Graphic with yellow background of a cell phone with a caution symbol on its screen

Tips for Safely Reaching Out for Support

This post was written by advocate Lauren C.

Graphic with yellow background of a cell phone with a caution symbol on its screenBeing in a relationship should not mean you lose your right to privacy or your right to talk to whomever you like. But in an abusive relationship, an abusive person may isolate their partner from sources of support. This is often done by checking their partner’s call log and text history or denying their partner the right to a phone.

Reaching out for support when you’re in an abusive relationship is scary, especially if there are barriers to having a safe phone. If you are having trouble finding a safe way to communicate with others for support, below are some options to consider:

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Supporting Survivors with Disabilities: When Your Abusive Partner is Also Your Caregiver

By Marilyn, a Hotline advocate

Graphic with purple background and a silhouette of a person's upper torso with another person's hand on their shoulderHere at The Hotline, we know that abuse occurs in intimate partner relationships when one person tries to maintain power and control over their partner. When a person depends on their partner for any form of caretaking, there may be additional risk for abuse because of a power imbalance. People with disabilities often experience higher rates of domestic violence, sexual assault and abuse, and the impact of abuse may compound the disability.

When abusive partners are also caregivers, they may try to gain control in different ways:

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Reporting to Police: Options & Tips for Being Prepared

With special contribution from Brandy, a Hotline advocate

police-responseIf you or someone you care about is being abused, you may feel that contacting the police is one important step in your safety plan. We’ve seen that police intervention can be life-saving and can help survivors get connected to other resources. But we also know there are very real barriers for some survivors in contacting the police. In our 2015 law enforcement survey, survivors told us they were afraid calling the police might result in losing privacy, being stereotyped, having an abusive partner retaliate or negatively affecting their children.

We believe it’s important for all survivors to feel as prepared as possible if they choose to contact the police. The information below is meant to be a general primer for speaking with police and making a report, but keep in mind that people’s experiences may vary and your personal safety is the priority. You know your situation best; you do not have to take any actions that you believe would jeopardize your safety.

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Safety Planning Around Guns and Firearms

This post was contributed by Heather, a Hotline advocate

Please note that this post may be highly triggering for some readers.

*The following safety planning suggestions require you to be able to use a safe computer. We strongly discourage you from using your personal phone, tablet or computer to utilize these tips. We recommend going to the public library, using a safe friend’s or family member’s device or paying with cash at an internet café.

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Behind the Screens: Revenge Porn


This is a post in our Behind the Screens series, which explores issues related to digital abuse. To read other posts in the series, click here

“If you leave, I’ll ruin your life with these pictures…”

One of the more insidious forms of digital abuse is nonconsensual pornography, often referred to as “revenge porn.” This type of abuse intersects with sexual abuse, as it involves the digital distribution of nude or sexually explicit photos and/or videos of a person without their consent. It’s called “revenge” porn because the images or videos are often used as retaliation or as blackmail material by a current or former partner.

At The Hotline, we hear from many people who have experienced this form of abuse. Some victims have willingly shared images privately with their partners, only to have their partners break their trust and later threaten to distribute those images publicly. Others have had partners coerce or force them into creating sexually explicit materials in order to shame, control and manipulate them. Alternatively, some abusive partners take photographs or videos without the victims’ knowledge and then use the threat of sharing those materials online to maintain control over the victim. No matter what the situation, breaking the trust of a partner and manipulating or shaming them in this way is abusive behavior.

Like all forms of abuse, revenge porn is extremely traumatizing. Unfortunately, legislation has been slow to respond; not all states have enacted laws against revenge porn or recognize it as a crime, leaving victims with little to no legal recourse in some cases. End Revenge Porn, a campaign of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, provides a guide to current state laws as well as a list of additional resources for survivors.

Safety Tips

You have the right to say “no” if you are not comfortable sending your partner sexually explicit images. No one is ever obligated to engage in sexual activity of any kind, with anyone. Note that in every state it is illegal to have or share sexual photos or videos of anyone who is under the age of 18. If your partner continues to request images or videos you are not comfortable taking or sending, here are some safety tips:  

  • Tell your partner your parents/guardian monitors your devices making it so you cannot take or send sexually explicit material.  
  • Change out your phone to one that does not have the capability of taking photos or recording video.
  • Suggest other ways of connecting sexually that cannot be documented.

If your partner continues to pressure you or starts forcing you to send sexually explicit materials and you do not feel safe resisting or refusing, you may feel that the safest course of action is to send them. The following tips may help protect your safety and privacy as much as possible:

  • Try to avoid showing any identifying features (face, tattoos, birthmarks, etc) in the pictures you send.
  • Take pictures using a neutral, non-identifying background with dark lighting.
  • Add a filter to the photo that will alter coloring making the image less identifiable.
  • Google has created a form where revenge porn victims can request that their images be removed from search results. You can access the form here.
  • Reach out to your support systems and make an emotional safety plan.

A Survivor’s Story

The following story was shared with us by a survivor of revenge porn. She has given us permission to reprint her story here. Her experience reflects the trauma and frustration that many people feel when they become victims of revenge porn. Please be aware, this story may be triggering for some readers.

“I was in high school when I met my ex. He was a decade older than me. We dated for a few years and eventually married after much opposition from my family and friends. He controlled every aspect of my young adult life and was often verbally, sexually, and physically abusive.

When I was 18 he asked that I send him a few naked pictures of myself. He told me if I did not send them, he would leave me for someone else who was more mature. I was in love with him, and at the time I didn’t understand that this type of behavior was abuse. After sending him the pictures, I immediately regretted it because it was not something I wanted to do.

I tried to leave the relationship several times, but my ex would threaten me and mention how he was going to ruin my life with the “pictures” if I left. I feared that he would follow through on his threats, which made leaving that much more difficult.

After our child was born I found the courage to leave him and file for divorce. I feared for our safety and our future during that time. I knew the emotional/verbal abuse would continue and that he would follow through on his threat to “ruin my life” with the pictures.

During our separation, I was granted an ex parte order of protection after continuous threats and harassment. After my divorce became final, the ex parte expired and I learned that my ex-husband had posted naked pictures of me on two separate porn websites. One of the websites was devoted entirely to revenge porn and listed my first and last name. The pictures I shared with him when I was 18 were posted along with several other pictures he took without my knowledge. The amount of pain I felt after finding pictures of myself naked on the internet made me physically sick.

I immediately contacted my attorney and local domestic violence agency in search of help. I received emotional support from multiple sources, but it became clear that I had no legitimate legal options due to the absence of a revenge porn law in my state. I was fortunate that the pictures were removed from the websites, but I realize that they could be reposted at any time.

It has been over a year and half since I found out the pictures were posted, but I have not been the same since. I go to therapy frequently to try to help with the anxiety and depression from the revenge porn and heal from the years of abuse.

My ex-husband has used revenge porn as an abuse tactic for years and he has made it clear that he has no intentions of stopping.

I desperately want to be free from “the pictures” and most importantly free from the control of my abusive ex-husband. In order for victims of revenge porn to regain their freedom from their abusers there must be legal consequences for this type of abuse.”


If your partner is pressuring you to send explicit pictures or video, or if they are threatening to distribute materials you have shared, you can call The Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 any time or chat via our website from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Central. Our advocates are here to provide support, safety planning tips, and can also connect you with local or legal resources depending on your situation.


Safety Planning for the Holidays

This post was contributed by Emma, an advocate at loveisrespect

holiday-safety-planningThe holidays are often a time of joy and community, but for people in abusive relationships, the holidays can be stressful and dangerous. Spending time with family and friends, dealing with financial stress and traveling can make safety planning a challenge. Family and friends of survivors may also struggle to find ways to help or be supportive. We wanted to offer a few suggestions for survivors and friends or family of survivors for making the holidays feel safer.


Many survivors feel isolated in their unhealthy or abusive relationships. Reaching out to family and friends can be an important step in healing. It can help to discuss safe times and ways to communicate. You might consider if there are times during the day when the survivor is typically away from their abusive partner. Or, it might be safer for them to email or text rather than call. (It’s best to make sure the abusive partner does not have access to the survivor’s email account or phone before using these methods to communicate). Make a plan to keep checking in during the holidays. You can also create a code word, which allows the survivor to let someone know they need help without tipping off their partner. Be sure to agree on what action the code word calls for: does it mean you will call them, come over, contact the police, etc.?

It may feel instinctual for family or friends to say an abusive partner is not welcome at a holiday function. You have the right to say who is or isn’t welcome in your home, but emotional support and safety planning can help both you and the survivor to move forward. Keep in mind you can talk or chat with a Hotline advocate to figure out what will work best for you. If you’re worried about someone who is experiencing abuse and you’re not sure what to say, learn more about how to help a friend or family member here.

Traveling Safely

Traveling is a common part of holiday plans. It makes sense that survivors would not feel safe spending time in a small space, like a car or plane, with someone who hurts them. We have tips for safety planning around travel for emotional/physical safety and if you’re traveling with children.

Planning for Visits

A survivor knows best what will help them feel safe, so consider discussing ways to make parties or family visits safer. An example is asking if alcohol tends to worsen an abusive partner’s behavior. Could the family or friend group make a commitment to not have alcohol around, or to limit the amount served? If you’re a survivor who does not feel safe sleeping in the same room as your partner, consider talking with your hosts or family about finding a separate couch or sharing a room with other guests or family members.

Planning for Time Alone

Abuse is about power and control, and many unhealthy or abusive partners may try exert control by keeping their partners from spending time alone or with others. So, it can be helpful to brainstorm ways to get some space. If you’re a family member or friend, you might ask the survivor to go on a shopping trip or errand with you, go for a walk or workout, invite them to a religious celebration or have them help you with a chore/holiday prep activity. If you’re a survivor, consider brainstorming reasons to get out, like helping someone with holiday plans or gift shopping; you can get creative with these ideas.

Safety Planning with Children

Protective parents work really hard to make the holidays a special time for their children. But what can help when your partner or co-parent is abusive? If you have children with you this holiday, our post on safety planning with children is a good place to start. The post covers unsupervised visitation, safe child exchange and ideas for children living with an abusive parent.

Practice Self-Care

The holiday season is stressful for many people, but getting through the holidays while experiencing abuse can feel really overwhelming. Taking time for your health and wellness can make a big difference in how you feel. To learn more about how to build in self-care while staying safe, check out this page.

Seeing someone you care about being hurt is also stressful. Remind yourself that you can’t make decisions for someone else, but you can ask a survivor what they need and offer help. We do our best helping when we are taking care of ourselves, so try to make your own plans to get rest, get good nutrition, talk to supportive friends and do things you enjoy. also has a great page on self-care tips and ideas.

At The Hotline, we believe everyone deserves a safe, healthy holiday. If you’d like more help with safety planning or self-care this holiday season, call us anytime at 1-800-799-7233 or chat via our website from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Central time.


Pregnancy and Abuse: Safety During Postpartum

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

postpartumThe period immediately following childbirth can be immensely joyful for new parents. It is also often overwhelming to deal with the care of a new baby and adapt your lifestyle to what that entails. For parents with an abusive partner, this time is often a period of escalated stress and danger. Some studies have shown that experiencing abuse is a risk factor for postpartum depression and other postpartum mental health issues, so it may be helpful to share incidents of emotional, verbal and physical abuse with your prenatal healthcare provider so they can help you identify preventive measures for the postpartum period. You may also want to consider researching information on symptoms and support. Postpartum Support International has a wealth of information, including a page on pregnancy and postpartum mental health, a local support search and tools for self-assessment and self-care.

Your body will also be readjusting physically after pregnancy. After your body goes through childbirth, you will need a period of healing before engaging in sexual activity. Your doctor, nurse or midwife may advise you about this length of time depending on your birth experience. Your abusive partner may try to reassert power and control by dismissing or downplaying these recommendations using guilt, threats or even forcing sex before you are ready. These behaviors are sexual abuse and can create health issues or an extended healing period for you. Contacting your healthcare provider or a domestic violence program about these incidents may allow you to create a safety plan to increase your sexual and physical safety during this period. Examples of strategies you may use could include:

  • A support person staying in your home during the length of your healing;
  • Staying with your baby at a supportive family member or friend’s home or a shelter while you heal;
  • Sleeping in a separate part of the home from the abuser;
  • Adjusting your sleep schedule to times when your partner is away from the home;
  • If you are concerned that your partner is trying to get you pregnant again, identifying safe and undetectable contraceptive methods that don’t interfere with your child feeding choices.

As always, you know your situation the best, and these suggestions are not recommendations, but ideas for possible exploration if you think they could increase your safety.

As advocates, we use tools called Power and Control Wheels to discuss different types of abuse. There is even a Power and Control Wheel specific to the pregnancy and postpartum period. One of the sections on the original wheel is Using Children, and these tactics during this period can be especially impactful. It’s common for new parents to have to negotiate their preferences for child raising with one another. In an abusive situation, the abusive partner may ignore, override or sabotage the other parent’s wishes and concerns.

One area where this may come up is how to feed your baby. Some parents may wish to breastfeed, and others may choose to use formula to feed their child. In order to move forward with either of these methods, having your partner’s support is very important to feel successful. Breastfeeding has many benefits and may increase connection with your child and even help lessen the impacts of postpartum mental health disorders. However, it can also be physically and emotionally draining for some parents. If your partner belittles you for challenges that you have with breastfeeding, prevents you from having time to breastfeed or pump or pressures you to breastfeed without providing support, these may be red flags for abuse. Using formula to feed your child also has benefits, and may allow for increased healing and relief for new parents. This feeding method also requires funds to purchase formula and may take time to make bottles to feed your child. If your partner refuses to provide financial assistance for formula, makes you feel guilty for using formula or pressures you to feed your child with formula but will not help with making bottles or feeding your child, these may be red flags for abuse.

Another area where you may experience this is around your baby’s sleep. There are many methods and theories for helping infants (and their parents!) sleep. You can expect to make decisions around how to respond to your child when they wake, where to make your child’s sleeping area, what makes a safe sleeping atmosphere and who will respond to the baby. If your partner prevents you from creating a consistent sleep routine, purposefully starts fights near the child’s sleeping area, prohibits you from comforting your child or refuses to assist when the child awakens, these may be red flags for abuse.

If you are noticing these types of behaviors, it may be helpful to reach out for additional support. While you may have received immediate support from family and friends following your child’s birth, you may begin to feel isolated as visitors thin out. Your partner may behave in ways that make visitors uncomfortable, or you may just be entering a new phase that your friends do not relate to yet. There are many sources of support for new parents, and connecting with them can help get perspective on your new role and how to best deal with your partner’s concerning words and actions. Your pediatrician or postpartum care physician may have information about support groups for new parents and their children, so it could help to contact their office about finding some resources. Social media and parenting websites like Baby Center, Parenting, The Bump, and What to Expect have forums where you can reach out to other parents and sometimes even find local groups and resources in your area.

You can also find groups that offer support that are specific to your parenting choices. Be mindful when joining any group that there may be parents who view parenting choices in a very concrete way and may not be as understanding of the circumstances you are dealing with in your relationship. Give yourself the space needed to separate from any group that is more about judging and giving advice than about supporting members with diverse life experiences. La Leche League International provides support and resources to breastfeeding parents; on their site you can look up information on local support meetings.The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program provides assistance for both breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women; you can find agency contacts for their nutrition and breastfeeding support programs on their website. Attachment Parenting International also offers information and resources to connecting with local parents who want to practice attachment parenting principles. Babywearing International is another group that has local support meetings for parents interested in babywearing practices.

If one-on-one support is more in line with your needs, you may want to consider reaching out to a postpartum doula. A postpartum doula provides assistance to parents acclimating to their new roles. They may provide support and education for breastfeeding and other skills that increase bonding between parents and babies, to grow parents’ self-confidence. You can use this search tool to find local postpartum doulas. If your insurance does not cover the costs of a postpartum doula, you may choose to ask if doulas offer pro bono or sliding scale services.

You can always contact The Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233 or live chat on the website from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. CST to discuss these issues and more. In addition to creating a personal safety plan with you, we can also help you connect with local domestic violence programs which may offer support groups, advocacy services, individual counseling and child care assistance.


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.


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 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. 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.


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.


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 (*this timeframe may vary by state, with some allowing up to 120 hours (five days), but if you would like to be examined by a forensic nurse examiner you always have the right to seek medical care)
  • The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) has a 24/7 hotline 1.800.656.HOPE(4673) and chat service
  • After Silence and Pandora’s Project are good places to seek support online
  • Male Survivor is a great resource for male survivors of sexual abuse and assault
  • Not Alone, Know Your IX and Clery Center are great resources for information on Title IX and your rights as a student
  • Safe Helpline provides 24/7 chat and phone support 877-995-5247 for survivors of sexual abuse and assault in the US Military anywhere in the world
  • The Northwest Network and The Network/La Red provide support services to LGBTQIA+ survivors of sexual abuse and assault
  • FORGE offers anti-violence support for members of the trans community and can supply referrals to local providers at 414-559-2123
  • The National Human Trafficking Resource Center operates a 24/7 hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or by texting HELP to 233733 (BeFree)
  • The HIPS Hotline helps those impacted by sexual exchange and/or drug use due to choice, coercion, or circumstance 24/7 at 1-800-676-HIPS

Safety While Traveling Part 2: Traveling with Children

safe-travel-2Previously we offered some general tips for staying safe while traveling with an abusive partner. If you have children and are traveling, you might consider taking some additional precautions.

If your children are traveling with you, make sure to have additional copies of their documents, as well as your own. It might work best to have a trusted family member or friend hold on to copies at home, as well as asking someone at the front desk of the hotel you’re staying at to hold copies for safekeeping. Without disclosing too much, you could let them know that these documents are only for you to request (e.g. “My partner has lost our documents before and was embarrassed about it. Please don’t let them know that I’m asking you to keep these just in case.”).

It could be helpful to know as much as possible about your custody rights if you decide to go with the children into hiding while traveling out of state or abroad. For interstate custody, you may be able to research this information on WomensLaw or by contacting the Legal Resource Center on Violence Against Women at 1-800-556-4053. For international custody issues, The Hague Domestic Violence Project may give you more information about your rights.

Depending on your children’s ages, you can safety plan with them about how to get assistance if needed while traveling. For example, if you are traveling outside the country, you might teach them phrases for asking for help. Additionally, you could look at markers and other places of interest near where you’ll be staying during travel and come up with a code word or phrase for the children to go there for safety if there is an emergency.

If you are traveling with your partner but your children will not be with you, these tips may help you stay connected with them while you are away:

  • If possible, arrange for them to stay with someone that you trust and who is not influenced by your partner so you can create an alternate arrangement with them if there is an emergency.

  • If that isn’t an option, asking a trusted friend or relative to do regular check-ins on them could also allow for opportunities to enhance their safety.

  • Depending on their ages, you may be able to safety plan with them about where they can go if circumstances change (e.g. If you come home from the trip early for safety or your partner comes home early and threatens to take the kids, you can have a code word or phrase that lets them know to go to a safe place where you’ve arranged to meet them).

  • Let the children’s school or other caretakers know about your travel plans, so that they can alert you or the appropriate person if any concerns arise during your travel.

As always, you know your situation best; don’t follow any advice that makes you feel unsafe. We can help you create a plan for your unique situation. Call any time of day at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or chat online from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. CT.