More than 12 million people in the U.S. are affected by domestic violence each year. While domestic violence typically happens behind closed doors, in some cases it does happen in a public space or around friends or family members, meaning that other people may witness or be aware of the abuse. When we overhear or see something that doesn’t feel right, it can be difficult to know how to react. So, here are some tips and suggestions for what you might do to intervene and interrupt that violence.
By Anitra, youth organizer at The Hotline and loveisrespect
At The Hotline, we talk a lot about how to support someone you care about if they are being abused. But what if the person you care about is the one who is being abusive toward their partner? What if they’re a member of your own family?
By Heather, an advocate. This is part two of a two-part series. This post is for partners, friends and parents of bi+ folks. Read the first post for bi+ folks here!
There are a lot of harmful myths out there about bisexual people and bisexuality. If you love someone who identifies as bisexual, (or pan- or polysexual, hetero- or homoflexible, or Queer & non-monosexual), here are a few examples of the hurtful things they’ve probably heard at some point:
It can be so difficult to watch someone you care about deal with an abusive relationship. Even more difficult is watching that person leave and return to their partner, time and time again. You might feel frustrated, angry or you may even feel like giving up on your friend or family member. These are all totally normal and understandable feelings to have.
But it’s important to remember that domestic violence is extremely complex. Leaving an abusive relationship is never easy – and it isn’t always the safest option. In fact, survivors of abuse return to their abusive partners an average of seven times before they leave for good. That may sound unbelievable or unreasonable to a person who has never experienced abuse. But there are many reasons why a person might stay or return to their abusive partner. As frustrating as this may be, someone in a position to support a survivor can play a crucial role in empowering them to stay safe or even leave for good.
This post was contributed by advocates Graciela, Brianna and Rachel
The effects of domestic violence on survivors can be profound and long lasting. As medical and cosmetic technology has progressed, survivors have more options for removing or changing the physical evidence of abuse. But, healing the emotional effects can be more challenging. One option for survivors who are in the process of healing from abuse is working with a support or service animal.
This post was written by Kim, originally posted on loveisrespect
“If I stay, I can save him.”
“If she loves me, she’ll change.”
“I need to save them from that relationship!”
Here at The Hotline, we know there are many reasons why someone might stay in an abusive relationship. One common reason is wanting to help the abusive partner change, or believing you are the only one who can change them. Sometimes, family or friends may also feel this way towards a victim of abuse: like they’re the only people who can help. While it’s normal to want to help someone you love, there is no way to ‘save’ or ‘fix’ another person. Ultimately, all we can control are our own actions and attitudes. So, while we can offer our support, it is up to the individual to take the next step in the situation.
by Monesha, a Hotline advocate
“Why don’t they just leave already?”
This is a question we hear often from family members and friends of people who are experiencing domestic violence. It can be so frustrating and heartbreaking to see someone you care about remain in an abusive relationship, and many people want to immediately go and “rescue” their loved one or convince them to “just leave.” But unfortunately it is not that simple; doing this could be very dangerous or make the situation worse. In order to truly help a person in an abusive relationship, it’s important to try and understand what they are going through, why they might stay in the abusive relationship and how you can support and shift power back to them.
by Shahida Arabi, originally posted on Self-Care Haven
Being a trauma survivor is a challenging journey, but it is also an empowering one. Trauma acts as the catalyst for us to learn how to better engage in self-care and introduces us to endless modalities for healing and expressing ourselves, enabling us to channel our crisis into our transformation. Most importantly, it gives us access to connect with other survivors who have been where we are. It is in these validating communities that we tend to find the most healing, even outside of the therapy space. Here are some tips I’ve lived by that can benefit the healing journey of those who have been through trauma and abuse.
My recent visit to the National Domestic Violence Hotline reinforced that ending domestic violence should be a personal priority for everyone. The stories of real people in painful real-life situations further underscore the dire need to plead the cause of victims, empower them and provide them with lifesaving tools, safety planning and most importantly, hope. We need advocates who connect with victims and help them take action, find safety and live without abuse.
Family members, faith leaders, educators and advocates, corporations and government–we all have a role to play and a responsibility to speak boldly to end domestic violence.
Domestic violence was a way of life in my home. As boys, my brother and I watched helplessly and in pain as our mother struggled to find her voice, seek help and have the courage to say “no more.” As a result, the fear, the powerlessness and all the complexities that accompany that kind of violence are as real for me today as when I was a child. They are always with me.
As a husband, father, mentor and friend, my lifelong conviction is to set an example and help others never experience this horror. There are many teachable moments with my children where we talk openly about the impact of domestic violence. My wife and I look for opportunities to challenge our children, stressing that there is never an excuse for violence and teaching them to find their voice on this issue.
As a former athlete, I have chosen to share my story and taken every opportunity to bring attention to this important issue and help drive change — in the locker room and the community.
As an executive, I continue to advocate for programs and resources to care for victims, educate players, and support family members around the issue of domestic violence. The NFL’s mandatory domestic violence and sexual assault education assists players and staff in building healthy relationships. It teaches us to identify off-field challenges that might lead to abuse and gives us skills to help prevent and end domestic violence and sexual assault.
The NFL Life Line provides current and former players, family members and team and league staff with a secure, confidential and independent resource for any personal or emotional crisis.
Our Player Engagement programs and NFL Legends Community are building a national network of former players trained to support players and their families, during their playing experience and after they transition away from the game.
Our Personal Conduct Policy — developed with more than 100 domestic violence and sexual assault experts, advocates and survivors, law enforcement officials, academic experts, business leaders, current and former players and the players’ union — establishes clear standards that apply to all NFL personnel.
We must talk openly about domestic violence and teach our children how to build healthy relationships. We must raise awareness and remove the shame and stigma that prevent victims from seeking help. We must support organizations like the National Domestic Violence Hotline that help make sure everyone who needs assistance can get it.
There is still much more work to be done. My faith has helped me end the cycle of domestic violence in my family, and it’s what sustains my work to end domestic violence. We must make our voices heard and turn our words into actions.
Troy Vincent Sr. played in the National Football League for fifteen years for the Miami Dolphins, Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills, and Washington Redskins. From 2004-2008, he served as president of the NFL Players’ Association. He is currently the NFL executive vice president of Football Operations.
This post was contributed by Alexander, a Hotline advocate
Here at The Hotline, we have conversations with family members, friends, coworkers and caring neighbors about what to do when someone they know is being abused. Knowing that someone in your life is being hurt is really difficult, and it’s normal to feel unsure about how to best approach this challenging situation. Many people feel like calling the police can be a way to help. In a moment of a crisis, it’s natural to want to reach out for support from local law enforcement; however, you may be surprised to hear that it’s not always the best response for an individual in an abusive relationship. Let’s examine several perspectives to figure out what the safest course of action could be to help support a person that you’re concerned about.
Before calling the police, consider these key points:
- If a person experiencing abuse has not created a safety plan with you about when to contact police on their behalf, doing so without the person’s consent can limit their opportunities to make choices based on what they personally know to be most beneficial to support their safety and well-being.
- The person experiencing abuse may not be in a place to speak honestly with law enforcement about the abuse. If law enforcement does show up, it might be safest for the person being abused to deny or downplay the abuse, particularly if the abusive individual is present.
- Having police involved could upset the abusive partner. When the police leave, the abuser might harm their partner more because police were involved.
- The police might not believe that abuse is happening. It’s common that the abusive partner will lie or manipulate the situation to police to get them to go away.
- The abusive partner might have connections to the police department. This can create a very difficult situation for the victim because the abusive partner is in a position of power outside of the relationship.
- If the victim is in a LGBTQ relationship, the police might hold the common (though incorrect) belief that abuse isn’t possible in these types of relationships.
One thing we always encourage is being mindful and respectful of what the person who is experiencing abuse wants in their situation. In an abusive relationship, the victim rarely (if ever) has their wishes or boundaries respected. Honoring boundaries and being respectful of what the victim wants can be a great way to show them what a healthy and supportive relationship looks like. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that it is not your responsibility to rescue someone or “fix” their situation. A person who is in an abusive relationship has the right to decide if/when they leave and how, and there are many reasons why a person might stay in an abusive relationship.
Aside from calling the police, there are many other ways you can help someone who is in an abusive relationship. Below are some alternative ways to help someone experiencing abuse:
- If you are a person the victim knows and trusts, talk to the victim about what they want. Try to find a safe time and place to speak with them (away from the abusive partner) and ask how you can best support them. They may not be ready or able to discuss the abuse with you; if this is the case, just let them know that you are there to support them in any way you can.
- Every time you hear abuse happening, keep a journal about the events. Mark the day it happens, the time it happens and what you heard or witnessed. This record can provide evidence if the victim does choose to approach law enforcement.
- Help the victim create a safety plan when you’re able to find a safe time and place to communicate. You can always contact one of our advocates to help you brainstorm.
- If you live next to the person and hear abuse happening, you could knock on the door and ask to borrow an item as a way to interrupt what’s happening.
- Reach out to a local or state domestic violence agency. Learn more about what abuse can look like, understand what the victim is going through and get more information on how you can offer support.
- If you live in a community with communal areas, like a mail room or laundry room, posting a flyer from The Hotline with contact information could be a way to help a person experiencing abuse reach out for support. You can click HERE to print contact information for The Hotline.
While we know that calling the police may not always be the safest option for a victim, there could be circumstances in which it might be necessary, for example, if the the victim is in imminent physical danger. Keep in mind that if at any point you personally feel in danger or unsafe, you have every right to contact police for yourself. Your personal safety and well-being is very important as well.
If you’re still struggling with how to support someone you know that’s experiencing abuse, you can check out our page on Help for Friends and Family Members. You can also reach out to one of our advocates by calling 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) any time or chat online with us from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. CST.
This post was written by Heather, an advocate at loveisrespect/The Hotline
All forms of abuse can be really difficult to endure, but we know that survivors of sexual abuse are often hesitant to talk about it even if they have previously opened up to a friend, counselor or Hotline advocate about other forms of abuse. If you are in an abusive relationship and your partner has ever pressured or forced you to do anything sexually that you were not comfortable with or did not actively consent to, that is considered sexual abuse.
Is This Abuse?
Your body is yours, and whether it’s the first time or the hundredth time, whether it’s a hook up, a committed relationship or even a marriage, you are never obligated to give consent even if you have done so in the past. You get to make your own boundaries. A person can decide to stop any activity at any time, for any reason. If you don’t feel safe saying “no” then you have no room to say “yes.” If your partner pouts and begs until you finally say yes, that’s not consent. If they tell you that you’d have sex (or do any sexual activity) if you “really” loved them, that’s not consent. If your partner pretends not to hear you when you say no or stop, that’s not consent. Any response that disregards or minimizes your wishes when you decline a sexual activity is not okay.
We know that being LGBTQIA+ doesn’t protect anyone from abuse so if you have to “prove” anything to your partner by engaging in sexual activities you aren’t comfortable with, that’s abusive. Your sexual orientation and gender identity are yours, and you get to choose whether to disclose them or not, as well as who you tell. If your partner is threatening to out you (or refusing to let you come out) if you don’t have sex, that is abuse.
Are you into kinky sex? There’s nothing wrong with safe and consensual sexual activities that involve an element of bondage, pain or submission, as long as the relationship itself is healthy and respectful. The basis of a healthy BDSM relationship is consent, so if your partner is unwilling to discuss boundaries with you, or ignores your safe word, that is abuse.
One of the most helpful things you can do if you are in a relationship that is abusive in any way is to make a safety plan. A safety plan is a living thing, so it’s important to update, change or adapt it whenever necessary. Your safety is our number one priority here at the Hotline, so we believe that no matter what you have to do to stay safe, it’s worth doing. Every individual’s safety plan will look different depending on their relationship. You know your relationship and your partner best, so we trust that you are the expert in your life. The sexual abuse safety tips in this post are meant to be general, so please only use them if you feel safe doing so.
If your partner becomes physically violent if you say no to a sexual activity, sometimes ‘giving in’ may be the best way to protect yourself. If you decide to do that, know that giving in doesn’t mean giving up, and it doesn’t mean you consented to anything that’s happening. There’s nothing you could ever do that could make your partner’s behavior your fault or your responsibility. If you are making choices in order to protect your immediate safety, that is not consent – that is survival. Again, consent cannot happen when someone feels unsafe saying no.
Remind yourself that abuse is a choice; we are each only in control of our own words and actions, and everyone deserves a partner who treats them with respect at all times.
We have heard from our callers and chatters that they can sometimes strategize to avoid sexual activity for their safety. Some examples we’ve heard include:
If you do not live with your abusive partner you could:
- make a point to spend time with your partner in public
- avoid going to wherever sexual activity usually occurs
- take a friend with you when visiting your partner
- avoid seeing your partner at the times of day when sexual abuse generally occurs
If you live together you could:
- sleep in another room
- stay over at a friend or family member’s house
- tell your partner you need to go out of town for business
- house-sit for people regularly
- ask friends or family to call you just after bedtime with minor emergencies
- talk to your doctor and see if they can give your partner a medical excuse to avoid intercourse
- say that you’re unable to get aroused or fake ailments like nausea, menstrual cramps, headache/migraine, fever or sore throat, leg cramp, urinary tract infection, yeast infection, hemorrhoids, etc.
- As a last resort some callers and chatters have made themselves sick, for example by using laxatives or taking something that can make them vomit. Definitely consider your own physical health (and any personal history of disordered eating) before trying this, and we strongly recommend you consult with your physician.
In the end, whether you use strategies to avoid sexual activity or not, the person being abusive is the only one who can end the abuse. No one else can prevent someone from being abusive if that’s how they choose to behave. Abuse is NEVER the victim’s fault.
If your partner is gaslighting you and becoming emotionally abusive when you try to assert your boundaries, it might be helpful for you to make an emotional safety plan to go along with your physical safety plan. For survivors of all genders, ages, races, sexual orientations, abilities, religions, immigration statuses and locations, talking to a counselor can be a great way to start to heal from any kind of abuse. Support groups can also be an important tool because they can let you see how others have coped with their own situations, and often let you interact with people at various stages of the healing process. Finding the right counselor or support group can be difficult sometimes, but our advocates are here to support you and put you in touch with the local resources in your community that are on the ground to help. If you want to find someone in your community to talk to about your relationship call or chat with us now.
Pregnancy and STIs
Sex can have big consequences, such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy, and you have a right to protect yourself. We know that pregnancy is one of the most dangerous times in an abusive relationship, so if you are pregnant be sure to put your safety first. Male and female condoms can help protect against both STIs and pregnancy, and dental dams can be used for safe oral sex on women and safe oral-anal sex on anyone. PrEP is a daily prescription pill that can help protect people from contracting HIV and the HPV Vaccine can help protect people from common strains of Human Papillomavirus. There are a number of forms of birth control available today, and Planned Parenthood can help you decide what kind is right for you, even if your partner can’t know you’re using it. If your partner refuses to use or let you use birth control, tries to get pregnant or get you pregnant without your consent or tries to force you to have or not have an abortion, those are all forms of reproductive coercion. If you’re concerned about pregnancy, STIs or HIV/AIDS talk to your doctor, and do whatever makes you feel safest.
Pictures and video are immortal, so if your partner is digitally abusing you by forcing you to pose for or send them explicit photos or video, keeping yourself safe can be a challenge. Note that in every state it is illegal for anyone to have or share sexual photos or videos of people under age 18. If you do pose for or take photos or videos, try to keep your face and any other identifying information like birthmarks, scars or tattoos out of them. Even the background of a picture can be identifying, so be aware of your surroundings when possible.
Understand the Laws
Know that you have the right to say “slow down,” “no” or “stop” at any time, and even if you got sexual pleasure from an activity, that doesn’t mean you gave consent. If your partner is forcing you to have sex with other people, be aware that it’s possible they are making money from it which is illegal in most places. You have the right to defend yourself and fight back if anyone is trying to coerce, pressure, guilt or force you into any kind of sexual activity. If you are in school, Title IX, a federal mandate in the Education Amendments of 1972, prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs anywhere in the country. Under Title IX, people who attend school and have experienced sexual harassment, sexual assault or rape have the right to support services through their high school, college or university.
There are also state laws regarding sexual assault. The laws in every state are different, so if you want to know how your state handles cases of sexual assault, sexual abuse and rape chat with one of our advocates, who can find contact information for a legal advocate in your area. Here are some helpful tips on how to document the abuse if you choose to pursue legal help, which could include a protective order. If you feel that the abusive person would reduce the level and frequency of threats if the law becomes involved, this may be an effective tool to increase your safety. A protective order does not replace a safety plan, but a legal advocate may be able to help you explore whether getting a protective order could keep your partner from being able to legally contact you.
Advocates at The Hotline are available to chat from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. CT, or you can call us 24/7 to talk about what’s going on. Below are some additional resources that might be helpful to you as well.
- If you’ve been sexually assaulted or raped in the past 72* hours, medical care and a SANE exam can be good options (*this timeframe may vary by state, with some allowing up to 120 hours (five days), but if you would like to be examined by a forensic nurse examiner you always have the right to seek medical care)
- The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) has a 24/7 hotline 1.800.656.HOPE(4673) and chat service
- After Silence and Pandora’s Project are good places to seek support online
- Male Survivor is a great resource for male survivors of sexual abuse and assault
- Not Alone, Know Your IX and Clery Center are great resources for information on Title IX and your rights as a student
- Safe Helpline provides 24/7 chat and phone support 877-995-5247 for survivors of sexual abuse and assault in the US Military anywhere in the world
- The Northwest Network and The Network/La Red provide support services to LGBTQIA+ survivors of sexual abuse and assault
- FORGE offers anti-violence support for members of the trans community and can supply referrals to local providers at 414-559-2123
- The National Human Trafficking Resource Center operates a 24/7 hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or by texting HELP to 233733 (BeFree)
- The HIPS Hotline helps those impacted by sexual exchange and/or drug use due to choice, coercion, or circumstance 24/7 at 1-800-676-HIPS
If your current partner is a survivor of domestic violence, you may be wondering how you can offer support while building a healthy relationship with them. It is possible to have a healthy relationship after a domestic violence situation, but it is a process and there are some things to keep in mind.
Due to previous abuse (whether it was physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, and/or financial), it’s very likely that your partner will experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to some degree. PTSD is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a traumatic event or series of events that a person experiences or witnesses. Symptoms may include flashbacks and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about their experience. For abuse survivors, it may be very difficult to feel “normal” even after an abusive relationship has ended, as their bodies and minds may continue to relive their past experiences despite new circumstances. Being mindful of this can help you be sensitive to their past trauma while understanding that the trauma is not about or because of you.
Here are a few suggestions for what you can do to help your partner:
Communicate. Your partner may not want to discuss the details of their past relationship with you, and that’s okay. At this time, it’s helpful for you to be willing to learn your partner’s triggers and what makes your partner feel safe or unsafe. Your partner may not be able to articulate these things right away, but encourage them to communicate openly with you, and remind them that you are there for them. Being clear about boundaries in the relationship can help your partner feel more secure as your relationship progresses and they continue healing.
Encourage personal wellness. Self-care and personal wellness are important for everyone, but particularly for someone who is healing from an abusive relationship. Encourage your partner to create a personal wellness plan and practice self-care regularly. Make time to do these things yourself, too; taking care of yourself is not only good for you, it will help you to stay strong and emotionally present for your partner. Wellness plans can include each of you working with your own counselor, activities that you enjoy doing together and separately, and/or reading books that offer healing advice. We strongly recommend finding counseling or support groups specifically for survivors of domestic violence and PTSD; not only can your partner find support through these avenues, but they may help you to better understand what your partner is going through. If you need assistance finding local resources, advocates at The Hotline can help!
Build support systems. A support system is a network of people – family members, friends, counselors, coworkers, coaches, etc. – that you trust and can turn to when you need emotional support. It can be very helpful for both you and your partner to build your own support systems so that you don’t have to rely solely on each other for support, which can be exhausting and detrimental to the relationship.
We do want to emphasize that even though your partner needs your support, PTSD is not an excuse for your partner to be abusive toward YOU. You deserve to feel safe and be treated with respect, as does your partner, and if at any point the relationship is not meeting your needs or is making you uncomfortable, it’s okay to take a step back and give yourself some space. Remember that while you might love your partner and want to help them, it’s not your responsibility to “fix” them. By the same token, it’s important to be willing to honor your partner’s request for space as well. Respecting your partner’s rights to have control over their part in the new relationship may be one of the most healing things that you can provide, even if it means that the relationship does not move forward at that point.
Our advocates are here 24/7 if you have questions or need more guidance. We can also provide referrals to local resources like counselors or support groups. Give us a call anytime at 1-800-799-7233 or chat online from 7am-2am CT everyday.
- This article further discusses PTSD and reconnecting after domestic violence
- Helping Her Get Free by Susan Brewster is a great book for family and friends of someone in an abusive relationship, but it’s also a useful read for someone who is in a new relationship with a partner who has experienced abuse
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