At the National Domestic Violence Hotline, we know that the presence of a gun in the home increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent. However, firearms are not the only types of weapons that are used to threaten, intimidate, or harm people in an abusive relationship. We know that partners who choose to abuse are willing to use whatever they feel is necessary to maintain power in the relationship, oftentimes using physical violence or threats of violence. That could look like a partner throwing a book or plate during an abusive incident or threatening someone with a knife while cooking in the kitchen.
We also know that many times a partner who is violent will use their surroundings to cause harm, such as pushing their partner up against a table or wall. Violence in abusive relationships can look like a lot of things, and it is important to be prepared for those moments.
Keep in mind, all the suggestions in this article are just that – suggestions! Ultimately, you can choose what is best for you and your situation.
Weaponizing household items
A study on the use of weapons in intimate partner relationships found that there are a variety of items that partners who cause harm use to threaten or hurt their partner. Hands and fists were most used to do violence and cause harm, followed by shoving a partner into a door or wall. The study also showed that household objects such as pans, ashtrays, plates, or other items you could find around the home were used in over half of the violent episodes examined, and vehicles were used about 40% of the time. When an individual chooses to be violent, anything can be used to intimidate or harm their partner. Knowing that everyday items can be turned against someone is just one of the many reasons abuse is such a dangerous situation.
Regardless of your or your partner’s gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation, you deserve to prioritize your safety and plan to keep yourself as safe as possible.
General safety planning tips for any abusive relationship include always keeping a charged cell phone on silent on you so you can call for help when it’s safe and run away from the situation if possible. If you are comfortable with it, it can also help to share with trusted friends or family what you are experiencing, so if a crisis occurs you know who you can turn to for support. There are many factors that can affect your safety plan. If you live with your partner, your plan will look very different from someone who does not live in the same home as their abuser. The area you live in (i.e., rural, urban, etc.) can alter your safety plan as well. The unique situation you are in can affect what your plan looks like.
One of the most challenging parts of non-firearm weapons is that they can be more easily accessible. If everyday items such as plates, books, or tables can be used to cause harm, it is important to be aware of your surroundings so you can be aware of any items that can be used to threaten or harm you. This may mean knowing the locations of smaller items in a room or noticing the placement of tables so you can try to stay away from that area. Another example is being aware of what drawer knives or sharp utensils are in the kitchen, so you can act if your partner begins to move towards them. One idea could be to determine a “safe room”, which could be a room that does not have many items that can be used against you. You may even try to make a room safer by moving items or hiding them from your partner. Another idea could be to move to a room with a window where people can see any violence that occurs, or the room could share a wall with a trusted neighbor who can help if needed.
Know ways out
An important part of safety planning is knowing the best ways to remove yourself from a situation. Are you in a room with a second door that could be used for an escape? Is there only a single door that could be easily blocked? Being aware of the different ways to leave a room can be helpful if you partner begins to throw things or charge at you with a weapon. It is also important to stay away from rooms where children may be, and to avoid stairs if possible. You may want to hide a spare key to your vehicle so the abusive partner cannot take your keys, and park your vehicle facing forward so you can more quickly escape if needed. You may also leave through a back door, making it harder for your partner to follow you in a vehicle. This can help both with getting to a safer place, as well as taking away some of the risk of your partner trying to hurt you with their vehicle.
Say or do whatever you can to de-escalate the situation. Get away if you can do so safely.
Oftentimes in abusive situations, the people involved are very close. This may mean that you know the person well enough to soothe them or possibly deescalate the situation. If you feel safe and comfortable doing so, you may try to talk with them to see if that calms the person down or deescalates the situation. Only do this if you believe it will help with your safety and you are comfortable. Your safety is the priority, so if you feel that leaving is the best option, do that.
Protect your body
If your partner does grab a make-shift weapon and you can’t get away while they are being violent, get into a corner and sit with your back against the wall, knees pulled up to your chest, tuck your head down, and cover your neck with your arms – this will protect your vital organs from kicks and punches, or attempts to use a weapon against you. You may also want to hide behind large furniture or things they value. Maybe they will not harm you if you are near items with significant meaning or value like family heirlooms, collectibles, a TV or a computer. Hiding near or behind these things is not a failsafe, and they could blame you for damage to the items. Know that this is not your fault, regardless of what they say.
Documenting the abuse
Oftentimes when people call The Hotline, advocates will discuss ways to document abusive situations or violence our contacts have experienced. Documentation can be helpful if legal action is needed. So how can you document abusive experiences with common household items?
There are various ways to document abuse, and the steps you take depend on what you feel comfortable doing. Using household items can add a difficult layer to documenting abuse, as they may not leave lasting marks and it can be easier for someone who is violent to explain away.
One option is to write a detailed account of what happened. This could include the date, time, and a description of what occurred. Being able to describe the items used, how your partner used them to threaten or coerce you, and anything the person might have said during the abusive incident can be very helpful. Holding on to these types of documents can be risky if your partner goes through your personal items or phone, so reaching out to a friend or family member that can help write those descriptions or hold the documents for you can be helpful.
Another possibility is taking before and after photos of the room where the incident occurred. Being able to show destruction of property, overturned tables, or dents in walls can help illustrate what happened in the moment.
If you feel comfortable doing so, you can also try to record what happens. Whether through your personal cell phone or a home security system, video proof of what happened can clearly demonstrate what you experienced. Be sure to research your states laws on recording to determine if it is legal for you to record them.
While documenting abuse can be helpful, your safety always needs to be prioritized. Documenting what occurred can always be done once you are in a safer place.
Taking it seriously
An important part of documenting the abuse is to show what you are experiencing. Because not everyone fully understands the depths of domestic violence, some people, including abusive partners, will try to downplay the use of household items as weapons. They may say it was just an intense argument or that their partner is being dramatic. These things are not true, and it is important to know that hands and feet (the most used weapon), and other household items can still cause harm and damage to an individual.
One study showed that the use of a non-firearm weapon was most associated with victim distress, pain, or injury. You always have the right to seek medical attention for any injuries you sustained and having a doctor’s report can help show the severity of your injuries. If a medical professional is not willing to examine that injury or make a note in the record you can tell them to make a note of their unwillingness to do so in the report.
At The Hotline, we know that you are the expert in your situation, and you are the best person to decide what will help keep you safest. If you are planning to leave your partner, keep in mind that ending an abusive relationship can be an extremely dangerous time. Advocates are available 24/7 if you have questions about your specific situation. You can call The Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or chat with an advocate on our site.