially challenging for the survivor to leave, but survivors are super creative and resilient. If the survivor works at a club or regular location, showing a photograph or giving a description, of the abusive partner to any security at the venue can be a good way of making sure an abuser does not disrupt the survivor’s work or intentionally cause them to lose employment. Some states offer address confidentiality programs, so that if a survivor moves, they can make sure their abuser does not find their new address through public records.

If possible, carpooling or using “the buddy system” when arriving to and leaving work is a valuable way of staying safer when an abusive partner resorts to stalking. Making sure that a trusted friend is always aware of where the survivor will be working is an easy method of staying safer. For example, apps like KiteString can make that process even simpler. Coming up with a code word that can be texted to that buddy in an emergency may also be useful:the buddy can come pick up the survivor or arrange transportation. Being familiar with the streets and neighborhood around where the survivor is working can be useful in planning for an emergency situation where a survivor must leave work immediately.

Sex workers may not want to involve law enforcement when dealing with an abusive situation, out of concern that they may be arrested themselves. Bias against sex workers might lead law enforcement to characterize domestic violence as “a trick gone bad” or otherwise attribute abuse to “workplace hazards,” rather than treat it as a crime. Law enforcement officials may also target sex workers, arresting them on vague charges like “loitering,” “lewdness” or “public nuisance,” in addition to charging them with statutes that specifically target sex workers. For instance, in New York state, as well as many others, it is legal for police and courts to use the possession of condoms as evidence of solicitation.

Social stigma against sex workers may also cause a survivor to hesitate to reach out to local resources like shelters, and some domestic violence organizations do discriminate against residents who break the law. Regardless of criminal history, anyone who is a survivor of abuse is legally entitled to protection under the law. All survivors deserve to be treated with respect, and believed. HIPS is a Washington, DC-based organization that provides support and information for people involved in the sex trade/exchange that may be a useful resource for survivor-sex workers. For all survivors of abuse or assault, self-care and counseling can be powerful methods of processing and overcoming trauma. This article from RAINN talks about  how to determine if a therapist is right for a survivor of sexual abuse/assault; while this one from our website has some suggestions for easy self-care.

Sex Trafficking

When someone is forced, coerced or threatened into sex work, they may be a victim of sex trafficking, and anyone under 18 who engages in sex work is considered a victim of trafficking under U.S. law. Sex traffickers may recruit victims by promising them lawful, paid work, often as models or dancers, but once lured into the situation, they are unable to access their earnings or stop doing sex work. If you suspect that you or a loved one might be a victim of sex trafficking, you can contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline and learn more about the signs of trafficking at Polaris Project.

If you are a sex worker or the loved one of a sex worker in an abusive situation,  our advocates are here to talk with you by chat and phone every day from 6am-2am CST. Chat with us online or call us at 1-800-799-7233 (1-800-787-3224 TTY).

Additional resources:

  • The HIPS Hotline helps those impacted by sexual exchange and/or drug use due to choice, coercion, or circumstance by phone, 24/7 at 1-800-676-HIPS
  • FORGE offers anti-violence support for members of the trans community and can supply referrals to local providers by phone at 1-414-559-2123
  • The Northwest Network and The Network/La Red provide support services to LGBTQIA+ survivors of sexual abuse and assault
  • The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) has a 24/7 hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) and also offers an online chat
  • After Silence and Pandora’s Project are useful websites offering support for survivors of sexual violence
  • Male Survivor is a great resource for male survivors of sexual abuse and assault
  • The Planned Parenthood Chatline offers support and education to anyone with questions or concerns about their reproductive health
abusive-partner-ends-relationship

When an Abusive Partner Ends the Relationship

abusive-partner-ends-relationshipBy Nicole H., a Hotline advocate

“There are things that can bond stronger than love, and that’s trauma… his exit was just one more way she was walked on.” – Lundy Bancroft

When talking about domestic violence, most people assume that the survivor will be the one who will take steps to leave the relationship. After all, most abusive partners do not want to give up the control they have over their partners and will attempt to keep them in the relationship as long as possible. But in some cases, it’s actually the abusive partner who ends the relationship and leaves.

Read more

Can BDSM Be Healthy - words on an orange background

Can BDSM Be Healthy?

By Melissa, a Hotline advocate

bdsmHere at The Hotline, we hear from quite a few people who have questions about BDSM (which encompasses a variety of erotic practices or activities that may involve bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and/or sadism and masochism). They might be wondering if it’s healthy, or they may have concerns about a current relationship in which they’re practicing BDSM with a partner.

A lot of stigma is attached to certain sexual appetites and desires, but we want to be very clear that BDSM is not inherently or automatically abusive. It’s possible to have healthy BDSM relationships, and they require just as much–if not more–of the same things that healthy “vanilla” relationships do: trust, honesty, respect and equality.

Read more

biphobia and bisexuality: image of male and female symbols intertwined on a purple background

Biphobia is Real…and Really Hurtful: Part 1

By Heather, an advocate. This is the first of a two-part series. This post is for bi+ folks!

bisexualityHey bisexual readers, we see you! March is Bisexual Health Awareness Month, so we want to talk about the health of your relationships.

If you’re bisexual (or pan- or polysexual, hetero- or homoflexible, or Queer & non-monosexual) it’s possible that your sexuality has caused some concerns or confusion in your relationship. (Sadly, bisexual women are more likely than any other group to experience intimate partner violence.) We’re here to tell you that none of this is your fault! Healthy relationships are based on trust, honesty, respect and equality. Everyone, of every sexual orientation, deserves that. No matter which gender you or your partner are, your bisexuality is valid.

Read more

is your sexual past used against you: image of a female silhouette in the foreground with arms crossed and a male silhouette in the background with arms crossed

Is Your Sexual Past Being Used Against You?

By Nicole H., advocate

past-used-against-youIf you’re reading this post, you might be feeling like you have to change or be someone you’re not with your current partner because of things that happened in your past. Maybe you’ve had a number of partners before, or maybe you’ve experienced some kind of sexual trauma, and your current partner is using those experiences to control, blame or shame you. This can be incredibly painful; after all, why would someone who is supposed to love you make you feel so bad? It’s important to understand that if you are struggling in this way, you are not alone. You cannot change the past. You deserve someone who is willing to understand, respect and care for you, no matter what happened before.

Read more

Playing the Part: image of two theatre masks, one smiling and one frowning, on a teal background

Playing Their Part: How an Abusive Partner’s “Good” Behavior is Part of the Act

By Bri, a Hotline advocate

“He’s really a great guy, though.”
“I know this isn’t okay, but she’s made me feel so special, and I just love her so much.”
“They were so loving and sweet, and the good times are the best I’ve ever had.”

playing-the-partWe often hear statements like this from people who contact us. Many struggle to understand why their partners, who were once incredibly kind and loving, now treat them in hurtful and abusive ways. It can be so confusing because the abuse isn’t constant. Most partners aren’t abusive all the time, so it makes sense to think they could go back to being that “kind and loving” person and stay there. In most of these relationships, though, when a partner acts nice, it’s really just that: an act. Thinking about their behavior in this way can be helpful by allowing you the space to prioritize your safety and well-being.

Read more

dvinthenews

Taking Action Against Abuse: VH1’s Black Ink Crew

dvinthenewsDomestic violence can happen to anyone and doesn’t look the same in every relationship because every relationship is different. But, there is one thing that most abusive relationships have in common – the abusive partner does many different things to have power and control over their partner.

In the season premiere of “Black Ink Crew” on VH1, Donna receives a phone call from her husband Maxwell while he is behind bars. It quickly escalates, and Maxwell has some nasty insults for Donna. This season, Donna will open up more about their tumultuous relationship.

To help continue the conversation, The Hotline partnered with VH1 to share information on the warning signs of abuse and what to do if you or your friend is in an abusive relationship. Head over to VH1.com to read our full post!

Why do I love my abuser: graphic of a white heart with a question mark over a red background; a silhouette of a couple walking close together is also in the background

“Why Do I Love My Abuser?”

why-do-i-love-my-abuserWe hear from many people who are in abusive relationships, and even those who have left relationships, but say that they love their abusive partner. They wonder, “Why do I love someone who has hurt me so much?” It can feel strange, confusing and even wrong to love someone who has chosen to be abusive.

While these feelings can be difficult to understand, they aren’t strange and they aren’t wrong. Love isn’t something that just disappears overnight. It’s a connection and emotional attachment that you create with another person. Love comes with a lot of investment of time, energy and trust. It’s not easy to just let go of a life you’ve built with someone, whether they’re abusive toward you or not.

If you’re struggling with feelings of love for an abusive partner, it could be for a number of reasons:

You Remember the “Good Times”

Abuse typically doesn’t happen right away in a relationship, and it tends to escalate over time as an abusive partner becomes more controlling. You may remember the beginning of the relationship when your partner was charming and thoughtful. You may see good qualities in your partner; they might be a great parent or contribute to their community. It’s not shameful to love someone for who they could be, or for the person they led you to believe they were.

After hurtful or destructive behavior reaches a peak, there may be periods of “calm” in your relationship when your partner makes apologies and promises that the abuse will never happen again. During calmer periods, it might seem like your partner is back to being their “old self” – the wonderful person they were at the beginning of the relationship. You might feel that if you could just do or say the “right” things, the person you fell in love with would stay and the abuse would end. But, there is nothing you could do or say to prevent the abuse, because the abuse is not your fault. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the choices your partner makes. Those periods of calm are often a tactic that an abusive partner uses to further confuse and control their partner.

Your Partner Has Experienced Their Own Trauma

Abusive partners are human beings who are complex, like everyone else. They may be dealing with their own traumas, past or present. As their partner, you care about them, and maybe you hoped you could help or “fix” them. But whether they’re dealing with a mental illness, addiction or an abusive childhood, there is NO excuse for them to abuse their partner in the present. Abuse is always a choice and is never okay. The truth is, even though you love your partner, you can’t “fix” another person. It’s up to them to get help addressing their own trauma and their abusive behavior.

Love Can Be a Survival Technique

For many victims, feelings of love for an abusive partner can also be a survival technique. It is very difficult for a non-abusive person to understand how someone they love, and who claims to love them, could harm or mistreat them. To cope, they detach from their pain or terror by subconsciously beginning to see things from the abusive partner’s view. This process can intensify when an abusive partner uses gaslighting techniques to control or manipulate their partner. The victim begins to agree with the abuser, and certain aspects of the victim’s own personality and perspective fade over time. By doing this, the victim learns how to “appease” the abusive partner, which may temporarily keep them from being hurt. The need to survive may be compounded if a victim depends on their abusive partner financially, physically or in some other way.

You might want to believe your partner when they say that things will change and get better because you love them, and they say they love you. It’s okay to feel that love and want to believe your partner. But it’s important to consider your own safety and that what your partner is giving you isn’t actually love. Love is something that is safe, supportive, trusting and respectful. Abuse is not any of these things; it’s about power and control. It IS possible to love someone and, at the same time, realize that they aren’t a safe or healthy person to be around. You deserve to be safe, respected and truly loved at all times.

Want to speak confidentially with an advocate about your own situation? Call 1-800-799-7233 any time or chat with us here on the website between 7 a.m. and 2 a.m. Central time. 

Additional Reading:

Narcissism: silhouette of a person looking at themselves in a mirror

Narcissism and Abuse

by Caroline, a Hotline advocate

narcissistTrying to find an explanation for an abusive partner’s behavior can be an exhausting task. It is natural to want to understand how someone we care deeply about, who says they care for us, is capable of saying and doing things to us that are hurtful or even dangerous. Additionally, the sheer amount of articles and opinions on abusive behaviors can become overwhelming. Terms like narcissistic, antisocial/sociopath or borderline personality often come up in that search for answers. Many of these labels are used loosely in the media we read and watch, and here on the lines, we hear them a lot.

Read more

Graphic with yellow background of a cell phone with a caution symbol on its screen

Tips for Safely Reaching Out for Support

This post was written by advocate Lauren C.

Graphic with yellow background of a cell phone with a caution symbol on its screenBeing in a relationship should not mean you lose your right to privacy or your right to talk to whomever you like. But in an abusive relationship, an abusive person may isolate their partner from sources of support. This is often done by checking their partner’s call log and text history or denying their partner the right to a phone.

Reaching out for support when you’re in an abusive relationship is scary, especially if there are barriers to having a safe phone. If you are having trouble finding a safe way to communicate with others for support, below are some options to consider:

Read more

caregiver

Supporting Survivors with Disabilities: When Your Abusive Partner is Also Your Caregiver

By Marilyn, a Hotline advocate

Graphic with purple background and a silhouette of a person's upper torso with another person's hand on their shoulderHere at The Hotline, we know that abuse occurs in intimate partner relationships when one person tries to maintain power and control over their partner. When a person depends on their partner for any form of caretaking, there may be additional risk for abuse because of a power imbalance. People with disabilities often experience higher rates of domestic violence, sexual assault and abuse, and the impact of abuse may compound the disability.

When abusive partners are also caregivers, they may try to gain control in different ways:

Read more