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Pregnancy and Abuse: Planning a Safe Child Birth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Taking a Stand Against Gun Violence

This post was contributed by our VP of Policy, Rob Valente

Firearms and domestic violence are a deadly combination. Last year, the National Domestic Violence Hotline conducted a survey addressing the experiences of survivors of domestic and dating violence around firearms violence. Of those who participated in the voluntary survey:

  • 22% said their partners had threatened to use a firearm to hurt the victim, their children, other family members or friends, household pets, or to commit suicide.
  • 10% said their partner had fired a gun during an argument.
  • 52% said they would feel safer if law enforcement took their partner’s/ex’s/spouse’s firearms.
  • 67% said they believed their partner was capable of killing them.

Homes with guns have a three-fold increased homicide risk as compared to homes without guns. This risk increases to eight-fold when the perpetrator is an intimate partner or relative of the victim. When previous incidents of domestic violence exist, the risk of homicide is 20 times greater.[i]

In light of these sobering statistics, The Hotline would like to thank U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer and actress and comedian Amy Schumer for their efforts to address the epidemic of gun violence in our country today. Senator Schumer and Ms. Schumer rightly point to the gaps in our background check system that allow persons – including adjudicated domestic violence abusers – to purchase or gain possession of dangerous firearms. A strong background check system­ is key to reducing firearms violence. Women are 46% less likely to be shot to death by former or current intimate partners in states that require background checks before firearms purchases.[ii]

Senator Schumer and Ms. Schumer proposed three important steps that Congress should undertake to respond to the dangers of lethal firearms violence:

  • Incentivize state efforts to get all necessary records into the federal background check system and penalize states that fail to submit all appropriate records
  • Fully fund mental health and substance abuse programs in the federal budget
  • Have the U.S. Department of Justice study all states’ standards for involuntary commitment and identify best practices.

We commend them for speaking out so firmly in support of reasonable efforts to ensure that gun violence does not threaten the safety of our families, friends and communities.


 

[i] Kellermann AL, Rivara FP, Rushforth NB, et al. Gun ownership as a risk factor for homicide in the home. New England Journal of Medicine. 1993;329(15):1084-1091

[ii] State Background Check Requirements and Rates of Domestic Violence Homicide, Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, New York, NY 2015, http://everytown.org/documents/2015/01/dv-background-checks-fact-sheet.pdf.

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The Hotline Celebrates the Grand Opening of a New Digital Services Office in Washington, DC

For nearly 20 years, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has been headquartered in Austin, TX. We took our first call in 1996 and since then have received more than 3.5 million contacts. In 2013, we debuted our live chat services via thehotline.org, a crucial lifeline that gave victims and survivors another way to reach out if they couldn’t or didn’t want to speak by phone.

Now, in 2015, we are proud to announce that The Hotline is expanding to include an additional office in Washington, DC. On July 15, friends and partners from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Football League (NFL) and within the DV field gathered with Hotline staff to celebrate the grand opening of our new digital services office.

Hotline DC Opening

More and more domestic violence victims and survivors rely on technology like computers, smartphones and tablets to search for help and information on domestic violence and dating abuse. By expanding our operations, The Hotline is better equipped to meet victims where they are by providing much needed services through online chat and text messaging. We are sharing the new space with the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, one of the original resource centers created by the Family Violence Prevention Services Act (FVPSA).  Through projects like VAWnet and the DV Evidence Project, the NRCDV has been instrumental in collecting information critical to domestic violence service providers and making it easily accessible online.

Hotline DC Opening 2

This is an exciting time for The Hotline and all of our partners and supporters. Although small, the DC office represents the start of a big idea – digital service centers across the country, which will allow us to extend our capacity to serve victims and survivors during peak times in each time zone. It’s another step toward our goal of answering every call, chat and text for help.

Check out the video below to hear a few words from special guests at the grand opening:

We want to thank the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime, and our partners at the NFL and Mary Kay Inc. for their support.

If you would like to show your support for victims and survivors of domestic violence, please consider making a gift to The Hotline

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Man Up!

Today’s post was written by Crayton Webb, Mary Kay Vice President of Corporate Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility. It first appeared on the Mary Kay Blog. Republished with permission.

Suck it up! No pain, no gain! Be a man! You play like a girl!

How many times has someone said one of these things to you? How many times have you said it? Thought about it? Maybe you thought it, but stopped short. These phrases are engrained in our society. They’re a deep part of the way we define what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman.

As the father of three boys under the age of seven who works for a company dedicated to enriching women’s lives and committed to being the corporate leader to end domestic violence, I’ve been shocked at the number of times I caught myself thinking one of these things. I thought I would be different! Better, maybe. I expected myself to at least be more sensitive. Thank God I stopped myself before the words crossed my lips.

If we really want to end domestic violence – we have to stop it before it starts. And that begins, frankly, with men. Men have to own violence against women as a man’s issue – a man’s problem. We have to get to the next generation of men – boys my sons’ age – and change the way they and we look at women and look at ourselves.

For men to be part of the solution we have to change the way we think, the way we behave, the way we’re raised and the way we raise our children – both our sons and daughters. We have to change the way men talk to each other and our children; the way we treat each other; the way we hold each other accountable as men.

That’s a big task! So, where do we start? I say, let’s start with something small that speaks volumes. Let’s embrace the gift of parenthood and the obligation and duty we have to raise our children – the next generation – to be better than we are. Let’s begin by taking on a simple phrase – one we’ve all heard a million times – or maybe we’ve said it. It’s time re-define, re-think and re-frame what it means to be a man and what it means to “MAN UP.”

Click here to watch Mary Kay’s “Man Up” video and learn more about how you can be part of the change!

webb-125Crayton Webb, Vice President of Corporate Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility at Mary Kay Inc, oversees the company’s global media and public relations team and is also responsible for Mary Kay’s global CSR and philanthropic efforts. Crayton is chairman of the men’s auxiliary for Genesis Women’s Shelter in Dallas, HeROs (He Respects Others), and was recently appointed to the board of the Texas Council on Family Violence in Austin, Texas.  Follow Crayton on Twitter @craytonwebb.

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Avon Foundation Partners with The Hotline to Grant $500,000 to 25 Local Domestic Violence Programs

The Avon Foundation for Women, the world’s largest corporate-affiliated philanthropy that focuses on issues that matter most to women, has partnered with The Hotline to grant $500,000 to 25 local domestic violence advocacy programs in cities across the U.S. The grant is part of a larger effort by the two organizations that started with #GivingTuesday to raise funds and awareness for local and national domestic violence hotlines. Each of the grantees will receive $20,000 to continue operating hotlines that support domestic abuse victims and provide direct services for survivors in their communities.

“Across the country, domestic violence programs and shelters are operating with fewer resources and staff. When victims take the difficult step to reach out for help, many are in life-threatening situations,” says Katie Ray-Jones, chief executive officer of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. “The generous dollars received from our partners at the Avon Foundation for Women will enable more victims to get the help they need whether it is for counseling, shelter, legal services or compassionate support as they try to live a life free from violence.”

Congratulations to the 25 local organizations receiving a $20,000 grant:

A SafePlace (Oakland, CA)
Alternatives to Domestic Violence, Casa de Paz (Riverside, CA)
Center for Community Solutions (San Diego, CA)
Connections for Abused Women and their Children (Chicago, IL)
Chrysalis (Phoenix, AZ)
Family Violence Prevention Services, Inc. (San Antonio, TX)
Genesis Women’s Shelter (Dallas, TX)
Houston Area Women’s Center (Houston, TX)
Interval House (Anaheim, CA)
1736 Family Crisis Center (Los Angeles, CA)
Need-A-Break Inc. (Dallas, CA)
Miami Dade Community Action and Human Services Dept. (Safespace) (Miami, FL)
My Sister’s Place (Washington, D.C.)
Option House, Inc. (San Bernardino, CA)
Partnership Against Domestic Violence (Atlanta, GA)
Peace Over Violence (Los Angeles, CA)
SafePlace (Austin, TX)
Safe Horizon (New York, NY
SafeHouse (Denver, CO)
Shelter for Battered Women (Safe Alliance) (Charlotte, NC)
The Family Place (Dallas, TX)
Women Against Abuse, Inc. (Philadelphia, PA)
WEAVE Inc. (Sacramento, CA)
YWCA Interim House (Detroit, MI)
YWCA of San Diego – Becky’s House (San Diego, CA)

Want to show your support for families affected by domestic violence? Please consider making a gift to your local program, one of the organizations listed above and/or the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

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Bringing the Love to ESSENCE Fest

Last weekend, The Hotline was thrilled to #BringtheLove to ESSENCE Fest! Hosted by ESSENCE Magazine in New Orleans, ESSENCE Fest is a four-day celebration that draws major artists, celebrities and speakers and seeks to empower the African-American community.

Things officially got started on Friday, July 2, and throughout the weekend The Hotline was at the center of the action. People from around the country visited our booth to learn more about the work we do, sign a pledge to speak out against domestic violence, share their stories or get tips on how to help people in their lives experiencing abuse.

ESSENCE Fest

During the festival, our chief communications officer Cameka Crawford participated in two panels where she had the opportunity to discuss healthy relationships and domestic abuse.

Essence Fest

Cameka Crawford (center) discusses healthy relationships at ESSENCE Fest with Jonathan Sprinkles and Vicky Boston.

Hotline staff members were also able to provide on the spot advocacy during the event. Maisha Barrett, a Hotline advocate, spoke with people who had experienced domestic violence in the 1970s and 80s. Many of them noted that the conversation around domestic violence, and the availability of support services, had changed drastically in the past few decades. “They said that there was no help then and that it was just something that you dealt with on your own and didn’t talk about to anyone,” Barrett recalls. “A lot of survivors came up and shared their stories about getting away from their abusers and took a lot of pride in signing our board in support. I was also struck by the amount of people who took four and five and six of our [information] cards because they had that many people in their immediate life who were currently being abused by partners.”

Hotline advocate Anitra Edwards said, “It was really great talking to so many people about the services we provide and what we do. A lot of the people we met were also very willing to share their stories or how they were affected by domestic violence.”

ESSENCE Fest’s 21st year was a huge success, and we’re already looking forward to ESSENCE Fest 2016 and continuing to make an impact at this event!

Essence Fest

Roland Martin stopped by The Hotline’s booth to sign our pledge board.

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Staying Physically, Emotionally and Financially Safe During Pregnancy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I #SeeDV as Something We Can All Work to End: Troy Vincent

Troy Vincent with Hotline CEO Katie Ray-Jones and Hotline advocates

Troy Vincent with Hotline CEO Katie Ray-Jones and Hotline advocates

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.

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Pamela Anderson Donates $60,000 to The Hotline

PamelaAnderson-visit

She is probably best known for her career as an actress, but Pamela Anderson now spends most of her time raising funds for non-profit organizations worldwide. Anderson recently visited the National Domestic Violence Hotline (The Hotline) to make a significant contribution and hear first-hand how advocates are making a difference in the lives of those affected by abuse.

Every day, advocates at The Hotline answer approximately 900 calls, chats and texts from victims, survivors, their friends and family seeking information about domestic violence. With one in four women, one in seven men and one in three teens experiencing physical, emotional or verbal abuse by an intimate partner in their lifetime, the need to provide resources and support for victims is critical. It is why The Pamela Anderson Foundation chose to donate $60,000 to the organization that has been answering calls around the clock since its inception in 1996.

“It was incredibly important for me to meet the men and women who, day in and day out, offer compassion and information to anyone who needs help with domestic violence. I am so happy to know that our donation will help ensure those seeking options will continue to find that trusted resource at The Hotline,” said Pamela Anderson, founder of The Pamela Anderson Foundation.

Anderson presented the check to Katie Ray-Jones, chief executive officer of The Hotline, who thanked the actress, author and philanthropist for her generous gift. “We know that Pamela is incredibly busy raising money to support her foundation, allowing her to donate to causes she believes in such as ours. We couldn’t do this work without supporters like The Pamela Anderson Foundation. We are grateful for people like her who have a place in their heart for the people we serve.”

Chideo, the charity network, captured Anderson’s visit to The Hotline; click on the image below to watch:

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Someone I Know is Being Abused. Should I Call the Police?

This post was contributed by Alexander, a Hotline advocate

policeHere 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.

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Prenatal and Early Pregnancy: Tips for Staying Safe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual-Abuse-Safety-Plan

Safety Planning Around Sexual Abuse

Sexual-Abuse-Safety-PlanThis 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.

Safety Planning

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.

Physical Safety

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.

Emotional Safety

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.

Digital Safety

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.

Additional Resources:

  • If you’ve been sexually assaulted or raped in the past 72 hours, medical care and a SANE exam can be good options
  • 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