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
  • 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.


This Valentine’s Day, Love Yourself

valentineValentine’s Day can evoke different feelings for different people. Some revel in the candy hearts, the flowers, the candlelit dinners. Others are painfully reminded of past relationships, or feel left out if they’re not currently in a relationship. Still others are completely indifferent to what they refer to as a “made up” holiday.

Whatever your feelings on Valentine’s Day, this year we encourage you to use it as an opportunity to remind yourself that you deserve to be loved not only by other people, but by you. Maybe that sounds cheesy, but loving yourself can lay a foundation for stronger, healthier relationships with others. That begins with accepting yourself for who you are right now in your life.

It also means taking good care of yourself. At The Hotline, we talk with many callers and chatters about self-care. Caring for yourself is vitally important, but many of us neglect ourselves for a variety of reasons. This Valentine’s Day, consider doing something kind for yourself, even if it’s small. That could mean cooking a healthy meal, reading a good book, taking a class you’re interested in, or just sitting quietly for a few minutes. Self-care is about what works best for you. Need inspiration? Check out our self-care Pinterest board.

If you have experienced abuse, loving and caring for yourself might mean seeking support through counseling or support groups. Learn more about finding the right counselor for you, or speak with one of our advocates who can locate a counselor or support group in your area.

If you are currently in an abusive relationship or have previously been in one, it may help to create an emotional safety plan. This can be a very important way to care for yourself on your journey to safety. A Hotline advocate can help you create your own unique safety plan, so call or chat with us today if you need assistance.

Regardless of your situation, you deserve to be cared for, and you have the power to be your own caregiver. There are tons of ways to practice self-care, and sometimes it only takes a few minutes of your day to make a big difference in your life. We asked our friends on social media about their favorite self-care activities and received so many great responses! Here are just a few, but if you want to read more check out the original Facebook post:

“Baking yummy goodies and decorating them with my daughter’s help. Best part is eating them once we’re done”Gina

“Making sure I see my dv therapist every week and stay real and honest and open.”Gabe

“Although I don’t get to as often as I would like – I enjoy sharing my story of surviving with others. Every time I speak to a group I get another piece of ‘me’ back!”Marie

“Reading in my most comfy pajamas!” – Erin

“Sometimes, after the children are in bed, I climb underneath my down comforters with a cup of hot tea and cry. I maintain strength and courage for my family and friends but, in private, I allow myself to grieve, rejoice, solidify my resolve, and recite self-love, kindness, and understanding, releasing the angst and filling with love. Loving myself is my act of self-care.”Alice

“Walking, hiking, working in the garden, massage, hot bubble bath, quiet time and reading. All are necessary as I’m a single mom of two boys, it’s so important to make time for self care.”Kathleen

“[Being] mindful of the way in which I talk to myself. And bubble baths.”Gabriella

“Making sure I have quiet time everyday, which I need.”Grzenia

“Petting a puppy”John

“Volunteer, write poems and pray”Angela

“Singing my little heart out, as loud as I want, to whatever I feel like! There’s no better therapy for me!”Tamsin

“Yoga and crocheting and the occasional pedicure!”Katie


What’s your favorite self-care activity? Let us know in the comments!


Behind the Screens: Reducing Tech Footprints

behind-screens-footprintsThis is a post in our Behind the Screens series, which explores issues related to digital abuse. This post was written by Lauren, a Hotline advocate.

When navigating an abusive relationship it is important to have safe access to online resources and communication. Sometimes an abusive partner might monitor computer usage by checking web browsing history or even using tracking software on the computer. Ideally, connecting online should be done on a safe computer that the abusive partner can’t access, such as the computer of a trusted friend or a public computer at a library or community center. When it is not possible to use the internet from a safe device, there are still ways to reduce the technological footprints left on your computer. (Keep in mind that there is no way to completely delete internet history. If your partner is using spyware on your device, they will likely still have access to your browsing history. Learn more about spyware in this post.)

Below we are going to explore safety options in four common web browsers. A web browser is the software that allows someone to connect to the internet, such as Internet Explorer or Safari. For each of the four browsers there are steps for how to delete all browsing history, delete selective browsing history, and use a private browsing mode that does not record browsing history. This information is based off the latest version of the browsers at the time this post is published. If you are unsure of which browser or version you are using, will help you identify your browser. If your browser is not listed below or you are using an older version of a browser, information on how to take these precautions may be found in the support section of your browser’s website.

Internet Explorer: Version IE 11

Private browsing mode is referred to as InPrivate Browsing. An InPrivate Browsing session needs to be activated each time a session is begun.

  1. Once a browser window is open select Tools from the browser’s menu
  2. Select Safety
  3. Select InPrivate Browsing to start an InPrivate Browsing session

Delete All Internet History

  1. Once a browser window is open select Tools or the Tool Icon from the top of the browser window.
  2. Select Safety
  3. Select Delete Browsing History
  4. A pop up will appear, select Delete

Selectively Delete History

  1. Click Favorites Button
  2. Select History Tab
  3. Select the options of how you would like to view your history. The options View by Date and View by Order Visited Today may be the most helpful.
  4. Right click on the site you would like to delete and select Delete

Safari: Version Safari 7

Private browsing mode is referred to as Private Browsing. A Private Browsing session needs to be activated each time a session is begun

  1. Select Safari from the top menu for the browser
  2. Select Private Browsing

Delete All Internet History

  1. Select History from the top menu for the browser
  2. Select Clear History

Selectively Delete History

  1. Select History from the top menu for the browser
  2. Select Show History
  3. Select the websites you would like to delete and then press Delete

Chrome: Version Chrome 39

Private Browsing mode is referred to as Incognito. An Incognito session needs to be activated each time a session is begun

  1. Select the Chrome Menu from the browser window. It looks like three horizontal lines and is usually in the top right of the browser
  2. Select New Incognito Window

Delete All Internet History

  1. Select the Chrome Menu from the browser window. It looks like three horizontal lines and is usually in the top right of the browser
  2. Select Tools
  3. Select Clear Browsing Data
  4. A pop up will appear and select what you want to have deleted
  5. Select Clear Browsing Data

Selectively Delete History

  1. Select the Chrome Menu from the browser window. It looks like three horizontal lines and is usually in the top right of the browser
  2. Select History
  3. Select the pages you would like to delete
  4. At the top right of the page select Remove Selected Items
  5. Select Remove

Firefox: Version Firefox 34

Private Browsing mode is accessed by opening a Private Window. A Private Window needs to be activated each time a session is begun

  1. Select the Firefox Menu button at the top of the browser. It looks like three horizontal lines.
  2. Select New Private Window

Delete All Internet History

  1. Select the Firefox Menu button at the top of the browser. It looks like three horizontal lines
  2. Select History
  3. Select Clear Recent History
  4. Select the time range that you would like to delete all history from
  5. Select Clear Now

Selectively Delete History

  1. Select the Firefox Menu button at the top of the browser. It looks like three horizontal lines
  2. Select History
  3. Select Show All History
  4. Hold down the Control key on your keyboard as you click on the website you would like to delete.
  5. Select Forget About the Site

Again, these are just some precautions you can take to help reduce your web footprint, but these steps don’t guarantee your safety. You know your situation best, so do what feels right for you. If you’d like to develop a personal safety plan, our advocates are here to help! Call us at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or chat via this website from 7am-2am CST everyday.


Emotional Safety Planning


This post was written by Diane, a Hotline advocate.

A safety plan can help you stay safe while in an abusive relationship, while preparing to leave an abusive relationship, or after leaving an abusive relationship. Often, emphasis is placed on planning around physical safety, but it’s important to consider your emotional safety as well. Emotional safety can look different for different people, but ultimately it’s about developing a personalized plan that helps you feel accepting of your emotions and decisions when dealing with abuse. Below are some ideas for how to create and maintain an emotional safety plan that works for you.

Seek Out Supportive People
You deserve to feel safe while expressing yourself and your opinions, and having supportive people around you can help foster this space. A caring presence such as a trusted friend or family member can help create a calm atmosphere to think through difficult situations and allow for you to discuss potential options.

Identify and Work Towards Achievable Goals
Dealing with abusive situations can be very overwhelming and stressful, and taking one step at a time can be very helpful in overcoming larger tasks later. An achievable goal might be calling a local resource and seeing what services are available in your area, or talking to one of our advocates at The Hotline. Remember that you don’t have to do anything you aren’t comfortable with right now, but taking small steps can help options feel more possible when you are ready. Reading this page and looking for strategies to be emotionally safe is already an amazing step that you have taken!

Create a Peaceful Space for Yourself
Designating a physical place where your mind can relax and feel safe can be good option when working through difficult emotions that can arise when dealing with abuse. This can be a room in your house, a spot under your favorite tree, a comfy chair by a window or in a room with low lights. Whatever space works for you personally! Incorporating other elements such as calming music, plants, or tools to journal is an option to explore (just be sure that your abusive partner does not have access to personal journals). This is your safe space, so whatever brings you peace is a great choice.

Remind Yourself of Your Great Value
You are important and special, and recognizing and reminding yourself of this reality is so beneficial for your emotional health. It is never your fault when someone chooses to be abusive to you, and it has no reflection on the great value you have as person. You deserve to remind yourself of this! Writing messages to yourself about things you like about yourself or saying these things out loud every day can be good ways to start. Even if you don’t feel comfortable with this, just thinking “I matter and how I feel matters” is a great thing that you are doing for yourself. It is the truth, and you deserve to hear it.

Remember That You Deserve to Be Kind to Yourself
It is easy to fall into a pattern where we put extreme pressure on ourselves to make the right decisions right away. This isn’t always possible, and it’s completely okay to take whatever time you need to make whatever choices are right for you. You deserve support from other people, but you also have a right to be kind to yourself, and remember that you are going through a very difficult time. Taking time to practice self-care every day, even if it is only for a few minutes, really creates space for peace and emotional safety. It’s healthy to give yourself emotional breaks and step back from your situation sometimes. In the end, this can help you make the decisions that are best for you.

If you need to talk to someone about your situation, or if you need help creating a personal safety plan, our advocates are here for you. Call anytime at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or chat online from 7am-2am Central.


#GingerbreadForGood: Spotlight on Hotline Advocates

G4G-blogAdvocates are the backbone of the National Domestic Violence Hotline and loveisrespect (our project for teens and young adults). They are here 24/7/365 offering support to people who need information, resources, or just to speak with someone knowledgeable about abuse who will listen and provide perspective without judgment. They do this work because they are truly devoted to helping domestic violence victims and survivors get the help they deserve.

Each day, advocates at The Hotline and loveisrespect speak, chat online, or text with the hundreds of people who contact us; some of these contacts are currently in abusive relationships, some have left abusive relationships, some are friends and family concerned about a loved one and some identify themselves as abusive partners. All are treated with respect and dignity, regardless of their situation. Today, we wanted to share a few stories from our advocates about what they do.*

“I chatted with the friend of a woman in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship. The friend was doing research because the abusive partner monitored all the victim’s calls and computer use. The victim was financially dependent on the abuser because of school loans and had two young children, so she was feeling very stuck. Her abusive partner was trying to convince her that he was not physically abusive because he never actually hit her, though he had thrown her across the room and choked her. After doing some assessing to figure out the victim’s needs and goals at this point, I connected the friend with a local shelter and provided information on crime victim’s compensation and custody concerns. We also talked about ways that the friend and victim could safety plan together, and discussed places the victim could go to safely use phones and computers.”

“I recently spoke to a woman leaving an abusive relationship who found a shelter to house her, her child and her pets. The only obstacle was transportation. After contacting several DV agencies, I decided to contact faith-based organizations in the area. I spoke to a priest who had a few minutes to spare before church service. I explained the situation and the priest was more than willing to help. He offered to pay transportation to get her to the shelter approximately 80 miles away.”

“A man called in because he was going home to a verbally abusive wife and verbally abusive children. He had told no one in his life about this for years after once confiding in another family member, who immediately told him she didn’t want to hear about it. He was afraid people at work wouldn’t respect him if they knew, and that he might lose his job. I talked about that with him. The caller admitted that he’s afraid of the consequences of opening up and sharing his weaknesses with anyone – after all, when he’s with his wife, she’s aggressive and will exploit his weaknesses. But he realized other people could be more trustworthy than her, and he resolved to tell someone at work on Monday. This was a huge step for him.”

Your gift to The Hotline during our #GingerbreadForGood campaign helps ensure that our highly-trained advocates are here to answer these important calls, chats, and texts. Don’t forget, your donation does twice the good thanks to a matching grant from the Avon Foundation for Women!

*Identifying details have been changed or omitted.

Read more about what Hotline advocates do:
What to Expect When You Call
What Can the Hotline Help You With?
A Day in the Life


Helping a Parent in an Abusive Relationship

how-to-helpWhen abuse is happening in a relationship, it can affect whole families, including children who are witnesses to the abuse and violence.

Watching your parent deal with an abusive relationship is extremely tough and can cause a range of emotions, like resentment, guilt, fear, grief, and anger. It can be especially difficult if you are still living at home or have younger siblings still living at home. Having feelings of love and attachment to our parents is very normal, even if one of them is abusive in some way. If you feel like something isn’t right in your family, but you also have those feelings at the same time, the situation can become confusing, complicated, or overwhelming.

We are often contacted by people of all ages whose parents are in abusive relationships. Like anyone who witnesses the abuse of someone they love, these callers and chatters want to know how to help the abused parent. They are understandably focused on making the situation “right” and ending the abuse. While every situation is unique and there is no “one size fits all” approach, we try to emphasize a few things:

It’s not your fault!
Above all, you need to know that the abuse is never your fault, and it’s never the victim’s fault. The choice to be abusive is the abusive person’s; only they are responsible for their behavior, and only they can change it. It is also not your responsibility to “rescue” your parent(s). It’s normal to spend a lot of time and energy looking for a way to fix something that’s causing so much pain, but you don’t deserve to be under this kind of pressure.

Why does a person become abusive? That’s a really tough question to answer, because every person is different. What we do know is that abuse is about power and control; an abusive person wants all the power and control in their relationships. Their abuse might be directed toward just one person, or their whole family. No matter what, no one deserves to live with abuse.

Leaving can be very difficult for a victim, for a lot of reasons
Leaving might seem like the best decision, but often a victim has many reasons for staying in an abusive relationship. Since an abusive person will do anything to maintain his or her power and control in the relationship, we know that leaving can also be a dangerous time for a victim. Leaving could be something your parent might want to plan for and work towards, but in the meantime it’s important to focus on staying as safe as you can and taking good care of yourself.

What can you do to help?

It’s really great that you want to help your parent, but something to remember is that we all have boundaries and that those boundaries should be respected. If your parent is being abused by their partner, their boundaries are not being respected by that person. Even though you may have the best intentions in helping your parent, it’s important to be respectful of them not wanting to talk about it at that moment. If that happens, you can work on the following suggestions:

Offer loving support
It’s hard to know what to do in situations like this, but what many victims need most is support without someone telling them what they “should” do. You can be a source of support for your parent if they are experiencing abuse. Finding ways to spend time alone with your parent – like watching a movie at home together, going to lunch, or doing an activity together – can give you the opportunity to talk safely and let them know you love them. You can remind your parent that you are concerned about them, and that they don’t deserve to be treated badly. If you don’t live with your parent(s), you could send your mom or dad funny or loving texts or emails, or call them to say you are thinking of them and you love them. It may not seem like much to you, but letting your parent know that you care about them can be incredibly validating and supportive for them. (Communicating directly about the abuse, especially through text or email, may not be safe.)

If you feel comfortable doing so, you might give your parent the number to a local resource or encourage them to contact the Hotline. Remember, though, that your parent has to take these steps for him or herself only if/when they feel safe and ready.

Encourage self-care, and practice it yourself
By self-care we mean taking care of yourself in any way that feels good to you, supports your well-being, and brings you comfort. People who experience abuse often don’t do self-care because they are made to feel like they don’t deserve love or care. It’s normal to lose sight of ourselves when we’re dealing with very stressful and scary situations. But self-care is just one healthy way to cope. Remind your parent that self-care is important for everyone – and try to practice it yourself.

Why is taking care of yourself so important? Because by doing what you can for your own well-being, you can enable yourself to continue being a source of support for your parent or siblings. Being able to create a safe mental space to help you stay grounded when things get tough not only helps you, but also the people around you.

Create a safety plan together
A safety plan is a personalized plan that includes ways to remain safe while in an abusive relationship, planning to leave, or after a person leaves. Safety planning can involve how to cope with emotions, tell friends and family about the abuse, take legal action and more. Whenever you can, sit down with your parent and your siblings, away from the abusive parent, and make a plan together about how you all can stay safe. If you need help brainstorming or finding resources in your area for your safety plan, you can always call the Hotline or our friends at loveisrespect.

If you are living with an abusive parent and they ever become abusive toward you, you have the right to seek help. If you are under 18, you can call the Child Abuse Hotline to speak directly to a hotline counselor.

We understand that this is such a difficult thing to experience and that you know your situation best. These tips are very general, and you should never follow any advice that makes you feel unsafe. Looking for support, help, or information is a huge step and shows incredible strength. Remember, you do not have to go through this alone. Our advocates at the Hotline are here for you 24/7 if you need to talk to someone; just call 1-800-799-7233. You can also chat online Monday through Friday, 9am-7pm CST. Just be sure to call or chat from devices that your abusive parent doesn’t have access to.


Ray Rice, the NFL, and What We Know About Domestic Violence

no-excuseThe recent events and media coverage surrounding Ray Rice and the NFL have created a powerful swell of conversation about domestic violence. Many people are speaking outsharing personal stories, and calling for less victim-blaming and more accountability for abusers and their public enablers. While we are outraged by the stories we hear daily at the Hotline, we are heartened by the support of so many people who recognize that there is no excuse for abuse.

Often, a lack of understanding about the dynamics of abuse leads to misguided comments and notions about why victims stay with their abusive partners, or how domestic violence isn’t that pervasive of an issue (because it’s so often hidden from the public). At the Hotline, there are a few things we know for sure about domestic violence:

Domestic violence happens everyday, in every community. Studies show that domestic violence affects roughly 12 million people in the United States. However, abuse is often not reported, in many cases due to a victim’s fear or not knowing where to turn. Maybe you know someone – a friend, a family member, a coworker – who is experiencing abuse at home with their partner. Maybe you’re experiencing it yourself. Whatever the case, please know that help is out there.

Domestic violence does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or religion.

Domestic violence isn’t just physical abuse. The media tends to focus on physical abuse, but domestic violence includes emotional, verbal, sexual, and/or financial abuse.

Domestic violence is complex. Each person’s situation is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to domestic violence. There are many reasons victims stay in abusive relationships. What they need – what they deserve – are resources and support to help them find their own paths to safety.

Domestic violence is not the victim’s fault. The choice to be abusive lies solely with the abusive partner.

We believe that ALL people deserve to feel safe and respected in their relationships. If you or someone you know needs help, we are here to support you. Contacts to the Hotline are anonymous and confidential. Call us 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or chat here on our website Monday through Friday, 9am-7pm CT.

$20 covers the total cost of one phone call to the Hotline, and one phone call can be life-changing. If you would like to show your support for domestic violence victims and survivors with a donation, please fill out our secure online donation form. Thank you!