digital safety

Getting Digital to End Abuse

In light of the recent tragedies that occurred in Steubenville, Ohio, and Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, it’s easy to feel like tech and social media is causing more problems than inspiring good.

While there have been examples of the two being used to harm, we’re also seeing social media and technology being used to prevent and spread awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault. Today, we’re taking a look at empowering apps, websites and projects that are changing the way we see abuse.


Apps Against Abuse

In 2011, Vice President Joe Biden launched the Apps Against Abuse challenge, calling on innovators to make mobile apps to prevent dating violence and abuse. Among the winning apps was Circle of 6, which uses texting to contact friends and employs GPS to tell them where you are. A new version has even been developed specifically for India, taking into account cultural differences, language and in-country resources.

Hollaback!

Catcallers are called out publically with Hollaback!, which lets anyone who has experienced street harassment share their stories, images and videos on an interactive map that documents where the incident took place. With both web and mobile apps, this nonprofit is taking the streets by storm in 64 cities and 22 countries. They hope to soon have the capability to allow users to report directly to the NYC government.

Project Unbreakable

Featured on an episode of “Law & Order SVU” in which a campus quad of hundreds of students held up posters with quotes from their attackers, Project Unbreakable is an image-based project that has spread all over the country thanks to the power of the web. It began on Tumblr and has been named one of the Top 30 Tumblr blogs by TIME Magazine. The woman behind the project, Grace Brown, photographs survivors of sexual assault holding a poster with a quote from their attacker. She has taken images of over 400 people for this “art of healing” viral project.

#ididnotreport

While a hashtag can be co-opted to victim blame and spread hateful messages (such as Torrington, CT’s #FreeEdgar), it can also be a powerful social media tool to begin dialogues on a global scale. In 2012 a blogger from London Feminist sparked a Twitter movement with the hashtag #Ididnotreport. She expected it to be limited to users tweeting about what she described as “low level harassment” but people everywhere began using it, especially in relation to serious sexual assaults. The hashtag opened up discussion and built an instant community of people with similar experiences, while highlighting the vast problem of underreporting and the many reasons people don’t report.

loveisrespect online chat and texting service

The loveisrespect online chat and texting service allows teens to talk about their relationship directly to a peer advocate whenever and wherever they want. This lets young people communicate in what can sometimes be a more comfortable and safer manner than in person or on the phone. The loveisrespect text service was the first in the country of its kind, and the service was actually launched by a text message from Vice President Joe Biden himself. Visit loveisrespect.org to use the online chat, or text “loveis” to 22522 to message an advocate today.


Have you heard of any other organizations that are using social media and technology in the fight against domestic violence and sexual abuse? Sound off in the comments — we’d love to learn about them.

when you see something, should you say something

When You See Something, Should You Say Something?

This past week disturbing photos of celebrity chef Nigella Lawson and her husband Charles Saatchi were all over the news. The couple was outside at a restaurant, and Saatchi grabbed her by the throat. What we know from the simple fact that photos of the incident exist — and that the couple was eating outside at a public restaurant — is that people witnessed what was going on. Yet no one seemed to have intervened. 

As a bystander to any kind of violence, it can be difficult to know whether or not you should get involved and what to do. If it’s an incident between a couple, many people feel like it’s not their place to intervene because it’s a ‘private’ issue.

On Tuesday evening, loveisrespect Director Brian Pinero spoke with Huffington Post Live about what we should do as bystanders if we witness something. He was joined by Director of the Center for Progressive Development Douglas LaBier, Defense Attorney Matt Kaiser, and Austin, TX bar owner Leon Solimani.

Check out the video below to see what they had to say. If you saw a couple fighting in public, would you intervene?

50 obstacles to leaving

50 Obstacles to Leaving: 41-50

Still with us? Today is our final day of demonstrating just how many roadblocks can stand in the way between abuse and freedom for a victim. A victim is never to blame for abuse. While these barriers to a violence-free life can seem insurmountable at times, know that advocates on the hotline are available to talk and brainstorm strategies with you 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233).

41. Rural Victims: Victims may be isolated and simply unable to access services due to lack of transportation, or the needed programs are distant and unable to provide outreach.

42. Safer to Stay: Assessing that it is safer to stay may be accurate when the victim can keep an eye on the batterer, sensing when the batterer is about to become violent and, to the extent possible, taking action to protect themselves and their children.

43. Students: Students in high school or college may fear that untrained administrators will deny their requests for help. If the perpetrator is also a student, the victim often does not want them to be expelled from school.

44. Shame and Embarrassment: The victim doesn’t want to disclose the abuse or may deny that any problem exists.

45. Stockholm Syndrome: The victim may experience this syndrome and bond with the abuser.

46. Substance Abuse or Alcohol: Either the victim or offender’s substance abuse may inhibit seeking help, often for fear that the children will be removed.

47. Teens: Teens are at greater risk for abuse in their relationships than any other age group. Peer pressure, immaturity, no knowledge of resources, and low self-esteem all factor into the decision to stay.

48. Transportation: A lack of transportation condemns victims to a choice between welfare and returning to their abusers.

49. Unaware that Abuse is a Criminal Offense: This can occur often if family, friends and community professionals minimize the crimes.

50. Undocumented Victims: Victims facing complex immigration problems if they leave are often forced to stay with the batterers who may control their INS status.


Every person’s situation is unique, and you may be unable to leave a situation for a complex combination of different reasons. If you’re contemplating leaving an abusive relationship or struggling in one that you cannot leave, consider calling NDVH to speak confidentially with an advocate, and take a look at our resources on leaving safely.

*Sarah M. Buel is Clinical Professor, University of Texas School of Law (UTSL). She was founder and co-director, UTSL Domestic Violence Clinic; co-founder and consultant, National Training Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence; and a former domestic violence, child abuse, and juvenile prosecutor and advocate. She graduated cum laude from Harvard Extension School and Harvard Law School.

hurtful words

50 Obstacles to Leaving: 31-40

Leaving can be one of the most dangerous times in an abusive relationship, and there are countless reasons that victims are unable to leave. The question “Why don’t you just leave?” places blame on the victim and undermines the difficult, complicated nature of leaving abuse. To help address this, we’ve adapted Sarah M. Buel’s “Fifty Obstacles to Leaving, a.k.a., Why Abuse Victims Stay.”

This week we’re making our way through this list in hopes of illuminating the barriers that often prevent someone from getting out of an abusive relationship. Today we’re taking a closer look at ten more obstacles.

31. Mentally or Developmentally Challenged Victims: These victims are particularly vulnerable to the batterer’s manipulation and are likely to be dependent on the batterer for basic survival.

32. Military: If the victim or the perpetrator is in the military, an effective intervention is largely dependent on the commander’s response. Many commanders believe that it is more important to salvage the soldier’s military career than to ensure the victim’s safety.

33. No Place to Go: Victims can’t find affordable housing or there is no shelter space.

34. No Job Skills: Victims without job skills usually have no choice but to work for employers paying minimum wage, with few, if any, medical and other benefits.

35. No Knowledge of Options: Victims without knowledge of the options and resources logically assume that none exist.

36. Past Criminal Record: Victims with a past criminal record are often still on probation or parole, making them vulnerable to the batterer’s threats to comply with all of their demands or be sent back to prison.

37. Previously Abused Victims: Sometimes previously abused victims believe the batterer’s accusation, “See, this is what you drive your partners to do to you!”

38. Prior Negative Court Experiences: Victims don’t believe that they will be given the respect and safety considerations that they need in court.

39. Promises of Change: The batterer’s promises of change may be easy to believe because they sound sincere. Victims are socialized to be forgiving.

40. Religious Beliefs: Beliefs may lead victims to think they have to tolerate the abuse to show their adherence to the faith.

stay for the kids

50 Obstacles to Leaving: 21-30

“Why don’t you just leave the relationship?”

According to Sarah Buel: “This question has been fueled by those who believe that remaining with a batterer indicates stupidity, masochism, or codependence. Far from being accurate, such labels prove dangerous to victims because they tend to absolve batterers of responsibility for their crimes.

There are many different reasons that a victim may stay in an abusive relationship. This week to shed some light on the frequently asked question of why a victim doesn’t just leave, we’re taking a closer look at 50 different obstacles that prevent someone from leaving. Follow along on our blog throughout the week to read about all of them.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, call us toll-free and confidentially at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233) to speak confidentially with an advocate.

21. Keeping the Family Together: Victims believe it is in their children’s best interest to have their father or a male role model in the family.

22. Illiterate Victims: Illiterate victims may be forced to rely on the literate batterer for everyday survival.

23. Incarcerated or Newly Released Abuse Victims: Such victims often don’t have support systems to assist them with re-entry to the community. Parole officers may require that they return home if that appears to be a stable environment.

24. Law Enforcement Officer: If the perpetrator is a law enforcement officer, the victim may fear that other officers will refuse to assist or believe them if they come forward.

25. Lesbian and Gay Victims: Victims may feel silenced if disclosing their sexual orientation (to qualify for a protective order) could result in losing their job, family, and home.

26. Low Self-Esteem: Victims may believe they deserve no better than the abuse they receive.

27. Love: Since many batterers are initially charming, victims fall in love and may have difficulty altering their feelings with the first sign of a problem.

28. Mediation: Mediation can put the victim in the dangerous position of incurring the batterer’s wrath for disclosing the extent of the violence.

29. Medical Problems: The victim must stay with the batterer to obtain medical services, especially if they share insurance.

30. Mentally Ill Victims: Victims face negative societal stereotypes in addition to the batterer’s taunts that the victim is crazy and nobody will believe anything that they say.

talking with children

50 Obstacles to Leaving: 11-20

Can you imagine the frustration of a victim being asked, “Why don’t you just leave?”

While leaving seems like a quick and easy fix to escape abuse, we know that leaving an abusive partner is a complicated, difficult challenge and often the most dangerous time in a relationship. Victims have many reasons for staying. This week we’re giving you 50, adapted from Sarah M. Buel’s “Fifty Obstacles to Leaving, a.k.a., Why Abuse Victims Stay.”

11. Family Pressure: Family members exert pressure if they believe there’s no excuse for leaving a marriage or if they’re in denial about the abuse.

12. Fear of Retaliation: The batterer has shown willingness to carry out threats and the victim fears harm to themselves or the children if they leave.

13. Fear of Losing Child Custody: The batterer has used the threat of obtaining custody to exact agreements to their liking.

14. Financial Abuse: Financial abuse can take many different forms depending on the couple’s socio-economic status — ex. If victims have been forced to sign false tax returns or take part in other unlawful financial transactions.

15. Financial Despair: The victim realizes that they cannot provide for themselves or their children without the batterer’s assistance.

16. Gratitude: The victim feels gratitude toward the batterer because the batterer has helped support and raise their children from a previous relationship, or take care of them if they have health, medical or other problems.

17. Guilt: Batterers have convinced victims that the violence is happening because it’s their fault.

18. Homelessness: Homeless abuse victims face increased danger, as they must find ways of meeting basic survival needs of shelter, food, and clothing while attempting to elude their batterers.

19. Hope for the Violence to Cease: This hope is typically fueled by the batterer’s promises of change, pleas from the children, or family’s advice to save the relationship.

20. Isolation: The victim has been cut off from family, friends and colleagues and lacks a support system or people to stay with.

reaching out for help

50 Obstacles to Leaving: 1-10

“It would take me yet another year of planning, forgiving, calling, reaching for help, before I could leave.” —Sarah Buel

Leaving is not easy. On average, it takes a victim seven times to leave before staying away for good. Exiting the relationship is most unsafe time for a victim. As the abuser senses that they’re losing power, they will often act in dangerous ways to regain control over their victim.

We know victim’s frustrations with feeling like the abuse is somehow their fault. If only they’d leave, right? Wrong. We know better. In fact, we’re taking a closer look at 50 reasons why it may be near impossible to leave. To answer the often-asked question “Why don’t you just leave?” we’ve adapted Sarah M. Buel’sFifty Obstacles to Leaving, a.k.a., Why Abuse Victims Stay” — 50 different reasons that she has encountered throughout her 22 years of work in the domestic violence field.

Follow along on the blog this week as we discuss 10 different obstacles each day.

1. Advocate: The victim doesn’t have an enthusiastic supporter on their side so may feel discouraged or hopeless.

2. Batterer: The batterer is wealthy, famous, powerful in the community, etc., and can afford to hire private counselor and pressure decision-makers.

3. Believes Threats: The victim believes the batterer’s threats to kill them and the children if they attempt to leave.

4. Children’s Best Interest: The victim believes it is in the children’s best interest to have both parents in the home, especially if the abuser doesn’t physically abuse the children.

5. Children’s Pressure: The children put pressure (independently or by the abuser’s influence) on the abused parent to stay with their partner.

6. Culture and Race: Because of differences in race or culture, the victim worries about being treated unequally by the justice system if they come forward, or believes stereotypes about acceptable actions in their own culture.

7. Denial: The victim is in denial about the danger, instead believing that if they could be better partners, the abuse would stop.

8. Disabled: Victims who are disabled or physically challenged face obstacles in gaining access to court and social services, and may be isolated from basic info about resources.

9. Elderly: Elderly victims may hold traditional beliefs about marriage and believe they must stay, or are dependent on the batterer for care even in the face of physical abuse.

10. Excuses: The victim believes the abuser’s excuses to justify the violence, blaming job stress or substance abuse for example.

help a coworker

How to Help a Coworker Who Is Experiencing Abuse

Approximately 74% of employed domestic violence victims are contacted or harassed by their abusers while they are at work. Based on this statistic alone, it is possible that during your professional career, you may encounter a coworker who is experiencing domestic violence.

If someone is experiencing abuse at home, the effects of the abuse are likely to carry over into the work environment as well. You may notice changes in their behavior at work that could indicate that something is wrong. For instance:

  • Excessive lateness or unexplained absences
  • Frequent use of ‘sick time’
  • Unexplained injuries or bruising
  • Changes in appearance
  • Lack of concentration/often preoccupied
  • Disruptive phone calls or personal visits from their partner
  • Drops in productivity
  • Sensitivity about home life or hints of trouble at home

Follow your instinct, and if you feel like you should talk to them about what might be going on, do so. The worst that could happen is that they don’t want to talk – and even then, they at least know that you care. There’s no harm in asking. Work may be the one place where they can talk to someone safely without the abusive partner finding out. Also, your coworker may believe that you are more objective to their situation than family and close friends.

Be sure to approach them in a confidential manner, at a time and place without interruptions. When approaching the topic of domestic violence with your coworker, remember to be nonjudgmental. They may be embarrassed by the situation, and you might be the first person they are telling. Consider starting with a simple comment and question like, “You seem a bit preoccupied/stressed. Do you want to talk about it?” Give them the space to share what they want to share with you. Don’t pressure them.

If your coworker does open up to you about the abuse, listen and refer. Your role is not to fix the problem for them – sometimes, listening can be the most helpful. You might want to pass along some information to them. If it feels appropriate, pass on the number of the Hotline. We can help your coworker safety plan around their current situation and can refer them to local service providers.

If your coworker gives you permission, you can help them document the instances of domestic violence in their life. Take pictures of injuries, write down exact transcripts of interactions, make notes on a calendar of the dates that things happen. Documenting the abuse might help the victim to obtain legal aid later on.

If your coworker has been open with you about their situation, you can help them learn about their rights. Women’s Law is an excellent resource for information on domestic violence laws and procedures. Browsing this website with your coworker or giving them the link can provide them with crucial information.

Introduce them to the security guard, or volunteer to meet the security guard with them if they’d like help. Keeping the security guard at the office in the loop can help deter your coworker’s abuser from stopping by, make sure your coworker is escorted safely to and from the office space, and more.

Ask if they’d like to create a safety plan for their work environment. Ask what they would like you to do if their partner should call or stop by the office. If you’re having trouble coming up with a safety plan on your own, call The Hotline for assistance.

Above all remember that just supporting your coworker no matter what can make a difference. Respect their decisions – you may not know all of the factors involved. Your coworker may not do what you want or expect them to do. Instead of focusing on being the one to solve the problem for them, focus on being supportive and trustworthy in their time of need.

volunteer spotlight

Meet A Volunteer: Amalie

Here at The Hotline, much of the work we do is made possible by the dedication and effort of our volunteers. We met up with Hotline volunteer Amalie, one of our many advocates on the receiving end of the calls, to talk with her about her experience working here.


How did you become interested in advocating for victims and survivors of domestic violence?

I’ve volunteered for the past 5-6 years. I worked for a citizen review board that monitored children that had been in foster care or in homes with domestic violence — so I had seen a lot of domestic violence before in families. I knew that this was an area I wanted to pursue further.

How did you feel when you answered your first call?

I was really nervous – nervous that I wasn’t going to be able to provide the right tone, and that I was going to seem like I was nervous talking to them. I was worried that I wasn’t going to have the knowledge to give them all of the resources that they needed.

My first call turned out fine. Once you just start talking to a caller, you realize that you can find common ground, and that you’re not in completely different places. It wasn’t as overwhelming as I thought it would be.

What aspects of your job satisfy you the most?

So many! After every phone call, I know that even if the caller doesn’t use the resources I’ve given them, at least they’ve made the phone call, which is a positive first step. Hopefully after the call they know that there’s hope for change.

I like taking the time to speak with the callers — for callers to receive any kind of validation can be huge. I am not there to fix the callers problems or tell them what’s the right path. I can only try my hardest to provide the callers with safe resources and avenues to do this, so they can gain back the quality of life and respect they deserve. If I can help the caller with this in any small way, I have been rewarded in an invaluable way.

You receive calls from family and friends who might be concerned about a loved one. What would you say to someone who’s frustrated and wondering, “Why won’t they just leave?”

It’s just not that easy. The person in the relationship can be scared. They can feel very confused. They can feel at fault. There was a reason initially that they got into that relationship or fell in love with that person.

I try to explain that they should consider giving their loved one support and space to process their feelings. The victim is already being controlled and overwhelmed by their abuser. Telling them what they should do or trying to do it for them only pushes the victim deeper into their isolation. By giving them non-judgmental support and an environment that feels safe they can be empowered to make the necessary changes through their own actions and self-discovery.

Do you receive any calls from abusers?

Yes. Regardless if the caller is an abuser, I still keep an unbiased tone. The fact that they’re calling is a positive step. Most callers that identify as abusers are seeking help. Whether that’s court appointed or they’ve seen behaviors in themselves that they want to change, I try to be supportive of that and try to find them resources in their area.

What are some common myths about domestic violence that you see regularly?

One myth is that it’s easy to leave and the women who stay are just weak. It’s so much more complicated then that. It’s a web. A victim needs to be slowly able to crawl out of it, and catch their footing. There are just so many different dynamics.

The one that really gets to me is this: the victim must have done something to initially start the abuse. WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?! No one should EVER justify any form of abuse in relationships. It is never okay and never the victims fault. The abuser is making a distinct choice to react to their emotions in a certain way. They could have just as easily taken a long run or left the relationship.

What message do you have for someone who is recently out of an abusive relationship?

I get phone calls from people who have been out of their abusive relationship for 15 years and they’re just calling now to seek counseling. The fact that they’re reaching out now for support is huge.

There’s a lot of trauma after leaving an abusive relationship. Whether you’re a family or friend of someone who has gone through an abusive relationship, or the survivor yourself, there are support groups out there. You do not have to endure the journey alone. It’ll take time — it’s a process.

The healing process is unpredicatable, so don’t be disheartened if some days are harder than others. Be okay with the fact that it’s not going to be easy. And allow yourself that space to acknowledge and be be aware of what you need. And it’ll be hard. If you feel sad, and feel defeated on some levels – be okay with that, and you can move on from there. By leaving your abuser you have won the biggest battle. … One foot in front of the other.

Final thoughts about your experience at The Hotline?

Volunteering here has been a really beautiful thing for me. Every time I come in here, I’m learning something myself based on how I react to different calls and the feelings I’m left with after the phone calls. These callers re-ground me constantly and I am constantly blown away the incredible strength within these women and men. I am grateful for what they’ve taught me.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Meet an Advocate: Devynn

Ever wondered who is on the other end of calls to The Hotline? Meet Devynn, an advocate who has been with The Hotline since 2003. Devynn has a background in social work, anthropology and women’s studies. During our conversation, it became very clear just how passionate she is about what she does.

Q. How did you become interested in advocating for domestic violence? What brought you here?

A. It was kind of a natural progression. I was in social work for a number of years and then began teaching. But even then I was always volunteering. I volunteered in Houston when I lived there. I was actually a founding volunteer of the Houston Area Women’s Center. And then I moved to Ireland for several months to work on my dissertation for my PhD in Women’s Studies and sex trafficking. I couldn’t stay and finish, though. When I came back I started working here.

Q. What aspects of your job satisfy you the most?

A. As trite as it might sound, giving someone support when they don’t think there is any. When they get off of the phone they say, “You really listened to me. Thank you.” That’s really nice. To have someone say, “Thank you for listening. I had no one,” shows me that there’s a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel.

Q. Why do you continue to advocate for domestic violence?

A. It’s important. I had an acquaintance of mine who said, “You know, you’re not going to change this. There’s always going to be domestic violence. There’s always going to be sex trafficking.” And I said, “Yeah, I can’t save the world, but at least I can make it a little bit better.” So that’s the way I look at it sometimes.

Q. What are some common myths about domestic violence that you see regularly?

A. “What did she do to push his buttons? She must have done something. You don’t just hit people or scream and yell at them. So, what did she do?” That one and the other one is, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” Those are probably the most common.

Q. How do you react when someone says something like that to you?

A. I just say, it’s never that simple. And, there is no excuse for domestic violence. None.

Q. What message do you have for someone who is recently out of an abusive relationship?

A. Reach out for support… because a lot of time they’ve been so isolated. Their abuser has pushed all of their friends away. Their family won’t talk to them. I usually talk about trying to reestablish connections and trying to get involved in whatever they think they can do. And take care of themselves. A lot of times they’re so disconnected that they don’t know where to start. I’ll just tell them to start with a support group at their local program so they can talk to people.

Q. What advice do you give to a teenager who is in their first relationship?

A. I talk to them about peer pressure and about how sometimes people are in a relationship just because it’s cool or because their friends think that he’s a cool guy. They think that if they leave this relationship they’ll never have anyone else. I take that seriously. I talk to them about the kind of relationship that they have with their parents, or if they have another adult that they feel comfortable talking to. I try to tell them that domestic violence doesn’t just happen to older people – it can happen to anyone. I try to give them websites to look at and always let them know about The National Dating Abuse Helpline.

Q. What are some reasons that people give for their hesitance to call The Hotline?

A. Some people think that regardless of what we say that we’re not really anonymous — that we’re going to turn them into CPS or that we’re going to send out the police or that somehow their abuser is going to know that they called. I try to assure them that we are an anonymous, confidential hotline. Now, if they give us information about child abuse and give us details we are required by law to report it, but we explain that. They think that we’re going to call immigration. Or sometimes they want to make sure they don’t get someone in trouble. I just tell them that they aren’t getting their partner in trouble –  their partner is doing that all on their own. I tell them that it’s common for an abuser to blame their victim for their actions. Also, a lot of times people call and say, “Well this isn’t domestic violence because he’s just yelling at me.” They don’t understand that domestic violence has all of these different dimensions to it. Or that no one else believes them, so why would we. People will say, “You’re going to think I’m crazy if I tell you this.” I say, “Go right ahead. That’s what abusers often tell their partners. I’m not here to judge, I’m just here to listen.”

 

Advocates like Devynn are on the frontlines of our organization. They are the people that you speak with when you call, they listen to you when you need support and they connect you with resources when you’re in need.

If you or a loved one is experiencing domestic violence and wish to speak with an advocate, please give us a call at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

a day in the life of an advocate

A Day in the Life

It was summer in Austin, Texas and the temperature was hovering close to three-digits. Mary, an advocate at The Hotline who has been with the organization for five years, was sitting in her cubicle. The air conditioner was blowing but she could still feel the heat blaring in from the full-length windows to her left.

She had been at work for the past seven hours and was counting down the minutes until the end of her shift. By then, she’d answered close to 30 calls from people seeking support, information and aid. She was tired and emotionally drained.

She looked at the print of a landscape that she has pinned to her gray cubicle wall and put her head in her hand. She imagined that the white noise (created by a discretely hidden machine across the room) was the sound of the river pictured in her landscape.

Her phone rang and she was pulled back into reality. She took a deep breath. She answered.

The caller was an adult woman in her mid-thirties. She lived somewhere on the upper east coast in a home that she bought and paid for herself. She had a good job and was proud of her life. She described herself as being strong in her faith.

The caller explained that she had been dating her boyfriend for several months. “Well, kind of dating,” she said.

Mary asked what she meant by “kind of.”

The caller told Mary that she would describe their relationship as dating, but that her partner often minimized the relationship. He told her that she wasn’t his girlfriend and that they weren’t together. The caller told Mary that even though her partner said these things, he asked her to spend the night on a regular basis, got jealous when she talked to other men and called her all the time. She was confused.

Mary asked the caller why she thought that her partner was saying these things to her when he was clearly acting in a way that contradicted them.

The caller explained that she refused to sleep with her partner and that had angered him. She said that she felt uncomfortable, like she was violating her faith, engaging in sexual relations with a man that she was not committed to. She didn’t know if she should sleep with him because they are dating – if doing so would change his attitude – or if she should continue to abstain.

Mary told her that her feelings were completely justified and that she shouldn’t do anything that she was uncomfortable with. She explained that what the caller was describing sounded a lot like controlling behavior. She told the caller that her partner might be minimizing the relationship in order to convince her to sleep with him. She then took time to explain the dynamics of relationships – abusive relationships in particular –  and talk with the caller about other things that were happening in the relationship.

After spending 15 minutes on the phone with Mary, the caller sounded more confident and comfortable in her relationship. She told Mary that she understood that her partner was attempting to manipulate her by making their relationship seem less than it was. She understood that that manipulation was a sign that her relationship was unhealthy.

She thanked Mary for speaking with her and then ended the call.

Most calls that Mary takes aren’t straightforward or easy. She deals with pain and anger and sadness on a daily basis. She fights shrinking domestic violence program budgets and long waitlists at shelters every day as she tries to find aid for callers. After all of the adversity that she faces, hearing a caller tell Mary that “she is awesome” is something that she will hold on to.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children

In a Washington Post article from early February, the authors (two state attorneys) describe children who are exposed to incidents of domestic violence as the “invisible victims.” They write:

As prosecutors, we have long noted with distress how often children are present when violent crimes are committed. Kids don’t need to be the target of the violence to be scarred by it. Ask any adult who witnessed domestic violence while growing up; decades later, he or she will still be able to talk vividly of the event and how it affects them today.”

Domestic abuse affects everyone — family, friends, and even the community. As highlighted in the Post article, children often are affected if they are living in a space where this is taking place. They become the ‘secondary’ victims of the abuse, whether it’s emotional, physical or sexual, and whether it takes place constantly or in isolated incidents.

Here are some interesting facts about children and domestic violence:

  • Over half of female domestic violence victims live in households withchildren under the age of 12.
  • Research indicates that up to 90 percent of children living in homes where there is domestic violence know what is going on.
  • In a study of more than 6,000 families in the United States, it was reported that half of the men who physically abused their wives also abused their children. Also, older children are frequently assaulted when they interfere to defend or protect the victim.
  • A child’s exposure to domestic violence is the strongest risk factor for transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next.
  • Childhood abuse and trauma has a high correlation to both emotional and physical problems in adulthood, including tobacco use, substance abuse, obesity, cancer, heart disease, depression and a higher risk for unintended pregnancy.

How Can I Help

One resource for learning how to assist children in these situations is Lundy Bancroft’s “Helping Your Children Heal the Wounds of Witnessing Abuse,” in which he shares ways parents can encourage their children to cope, heal and talk about the abuse they’ve seen.

If your child is witnessing abuse in your home, what you’re experiencing is likely made even worse by the worry and concern you feel for your child. It’s important to remember that both you and your children’s needs are important.

Have conversations. Let children know that it’s okay to talk about what has happened. Stress that abuse is wrong, but avoid criticizing the abuser if they are a parent or parent-figure to the child.

Remind your kids that the abuse is never their fault. Make sure that they know that you care about them. Children are extremely resilient, and while the impact of abuse can be long lasting, knowing that they have someone to depend on that loves them will help them heal.

Above all, proceed with caution and listen to your instincts. Tap into what you feel is best for both you and your child. There are often pros and cons of either staying with or leaving an abusive partner. It can be a dangerous situation either way. If you do decide to leave your relationship, consider when and how to best leave. Allow children to be open about their feelings in the process, and devise a safety plan (whether staying or leaving).

Call The Hotline toll free, 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for more information about what you can do.