I See DV in the Red Flags

This post is by a very talented writer and brave survivor, Courtney Queeney. We were moved by Courtney’s article in the New York Times “The View From the Victim Room” which detailed her experience of renewing an emergency protective order. Today, she shares with us how she saw domestic violence red flags in her past relationship. 

blog-posters-courtneyAfter my ex-boyfriend punched, choked and kicked me one night, I spent a few days in shock. I couldn’t figure out how I had gotten into such a relationship in the first place.

When I reflected on the span of our relationship, the red flags were glaring.

Red Flag: He pursued me for months before I eventually said yes, because after all, I’d met him through a mutual acquaintance and he was a certified yoga instructor. With those credentials he must have been safe, although I was uncomfortable as early as our second date, when he professed his love.

Red Flag: He isolated me from my friends, family, and favorite activities. At first, he was sad to see me go home; then I was staying away from him too long, depriving him of my company so I could write, look for jobs and feed my cat. If I went out with friends, he’d text during the night to tell me how much he missed me. He didn’t want me to have a job, because that would have subtracted from his time, and allowed me greater financial freedom.

Red Flag: He sulked when I didn’t want to sleep with him, like a child who had just been sent to bed without his dessert. Post-breakup, his objectification of women as sexual objects became even more disturbing in both his art and his writing. He’d written about a fantasy he had of flaying an ex so I shouldn’t have been surprised when the death threats he sent me involved him raping me, then attacking the body parts specifically identifying me as female; he didn’t, for example, want to kick me in the shins.)

Red Flag:  The messages he sent after I broke up with him were even more transparently disturbing: I was clearly responsible for his behavior. Why did you provoke me? he wrote. (For the record, I had knocked on a bathroom door, worried he was going to pass out.) He wrote I’m sorry for the way things went down that night. He used the passive tense; he didn’t write: I hit you. Or: I was on drugs. Or: I choked you. Or: I kicked you. In the same message, he wrote: Can you somehow get beyond it? Please find a way to forgive me. Somehow, as a woman, it was my job to make the situation better for him.

Red Flag: He was irrationally jealous of my male friends. When I went to visit two of them for a week, he refused to get out of bed, texting me pitiful messages about how he couldn’t wait until I came home. He set his computer up so I had my own desktop, though I repeatedly told him not to bother. I later learned that monitoring someone’s computer and phone are classic red flags.

Red Flag: After he’d hurt me so badly my ER doctor kept looking at the scans of my face and repeating I can’t believe nothing is broken, I was still responsible for his weight loss, his family asking about my abrupt disappearance, his loneliness, his insomnia and panic attacks.

Red Flag: He repeatedly wrote that he couldn’t live without me. One night, he cut himself badly with a knife and couldn’t staunch the bleeding. When his incessant attempts to contact me suddenly stopped, I knew he’d acted on these threats, probably on my birthday. If he’d succeeded in his suicide attempt, it would have been the ultimate punishment: I would have to carry that guilt for the rest of my life. I don’t think he meant to succeed; it was a play for my sympathy.

I was lucky. I glossed over red flag after red flag, but when it was my relationship or my life, I chose life. I just wish I’d done it sooner.

About Our Contributor: 

Courtney Queeney is the author of Filibuster to Delay a Kiss (Random House). She lives in Chicago.

choose to change

The Hotline Calls You May Not Expect

As you may imagine, our 24/7 Hotline receives all types of calls from all over the country. The largest group of callers is people experiencing abuse of some sort, questioning unhealthy aspects of their relationship and seeking help and services. Our second largest group of callers is friends and family concerned about loved ones.

What you may not know is that we also frequently speak with people who identify as abusive, or who are concerned about behaviors that may be unhealthy.

We treat all callers with dignity and respect, and talk to these people because we support accountability. Every call from someone who is becoming more aware of their unhealthy behavior is an opportunity to plant a seed for change.

No matter what the situation, our Hotline advocates are supportive and remain empathetic.

What will an advocate recommend?

Depending on what you’re calling about, our advocates will talk to you about different courses of action. If throughout the call you and the advocate are beginning to identify unhealthy behaviors in your relationship, they’ll discuss these red flags with you and then brainstorm healthy alternatives for the behavior.

EX: “You can’t change your feelings of jealousy all the time, but you can change how you are confronting your partner about these feelings.”

They’ll talk about strategies for calming down and deescalating if you feel yourself getting angry, and discuss how your actions can negatively affect yourself and those around you.

Callers may want to know about Battering Intervention and Prevention Programs — but not all callers asking about BIPPS are the same. While some are looking for a referral because the court has ordered them to, others are seeking out this information on their own accord. In 2010, Hotline advocates made between 950-1,000 referrals to these programs.

Can you really call without being judged?

Yes. If you’re looking for someone to lend a confidential, impartial ear, our advocates at The Hotline are a great option. They’ll listen, withhold judgment and help you begin to address what’s going on in your relationship.

If you’re questioning your own behavior at all, or if someone else has brought it to your attention, acknowledging it is a step in the right direction. Give us a call today at 1-800-799-SAFE to start the conversation.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Teen Mom Recap: Why Doesn’t April Just Leave?

photo credit: mtv.comSome people might watch this past episode of Teen Mom and wonder what is wrong with April. How can she not know if she is going to leave Butch or not? In our society, this is a pretty typical response to survivors who stay in relationships, and it actually shifts the blame to the victim for the abuse, and away from the person who was actually violent. If she would just leave, this wouldn’t happen, right? In this situation, whether April stays in the relationship or not, she doesn’t deserve to be attacked and hurt.

There are a few things going on that many people who make that judgment about survivors don’t take into account. Leaving an abusive relationship is an extremely dangerous time. Abusive partners often escalate their violent behavior when they feel their sense of power and control in the relationship is lessening.

There may be other reasons why leaving doesn’t seem possible at the moment, like not having financial resources to find a new home. Ending a relationship is a complex, emotional process in the best of circumstances. Even though Butch has been abusive and unsafe, April may still care about him and what to see him get help.

There may come a day when she knows for sure that walking away is the right decision for her, but it’s ok if it takes some time for her to figure out what she wants to do.

This excerpt from Advocacy Beyond Leaving by Jill Davies explains this process:

Victims are not masochists bent on suffering, nor are they living in a fantasy world. Victims do what we all do – deal with what life hands us. For some, remaining or leaving is a formal decision, a weighing of pros and cons. For others it is informal, simply coping with the current situation because it seems tolerable or there are no better options or alternatives. Most victims cope with the bad and hope for the better, living with the status quo, making the decisions they must, and doing what they can do to make things better along the way. Leaving is not a simple decision, nor one easily made.

Not knowing if you want to stay in or end an abusive relationship is perfectly natural. However, it’s very important to think about how you can stay as safe as possible while you’re trying to decide.

Think about what happens in your relationship: What can you do to be safe? Who can you talk to and ask for help from? What are the red flags that your partner will become more violent or dangerous? When do you know you have to leave or call the police in order to stay safe?

There are some risks that are often indications of potentially dangerous and lethal situations.  Some of the red flags that you may be in an extremely dangerous situation are:

  • If physical violence has gotten worse or happens more frequently in the last few months
  • If your partner has ever used a weapon or threatened you with a weapon
  • If your partner is violently jealous of you and who you talk to

(Campbell, et al, 2009,

Remember, you can always talk to a Hotline advocate for support.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Teen Mom Features The Hotline

A recent episode of Teen Mom showed a family experiencing domestic violence. Teen parents Catelynn and Tyler have a unique situation. Catelynn’s mom April and Tyler’s dad Butch got married after Catelynn and Tyler started dating in middle school. Butch has been physically and emotionally abusive to April prior to this incident.

In the episode, April called Tyler to alert him to an incident that involved Butch assaulting her after suspecting that she was talking  to another man. Butch was arrested, and April told Tyler that she was unsure of their future together. Tyler and Catelynn were immediately concerned and rushed over to April to find out what happened.

Photo from, Tyler at Catelynn from a previous episode

As the episode progressed, it became clear that the evening was incredibly violent, leaving April with bruises and pain. Butch had violated a “no contact” order in coming over to April’s home.

Despite the horrible details of the assault, April didn’t place all of the blame on Butch. She was quick to mention that Butch wasn’t himself because of drugs and alcohol. She told Tyler, “I really can’t say that I’m gonna leave him or anything like that because I really don’t know. He wasn’t there, dude, it wasn’t your dad.”

She also maintained hope that he will change, saying, “I honestly think if he’ll do his time, the drinking and the drugging is going to stop.”

Sadly, at The Hotline, we know that experiences like April’s are all too common. It’s not unusual for abusive partners to be extremely jealous, and accuse their partners of cheating, even when that is so far from the truth. We know that children and teens are dealing with the aftermath of abuse every day in their homes, just like Tyler and Catelynn.

April had a hard time deciding what to do in her relationship. An issue that complicated April’s decision-making process is Butch’s substance abuse. Again, this is an issue that is all too common in abusive relationships, and it makes it challenging to understand why someone becomes violent.

A common misconception is that using alcohol and drugs can make someone ‘lose control’ and hurt those around them. Even if Butch was able to get clean and sober, it’s likely that he would still be controlling and abusive. Alcohol and drug use can make abusive situations worse, but it doesn’t cause a non-abusive, non-controlling person to become violent.

Just as April said, it’s very likely that when Butch attacked her, he looked like a different person than the person she fell in love with. But, despite his drug use, Butch was still responsible for how he hurt April. Naturally, April wants to see Butch get the help that he needs so that she can be in a healthy, safe relationship with him, but he would need to accept responsibility for his substance abuse and his controlling and abusive behavior and be committed to getting help for both in order to change. Getting help for substance abuse and domestic violence would require a lot of personal accountability and determination.

When an abusive partner is using drugs or alcohol, there is an increased risk of severe physical violence. It’s really important to be aware of how the substance use affects their behavior. Do they become more aggressive or violent when they’re using or when they’re in withdrawal? This can help survivors know the risks of a situation and take steps to become safer in the moment.

If you have some concerns about similar issues happening in your relationship, you can always call The Hotline to talk. An advocate at The Hotline can help you think about what’s going on in your relationship, what the risks are to your safety and your children’s safety, and what you can do to stay safe.