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!


Men Can Be Victims of Abuse, Too

male-victimsAt the Hotline, we know that domestic violence can affect anyone – including men. According to the CDC, one in seven men age 18+ in the U.S. has been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in his lifetime. One in 10 men has experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner. In 2013, 13% of documented contacts to the Hotline identified themselves as male victims. Although they make up a smaller percentage of callers to the Hotline, there are likely many more men who do not report or seek help for their abuse, for a variety of reasons:

Men are socialized not to express their feelings or see themselves as victims.
Our culture still clings to narrow definitions of gender (although there are signs that this is slowly shifting). Young boys are taught not to express their emotions, to “suck it up” and “be a man.” Tony Porter calls this the “man box” in his well-known TED talk. This can be extremely detrimental to boys as they age, especially if they find themselves in an abusive relationship. Men may feel discouraged to talk about what’s going on in their personal lives, or they feel like no one will believe them. They may not even realize that they are being abused, or they might assume they should just deal with the abuse on their own.

Pervading beliefs or stereotypes about men being abusers, women being victims.
The majority of domestic violence stories covered by the media are about male perpetrators and female victims who are typically in heterosexual relationships. While we certainly don’t want to minimize this violence, focusing on only one type of situation renders invisible the many scenarios that do not fit this definition, including abusive relationships among homosexual, bisexual, and trans* men. This might make many victims feel like they don’t have the space or the support to speak out about their own experiences and seek help.

The abuse of men is often treated as less serious, or a “joke.”
We’ve seen this in action recently with the elevator footage of Solange Knowles attacking Jay-Z. When a man is abused, many people don’t take it as seriously (in part due to the previous two reasons we’ve mentioned). The truth is, abuse is not a joke, in any situation, between any two people. All victims deserve support and resources to help them feel safe.

Many believe there are no resources or support available for male victims.
It can seem like the majority of shelters and services for domestic violence victims are women-focused. However, services for male victims do exist. Most federal funding sources require that domestic violence services be provided to all victims of abuse. Our advocates can provide information, assist with safety planning, and/or find local resources, if available. They can also help brainstorm alternative options if local programs are not meeting the requirements for male victims, including who a caller may be able to contact if they believe they have experienced discrimination.

No matter what your situation is, the Hotline is here to help, confidentially and without judgment. Please give us a call anytime, or chat online from 7am-2am CST.

A Few Resources for Men:


Intervention Programs for Abusive Behavior

interventionThe question “Can my partner change?” is undoubtedly at the front of a person’s mind if they’re in a relationship with an abusive partner. There are many obstacles to leaving an abusive relationship, or reasons to want to stay, so it only follows that we often desperately hope our partner changes their ways. While there’s no consensus on whether or not abusive partners can truly change, we know that some people do, but only when they genuinely want to change and devote themselves to doing so.

The other big question is “How?” Most states offer classes or intervention programs on changing abusive behaviors, and what states call these programs varies. For abusive partners who haven’t been mandated to enter into an intervention program, choosing voluntarily do so on one’s own is a big first step toward initiating change.

Anger Management

Many people assume that the best course of action is an anger management program, but this is often not a good option for a domestic violence situation. People who are abusive often express anger toward their partner, but having an anger problem means they would also behave the same way toward friends, family, co-workers and others – not just their partner.

Anger management focuses on that person’s inability to control their anger and what triggers these emotions, and this can be counterproductive for an abusive partner. Examining what triggers their anger can reinforce the idea that the victim is responsible for the violence. This takes the abuser off the hook for their actions.

Anger management courses do not address issues of power and control within a relationship, which are the source of domestic violence. A better option would be an intervention program that does focus on these issues, which are often referred to as Batterer Intervention & Prevention Programs (or BIPPs).

Batterer Intervention & Prevention Programs

There are a few types of services and interventions in the U.S. for those who may identify as abusive. Batterer Intervention & Prevention Programs (BIPPs) are the most widespread, but they aren’t available everywhere.

A BIPP is different than other counseling and intervention programs in that it centers around complete accountability, victim safety and education about the behaviors that likely brought participants there in the first place. Certified batterer intervention programs have a wide range of durations, varying from a weekend retreat to 52 weekly meetings. They’re generally offered by a few professionally-trained facilitators, and usually have eight to ten participants.

People enter into BIPPs for various reasons. Many are required by judges to attend as a condition of probation or as part of a sentence. Others enroll to try to save a relationship and keep their partner from leaving. The best reason for joining a BIPP is genuine desire to change.

These programs teach all about abuse: the range of coercive or abusive behaviors, common abusive tactics and the effects that abuse has on partners and families. Participants learn about healthy relationships and non-violent behaviors. BIPPs also challenge pre-existing beliefs that abusive partners might have, such as entitlement/ownership and gender roles.

The program should be structured around a clear understanding that abusive behavior is chosen, and that while substance abuse or mental health issues can occur simultaneously, they should be addressed through separate services.

As a result of attending this type of program, the abusive partner would ideally learn how to:

  • effectively communicate with their partner instead of being emotionally, verbally, or physically abusive
  • support their partner’s decisions even if they disagree
  • encourage their partner to spend time with friends and family
  • build trust and empathy within the relationship
  • refrain from using coercive actions to control and intimidate their partner
  • identify ongoing harmful behavior
  • behave respectfully toward their partner

Do You Want to Change?

If you think you may be mistreating or hurting your partner, call us at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Our advocates can discuss the differences between healthy and unhealthy behaviors. If you’re at the stage where you know you want to seek help, our advocates can also refer you to resources in your area. As always, it’s important to remember that change doesn’t happen overnight — it’s an ongoing process that takes work and willingness.

If your partner is abusive to you, it’s important to note that addressing the abuse with your partner may not always be safe. You know your situation best, so if you feel that discussing the abuse with your partner would escalate his/her abusive behavior, listen to your instincts. You can always contact the Hotline to talk about ways to have this conversation safely or other strategies to explore your options.

Related Posts

Is Change Possible In An Abusive Partner?
Expecting Magic From Abuser Programs


Behind the Screens: Spyware and Domestic Violence

behindthescreens-spywareThis is a post in our Behind the Screens series, which explores issues related to digital/online abuse.

Technology opens up so many possibilities to connect with people around the world, but unfortunately the other side of the coin is the potential for abuse. As we’ve been discussing in our Behind the Screens series, mobile devices and computers can become tools for an abusive partner to manipulate, control, and shame a victim. They can also be used to spy.

According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, “spyware is a computer software program or hardware device that enables an unauthorized person (such as an abusive partner) to secretly monitor and gather information about your computer [or cell phone] use.” Spyware can track everything you do, from keystrokes, to the sites you visit, to documents you print, to messages you send. In some cases, a person does not need physical access to your device to install spyware, and it can be very difficult to detect.

Spyware is starting to play a larger role in cases of digital abuse, thanks to easy-to-install and inexpensive technology. Much of the spyware software and apps available today are aimed at parents for monitoring kids and teens, but there are companies that market their products specifically for spying on spouses or partners. This issue has become so prevalent in domestic violence cases that Senator Al Franken (D-MN) has introduced legislation that would ban mobile spying apps.

How can you tell if spyware is being used on your devices?

As we previously noted, spyware can be difficult to detect. However, if you think your activities are being monitored by your abusive partner, there’s a good chance you are correct. For example, your partner might:

  • know your whereabouts when you haven’t told them specifically where you’ve been

  • know things about your online search history even after you’ve deleted it

  • know about conversations with or messages you’ve sent to others

  • question you about topics you have personally researched but never discussed

Additionally, on a cell phone you might notice that the battery drains quickly or data usage spikes. These can all be signs that your devices are being monitored.

What can you do if you discover (or suspect) you are being tracked by spyware?

You might be tempted to get rid of your device or try and remove the spyware, but be aware that your abusive partner might retaliate as a result. Do not use a computer or cell phone that your partner has access to in order to research shelters, escape plans, or to call/chat with hotlines. Use a computer at a library, at a friend’s house or at work, or borrow a friend’s cell phone or work phone to make calls. Use your own devices for innocuous tasks (such as looking up the weather) so that your partner does not get suspicious of inactivity.

If you believe you are being monitored, or even if you’re not sure, try to find a safe phone or computer and call us at 1-800-799-7233 or chat online every day from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. CST. We can help you safety plan and direct you to local resources.

Additional Resources:


What is Gaslighting?

hotline-gaslighting“You’re crazy – that never happened.”
“Are you sure? You tend to have a bad memory.”
“It’s all in your head.”

Does your partner repeatedly say things like this to you? Do you often start questioning your own perception of reality, even your own sanity, within your relationship? If so, your partner may be using what mental health professionals call “gaslighting.”

This term comes from the 1938 stage play Gas Light, in which a husband attempts to drive his wife crazy by dimming the lights (which were powered by gas) in their home, and then he denies that the light changed when his wife points it out. It is an extremely effective form of emotional abuse that causes a victim to question their own feelings, instincts, and sanity, which gives the abusive partner a lot of power (and we know that abuse is about power and control). Once an abusive partner has broken down the victim’s ability to trust their own perceptions, the victim is more likely to stay in the abusive relationship.

There are a variety of gaslighting techniques that an abusive partner might use:

Withholding: the abusive partner pretends not to understand or refuses to listen. Ex. “I don’t want to hear this again,” or “You’re trying to confuse me.”

Countering: the abusive partner questions the victim’s memory of events, even when the victim remembers them accurately. Ex. “You’re wrong, you never remember things correctly.”

Blocking/Diverting: the abusive partner changes the subject and/or questions the victim’s thoughts. Ex. “Is that another crazy idea you got from [friend/family member]?” or “You’re imagining things.”

Trivializing: the abusive partner makes the victim’s needs or feelings seem unimportant. Ex. “You’re going to get angry over a little thing like that?” or “You’re too sensitive.”

Forgetting/Denial: the abusive partner pretends to have forgotten what actually occurred or denies things like promises made to the victim. Ex. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” or “You’re just making stuff up.”

Gaslighting typically happens very gradually in a relationship; in fact, the abusive partner’s actions may seem harmless at first. Over time, however, these abusive patterns continue and a victim can become confused, anxious, isolated, and depressed, and they can lose all sense of what is actually happening. Then they start relying on the abusive partner more and more to define reality, which creates a very difficult situation to escape.

In order to overcome this type of abuse, it’s important to start recognizing the signs and eventually learn to trust yourself again. According to author and psychoanalyst Robin Stern, Ph.D., the signs of being a victim of gaslighting include:

  • You constantly second-guess yourself.
  • You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” multiple times a day.
  • You often feel confused and even crazy.
  • You’re always apologizing to your partner.
  • You can’t understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren’t happier.
  • You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family.
  • You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.
  • You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.
  • You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists.
  • You have trouble making simple decisions.
  • You have the sense that you used to be a very different person – more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.
  • You feel hopeless and joyless.
  • You feel as though you can’t do anything right.
  • You wonder if you are a “good enough” partner.

If any of these signs ring true for you, give us a call at 1-800-799-7233 or chat with us online from 7am-2am CT. Our advocates are here to support and listen to you.


Building Your Case: How to Document Abuse

document-the-abuseIf you are in an abusive relationship and are in the process of taking (or deciding to take) legal action against your abusive partner, documentation of your partner’s abusive behaviors can be an important component of your case.

It’s worth noting that each state has different laws about what evidence and documentation can be used in court. Speaking with a legal advocate in your state might better prepare you for your unique situation (our advocates at the Hotline can help locate a legal advocate near you). According to WomensLaw, in most states evidence can include (but is not limited to) the following:

  • Verbal testimony from you or your witnesses
  • Medical reports of injuries from the abuse
  • Pictures (dated) of any injuries
  • Police reports of when you or a witness called the police
  • Household objects torn or broken by the abuser
  • Pictures of your household in disarray after a violent episode
  • Pictures of weapons used by the abuser against you
  • A personal diary or calendar in which you documented the abuse as it happened

Below are a few actions you can take to create documentation, if you are able to or feel safe doing so:

Visit the doctor. More and more, doctors and gynecologists are trained to recognize signs of abuse. Your health care provider could also be a safe resource for disclosing the abuse. If you’re visiting a doctor for an injury, ask them about safe ways they can make notes about the abuse — ex. Some can write “cause of an injury” without it having to go to the police.

Consider outside documentation. Do you have a trusted friend, coworker or family member who knows what’s going on and would be willing to help? There are many ways they can help document the abuse — whether that’s a coworker making note of times your partner calls you at the office, or a friend holding your journal at her house.

Create a stalking log. If your partner is stalking you, creating a stalking log can be very helpful to your case. The National Center for Victims of Crime’s Stalking Resource Center has examples of stalking logs (in PDF and Word formats) as well as additional information on stalking.

Learn more about police reports. Always ask questions. Call your local police department’s non-emergency number and find out about the protocols and procedures of filing a police report — ex. Like filing about a lost bike. Ask, “Hypothetically, if there was something that was happening that I would want to report…” This can help you prepare for filing a police report if you need to, which creates a paper trail of the abuse.

Take pictures. A digital camera or your phone camera may not always be safe. Consider getting a disposable camera. Another option is for someone else to take the pictures and keep them for you.

Let a call go to voicemail. Is your partner calling over and over? Let it go to voicemail once and save the voicemail.

Save digital evidence. Do you have a smartphone? Most have the “take a screenshot” option. Thirty missed calls from your abusive partner? Take a screenshot of that. Threatening texts? Instead of responding to them, take a screenshot of them. These screen shots get saved in your images folder, so remember to send them on to a friend and delete them. If your partner sends threatening emails, don’t respond to them, but consider saving them in a folder in your inbox.

If you’re not sure if making documentation of your abuse would be safe, always go with your gut. It’s very important to keep in mind that you are the expert on your situation, and what works for one person may not be a safe idea for another person.

We are not legal advocates at the Hotline, but we are able to offer support and refer you to the local or state resources that might be helpful to you. Give us a call anytime at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).


“Help! My Ex is Harassing Me Online”

behindthescreens-harassmentThis is a post in our Behind the Screens series. Read the previous posts here and here

Breakups are a difficult time for any couple, but they can be an especially difficult and potentially dangerous time for survivors of abusive relationships. Even if you’re able to safely leave the relationship, the abusive partner can still cause harm from afar in a variety of ways. Technology and social media create new spaces where abuse can take place. This is called digital abuse, and it is just as unacceptable as any other form of abuse.

Even if your ex-partner did not exhibit abusive behaviors during the relationship, there’s still a possibility that feelings of anger, hurt, sadness, loneliness, or loss of control could lead them to become abusive online. They could hack into your email accounts or send unwanted emails, post unwanted messages or pictures on social media sites, or create fake profiles to harass you and people you know. If your ex is harassing you online, here are some ways to handle it:

  • Clearly tell your ex to stop harassing you, if you feel safe doing so. It’s important to let your ex know that what they are doing is abusive, preferably in a way that lets you keep a record of your request either by saving the text or email you send, or taking a screenshot of a message you send online. After you have told your ex to stop the harassment, do not respond to any future communications.
  • Save everything. You might wish to delete the unwanted messages immediately, but try to keep a record of any communications your ex sends. Save emails and chat logs, take screenshots of status updates, direct messages, comments, pictures, or websites.
  • Take steps to increase your online privacy. Check to make sure that the settings on any social media site you belong to are set to maximum privacy. Change your passwords, block or unfriend your ex, and don’t provide details of your social plans or whereabouts online – this includes avoiding “checking in” to places on Facebook or using apps like Foursquare.
  • If your ex is harassing you via email, create a separate email account with an uncrackable password to use only with people you trust. This way, you can communicate with friends and family via the new email address and you won’t have to see your ex’s emails everyday. Again, save any abusive emails that your ex sends to you, but do not respond to them.
  • Let people in your support system know that your ex is harassing you, if you feel comfortable doing so. Make them aware of your safety plan so they aren’t tagging you when they check in to places or otherwise mentioning your location online. It’s important not to go through this alone and for others to be aware of your ex’s behavior. If your ex tries to contact people you know, ask them not to respond and to keep records of those communications as well.
  • If you believe your life is being threatened and/or if the harassment continues or escalates, you might consider taking legal action. All states have laws against cyberstalking, and it could help to speak with a legal advocate about protective orders or other legal measures. If you choose to pursue legal recourse, a record of your ex’s abusive communications would be useful.

If you are experiencing digital abuse from an ex or current partner, a good resource is WHO@ (Working to Halt Online Abuse), a volunteer organization established to fight online harassment through education of the public and empowerment of victims. also has information about cyberstalking and online safety.

You can always call the hotline anytime day or night at 1-800-799-7233 to speak with an advocate about options and support. Remember, everyone has the right to live free from abuse, online and off.


Pressure and Persuasion: A Closer Look at Sexual Coercion

consentSome things are beyond our control — like when it starts pouring rain on the day you’ve forgotten an umbrella, or when you’re forced to wear that awful bright pink bridesmaid dress at your friend’s wedding. While you may not be able to choose the weather or a better sense of style for your friend, there are certain things in life that you can always make decisions about.

One aspect of your life that you have complete control over is how far you want to take it with your romantic partner — whether that’s your husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, or anyone you’re involved with. You should never feel forced into anything that you’re not comfortable with or don’t feel like doing.

Have you ever felt pressured by your partner to have sex? Have you ever felt guilted into it, or felt like you weren’t able to say no? Abuse is often centered on power and control in all aspects of the relationship, so it’s not uncommon that an abusive partner will try to force intimacy.

This is often referred to as sexual coercion, which lies on the continuum of sexually aggressive behavior. It can vary from being egged on and persuaded, to being forced to have contact. It can be verbal and emotional, in the form of statements that make you feel pressure, guilt, or shame. You can also be made to feel forced through more subtle actions. For example, your partner:

  • Makes you feel like you owe them: ex. Because you’re in a relationship, because you’ve had sex before, because they spent money on you or bought you a gift
  • Gives you compliments that sound extreme or insincere as an attempt to get you to agree to something
  • Gives you drugs and alcohol to “loosen up” your inhibitions
  • Plays on the fact that you’re in a relationship, saying things such as: “Sex is the way to prove your love for me,” “If I don’t get sex from you I’ll get it somewhere else”
  • Reacts negatively with sadness, anger or resentment if you say no or don’t immediately agree to something
  • Continues to pressure you after you say no
  • Makes you feel threatened or afraid of what might happen if you say no
  • Tries to normalize their sexual expectations: ex. “I need it, I’m a man”

Even if your partner isn’t forcing you to do sexual acts against your will, being made to feel obligated is coercion in itself. Dating someone, being in a relationship, or being married never means that you owe your partner intimacy of any kind.

A coercive partner may feel that consent is ongoing. However, consenting to something once doesn’t make it a “given” each time. Consenting to one action doesn’t mean you have given your consent for other actions. In a relationship where sexual coercion is occurring, there is a lack of consent, and the coercive partner doesn’t respect the boundaries or wishes of the other.

To learn more about sexual coercion, an important read is our article on healthy consent, or check out The Consensual Project. No one should be made to feel pressured into a sexual act. If your partner acts in any of the ways mentioned, it could be helpful to speak to someone about it. Our advocates are available to talk confidentially, 24/7, at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) — give us a call.


How to Maximize Online Privacy

behindthescreens-privacyThis is the second post in our Behind the Screens series. Read the first post, What is Digital Abuse?, here

Online privacy is a bit of an oxymoron. According to Ed Gibson, former head of cybersecurity at Microsoft and director of security at PWC Global, data that is posted on the internet should be regarded as permanent after 20 minutes, even if the originator has deleted the file. Nevertheless, 86% of internet users have tried to use the internet in ways to minimize the visibility of their digital footprints.

Despite a majority of internet users’ attempts at maintaining some privacy, social networking companies like Facebook are regularly tweaking their privacy policies, slowly making themselves (and as a result, their users) more public. Location-based apps can glean information from your mobile phone, and advertisers can use swaths of search history and site cookies to better target potential customers.

It’s all a little scary, right?

If you’re in an abusive relationship, or if you’ve left one, you are likely even more concerned than the average person about maintaining privacy online. For most of us it may not be possible to opt out of using the internet altogether, but there are a few things you can do to maximize your online privacy:

  • Check your privacy settings regularly on all social media sites that you use, and update them as needed. Lifehacker maintains an up-to-date article about new Facebook privacy changes.
  • Try to create “uncrackable” passwords and change them regularly. Don’t share your passwords with anyone you don’t know or trust completely. Remember, you can exercise your “digital rights.”
  • Read the privacy policies of any app or site that you sign up for. Many people do not do this, but it will help you get a lot of clarity into how the company or site is collecting and using your information.
  • Avoid oversharing personal information online. Don’t post your address, phone number, email, full birth date, or any other identifying information on any social networking site. Sites like Facebook request a lot of personal information now (including place of work, hometown, etc), but it is absolutely not imperative to post yours.

The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit based in California, provides a wealth of information about protecting your privacy in many areas of your life, including online. They offer some additional tips on staying safe and secure on the net, and be sure to check out a few of their other articles, too:

Using the Internet Safely
Online Privacy FAQ

If you have questions about how you can make online safety part of your overall safety plan, our advocates are here to help you. Give us a call at 1-800-799-7233, 24/7, or chat with us here on the website, Monday through Friday from 9am-7pm CST. It’s always free, anonymous, and confidential.


What is Digital Abuse?

behindthescreens-harassmentThis is the first post in a series we’re planning called Behind the Screens, which will explore issues related to online behaviors and digital abuse.

The prevalence of digital abuse has been gaining traction in the media lately, and our advocates frequently field questions from callers and chatters about it. Still, many people don’t know what constitutes digital abuse and are not able to recognize the signs. It is especially common among young people who are typically using technology in almost every aspect of their lives, but anyone can be a victim of digital abuse.

Digital abuse is the use of technologies such as texting and social networking to bully, harass, stalk or intimidate a partner. In most cases, this type of abuse is emotional and/or verbal and though it is perpetuated online, it has a strong impact on a victim’s real life. According to advocates at loveisrespect, your partner may be digitally abusing you if he or she:

  • Tells you who you can or can’t be friends with on Facebook and other sites
  • Sends negative, insulting or even threatening emails, Facebook messages, tweets, DMs or other messages online
  • Uses sites like Facebook, Twitter, foursquare and others to keep constant tabs on you
  • Puts you down in their status updates
  • Sends unwanted, explicit pictures and demands you send some in return
  • Pressures you to send explicit video
  • Steals or insists to be given your passwords
  • Constantly texts you and makes you feel like you can’t be separated from your phone for fear that you will be punished
  • Looks through your phone frequently, checks up on your pictures, texts and outgoing calls
  • Tags you unkindly in pictures on Instagram, Tumblr, etc.

Digital abuse, like other forms of abuse, is an attempt to control a partner’s actions. As part of maintaining a healthy relationship, we recommend that partners create a digital contract that outlines what is and is not acceptable behavior online. Additionally, it’s important to know and exercise your “digital rights”:

  • You have the right to turn off your phone and spend time with friends and family without your partner getting angry
  • You have the right to say no to sexting, or sending pictures or information digitally to your partner that you are not comfortable with
  • You have the right to keep your logins and passwords private
  • You have the right to control your own privacy settings on social networking sites
  • You have the right to feel safe and respected in your relationship, online or off

Exercising these rights and feeling safe are important aspects of every healthy relationship. If you have questions about digital abuse, call the hotline 24/7 or chat with an advocate here on the website Monday through Friday from 9am-7pm CST.


Tax Relief for Survivors

tax-optionsTax season is no one’s favorite time of the year – and an abusive relationship (whether you’re in one, planning on leaving, or have recently left) complicates it even further.

Fortunately, there are a few economic resources that can be powerful tools in changing your circumstances for the better. Filing tax returns and seeking income tax credit refunds can help you pull together funds that may be needed to leave an abusive relationship or begin financial independence after leaving.

This may seem like a difficult process, but it’s doable! If you’re not familiar with filing taxes, check out the Get Help section at the bottom of this post for resources.

When and why should you file a tax return?

  • When you have a certain amount of income – either your own or, if married, the income of a spouse
  • To receive tax benefits (i.e. refund or tax credits)
  • To establish a separate tax “existence” from a spouse or ex
  • To help save up money (ex. if you’re planning on leaving)

Concerns about tax refunds

What are your rights?

  • To see and understand the entire return before signing a joint return
  • To refuse to sign a joint return (married people don’t have to file together)
  • To request an automatic 4-month extension of time to file
  • To get copies of prior year returns from the IRS

Three Federal Tax Credits You May be Eligible For:

1) Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

  • This is a wage supplement for low- and moderate-income workers.
  • You must have some earned income.
  • You must be a citizen, legal resident, or be married to one.
  • You must have a valid SSN.
  • Can claim this if you file as “Married Filing Jointly,” “Single,” “Head of Household,” but NOT “Married Filing Separately”
  • To claim children with this, the child must be related, adopted or a foster child. The child must live with you for over half the year. The child must be under 19 (24 if a student, and no age limit if disabled)
  • EITC is not counted as income in most public benefit programs including: TANF, SSI, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps), Medicaid, CHIP, and federally assisted housing. Receipt of the credit will not affect your eligibility for such benefits. Read more about keeping your benefits.

2) Child Tax Credit

  • This is intended to help offset some costs of raising children.
  • You can claim up to $1,000 per child. The child must be claimed as a dependent, and the age limit is 17.
  • Married survivors can file jointly or separately.
  • If you don’t owe enough taxes to use all of the Child Tax Credit, you may be eligible for a refund.

3) Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit

  • This can help you meet your child and dependent care expenses.
  • The care has to be employment-related (If money was spent on childcare while a parent was working or looking for work)
  • The percentage of eligible expenses you can claim is based on adjusted gross income.

Three Types of Relief You May Be Eligible For:

1) Innocent Spouse Relief
If you’re faced with tax debt or burden because of something your spouse did wrong on a jointly filed tax return, you could be eligible for this. There are different categories and different procedures for filing.

2) Relief By Separation
This involves separating the understatement of tax (plus interest and penalties) on your joint return between you and your (former or current) spouse

3) Equitable Relief
You may still be relieved of responsibility for tax/interest/penalties through this type of relief if you are not eligible for the other types.

Get Help

Further Resources

Everyone’s circumstances are different, so we encourage you to consult the resources in this post and take advantage of the programs designed to help with your situation. While our advocates at the hotline are not able to give legal or tax advice, we can talk to you about what’s going on, discuss possible courses of action, and refer you to the best resources for legal help. Feel free to give us a call anytime, 24/7, at 1-800-799-7233.


The Negative Effects of Anger On You and Others

Has there ever been a time in your life when you got angry and ended up hurting someone you care about? In the aftermath of feeling mad, it’s often easy to spot and pinpoint the damage you’ve done. There are visible, tangible signs: tears on the face of your partner, a heavy silence hanging in the air after a loud shouting match.

But anger issues can also cause problems in your life that perhaps aren’t so easy to spot right away. Unfortunately, there’s a whole laundry list of ways that anger can have a negative effect on your life and on the lives of those around you.

Do you ever feel like your anger might be getting out of control? Do you have trouble calming down when you get angry? How do you express these feelings?  If anger is a common emotion in your life, chances are you’re causing undue harm to yourself and others.anger

Your anger affects you

Do you ever feel really angry and unable to let something go? Do you feel like you’re continually on the brink, or on edge? When your anger lasts for extended periods of time, it becomes more difficult to cope with little aggravations in your life and it becomes harder to de-stress.

This can affect every day activities, like work and extracurriculars. It can be hard to focus on tasks or accomplish projects, and can make people not want to work alongside you. Anger also causes feelings like guilt, remorse and shame (especially if you generally act out in ways that you later regret.)

If you’re angry and constantly stressed because of this, it’s also likely that you’ll feel unable to let loose and have fun — which is important for your mental wellbeing.

Excessive anger also puts your physical wellbeing at risk. In the short term, anger can cause headaches, migraines, chest pains, aches and more. Over the long term, anger issues can further complicate pre-existing health conditions. It can also put you at risk for hypertension, high blood pressure, depression, and cardiovascular issues.

While this all may sound like a television PSA for a new drug with “possible side effects,” the impact that your anger issues can have on your life are real and far-reaching.

Your anger affects those around you

You know the saying “laughter is contagious?” The same holds true for other emotions. Your anger can affect not only you, but the people in your life as well. It casts a negative feeling on those around you.

At the very least, your anger can cause people to feel put off, upset, intimidated, afraid, or a handful of other unpleasant emotions. You’re also running the risk of pushing loved ones out of your life for good.

Do you lash out at your partner when you’re angry? Whether this is emotional, physical or both, it can have an extremely negative effect on your partner’s wellbeing. Solving conflict with anger, yelling and violence also sets an unhealthy precedent in a relationship, ignoring the need for open, trusting communication.

If you’re taking out your anger on your partner, give us a call at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233). You can speak confidentially with a non-judgmental advocate about these behaviors and discuss steps for getting help.

If you feel like your anger might be getting the best of you, becoming aware of this is the first step toward making a change.

Further Reading

Psychology Today has a lot of helpful articles about anger.