I don’t need the answers, you do.
1. Do you have an expectation of privacy in your home? Can you reset your computer or phone’s passcode without someone becoming angry? Can you use a computer without being supervised? Can you go for a walk or drive alone? Make calls?
2. Is someone aggressively critical of your contribution to the household? By this, I don’t mean, “hey, there’s a better way to do that,” I mean, “You’re worthless, you can’t do anything, I have to do everything myself because you just screw it up.”
3. Does someone tell you that your behavior is what makes them angry, sad, violent? Does someone require you to regulate their emotions by performing to their command, regardless of your choices and feelings? Are you allowed to react negatively to their anger, sadness or violence?
4. Have you been accused of unfaithfulness, or required to prove your fidelity, or require you be monitored to be certain of your movements? This also includes tracking your phone or requiring you to show your text messages.
5. Do you have full access to the household’s finances? Can you log into your bank account/credit accounts? Are you on the lease or on the mortgage/deed? A registered owner of any vehicles? Passwords for utilities?
6. Does a partner tell you that your friends and family are interfering to break you up with that partner? Does your partner isolate you from them? Does your partner insist on being present for social events? Does your partner “interrupt” your work time to see who you’re talking to?
7. Do you have a safe place to sleep, where you are allowed to fall asleep and stay asleep, except in emergencies? This doesn’t include small children, but does include tweens & teenagers old enough to understand the difference between want and emergency.
8. Do you have access to your own medication? Can you change pharmacies? Does anyone interfere with you taking it on time, tamper with it, or withhold it? Has anyone ever threatened to take your meds, or ever messed with them? (This includes barrier contraception.)
9. Do you have access to the household food? Is food withheld from you? Can you trust that the food you eat is not contaminated with your allergens or otherwise adulterated?
Do you have access to the pets’ food?
10. Are your possessions safe? Has anything been cut or burned, either in your presence or your absence? Has anything been given away, trashed or sold without your consent? Are your possessions more likely to be accidentally or coincidentally destroyed?
11. Have you been pinched, slapped, spit on, kicked, elbowed? Has anyone else been threatened to maintain your compliance (including pets)? This also includes reckless driving when you were a passenger, or pushing on train platforms/crosswalks.
If you answered yes to any these questions, you have experienced a level of emotional abuse. If you have answered yes to several, or if you experience at least one regularly, this is a significant concern.
Anyone can be abused.
And anyone can be an abuser.
Abuse is not exclusive to any gender or orientation. Men can be abused by women. Women can be abused by women. Men can be abused by men.
Trans, non-binary & bi-pan people are at higher risk of abuse.
Right now, home is generally the safest place to be, but that is not true if you’re experiencing abuse in the home. And this especially not true if you’re experiencing an invisible abuse — emotional, financial, sexual.
Intimate partner sexual violence is not strictly “forced sex”. It also includes withholding non-sexual intimacy as punishment & denying access to contraception. It includes sexual contact when you cannot consent, including a partner masturbating against your sleeping body.
If you have been hit, slapped, punched, whipped or otherwise harmed, or if you have witnessed someone in your household harm another person, it’s time to implement a safety plan for yourself and your household.
This may mean you need to call the cops, even if you prefer to never interact with the police. Shelter in place orders mean our usual means of escape, avoidance, and appeasement have gotten much more difficult, and being confined elevates your risk of more serious harm.
And this: There is no such thing as Just a Little strangling/choking. If someone has put their hands on your neck during an argument (or during sex without your extremely explicit consent, including multiple safe stop signals) you are SIX TIMES more likely to die at that person’s hands.
This is not about kink, it’s about consent. Nobody can consent to murder, and strangulation can quickly turn permanent damage or death. Death can occur hours to days later — bruising from strangulation may cause blood clots, acute respiratory distress & pneumonia, and rupture of the carotid arteries.
And if your safe signal has ever, even once, been ignored for even a moment, that person is NOT safe, should not have access to your body, cannot be considered someone who fully understands consent.
Seriously — edge play plus a golden shower is safer than breath play.
If you recognize yourself in any of this, it is not your fault. You did not sign up to be abused. It doesn’t matter who you are: there are options for getting out and getting safe. And you need to make this plan now.
This is a sample safety plan. You have to decide what yours looks like — what event is your line of demarcation. Who you trust to have your back. What you’re going to do. I can’t tell you what your safety plan looks like, because I don’t live in your life. I can only tell you that you need one.
And here’s a set of tools to DIY this.
I know you don’t want to think about it. I know it’s terrifying, and you’ve gotten used to the fear you live with every day. I know the familiar fear is way more comfortable than the unknown. I know you think if you can just weather a few more days, it will get better.
And sure, it might, for a few days. That’s the cycle of abuse. The person hurting you gets a lot of pleasure out of hurting you. (Even if they deny it.) They don’t want it to end, so they know they can’t push you too hard, hurt you too badly. They know they have to mouth the apology.
And they also have learned that every time they say the magic I’m sorry words, they’ll get another opportunity to hurt you. Your abuser wants you powerless, because that makes them feel stronger, more in control.
I know that in your mind you want to say, “but they can’t help it! Their parents abused them/their ex was cruel/they got broken.”
Your abuser 100% can help it. They manage to control themselves around people with more power. They have a choice.
They just don’t choose you.
I’m sorry. That doesn’t mean you’re unworthy of love. It doesn’t mean you deserve this in any way. This is not your fault. You don’t cause it. It just means that you’re being abused. And it’s time to get out.
First thing: whatever device you’re reading this on? Go change the passcode. If you use face recognition, disable it. If you use a fingerprint, switch to a different finger (your non dominant hand, not index or thumb) as a backup; once you’re certain you know the code, erase that one, too.
Don’t mention it, and don’t use numbers your abuser knows. No birthdates, no anniversaries.
Change the activate lock screen to the shortest time your device allows and turn off ALL notifications. Yeah, it will be a pain in the butt. But you need a secure line that is 100% yours.
Next: change your passwords. If your abuser tracks you through your social media, you probably know which platform they use most to control you. Personally, I’d leave that one open to them, so they don’t get suspicious, but I’d also only use it the way they expect it to be used.
Add another account, a secret one. Only access that one through the browser, not through the app. Make sure you log out of that one and into your main one every time you use it. Bring a very few people you trust into that circle.
I’d also change the passwords only a little. Switch a couple of characters, add a couple at the end. Stuff that can be passed off as your abuser getting it wrong, not you doing anything. This is gaslighting in service of your safety — you need secure lines out.
If you’re on an iOS device, when you go into Safari and open a new window, it will give you the option of private browsing. Use this, and close every window you open when you’re done. You need to locate an email address for your closest police department.
In Android, it’s similar — new private tab in the browser, under the … symbol. Make sure you close this window when you’re done.
On a laptop/desktop? Clear cookies & history every time you walk away from the machine.
Online abuse is part of the landscape now, and police are often singularly unequipped to handle it. But there are tools to protect yourself and gather evidence you will need.
You also need contact information for your closest domestic violence organization.
YES, they’re still operating.
YES, they will help you.
YES, even if you’re male or non-binary or trans.
YES, even if you are bigger than your partner and your partner is an emotional abuser.
Part of the problem with shelter in place is how much harder it is to make a phone call without being overheard. That’s why you need email or text communication. Those can be done quietly.
Domestic abuse chat line in the United States: https://www.thehotline.org/help/
Or text LOVEIS to 22522
Okay, now you’ve got your safety plan. The person you pick as your safe person may not be a family member — if you come from an abusive background or a religiously fundamentalist one, I’d suggest *against* a family member, because there’s a good chance they won’t be your ally.
They may be a work colleague. Maybe a therapist or healthcare provider. Again, you know who you consider most safe.
You likely feel like you don’t want to bother that person with your problem.
Please — bother the person you trust.
We’d rather be bothered than see you hurt.
Next, you need to pack a go bag. This needs to be something you can carry. It definitely needs your most important papers — ID, health insurance card, social security card, meds, birth certificate if you have one nearby, passport, immigration documents. Add 3 days of comfortable, packable clothing & an extra pair of shoes. Don’t forget a phone charger/laptop cord.
You can call this a hospital bag. Hell, even pack one for your abuser (minus your abuser’s papers) if that keeps them from getting suspicious. Pack one for any children or pets that need to go, too, because when you go, everyone vulnerable is going with you.
Alternately, prepare to lock your abuser out, if your abuser still goes to work. (Especially if there are several of you being abused and only one abuser.) As soon as they leave, call a locksmith to change the locks. And call the police, because you’re going to need a temporary protection order.
Staying in your home & expelling your abuser is significantly riskier. Your abuser knows entries & exits; they have a legal right to be there until a protection order is in place. If you choose this, be very careful & work with your local police to your maximum ability.
I don’t recommend it, unless you’ve got a VERY strong local, social network you can rely upon, because you’re going to need it.
If you do take this route, and there are guns in the home, turn them over to the police. You’re more likely to die by that gun than kill your abuser.
If you’re leaving, consider a range of money needed. If you have an emergency credit card, this is the time to use it. As soon as possible, call the company and either take your partner off the card, or ask the card company to set a pass phrase to make any changes to the account.
You can also do this with your bank. If you have joint accounts, you are an equal owner of that account. If you have children, they have a right to be supported by both parents.
Even if you’ve been the stay home parent. Even if your partner makes more money than you.
Or even if you support your abusive partner. That’s not uncommon — financial abuse doesn’t have to be the person with more money withholding from the person with less. It can also be using guilt and shame and fear to force the abused to maintain the abuser.
Warning: There’s a good chance your partner has been lying to you about money.
It’s going to be surprising, no matter what.
You may find there’s debt you didn’t know about, or spending that doesn’t make sense.
Right now, all that matters is enough to get out for a few days.
That’s all you need. Really. You need a minimum 72 hours of security where you’re not being monitored to make contact with police and safe houses, and to get there. This may be much more difficult if you present as male. I’m really sorry about that — this is the patriarchy hurting men, too.
Here’s the thing: this is the time to use an AirBnB if you’ve got access to a credit card you can secure behind you. Not all hosts have kept their listings active, but even in the LA area, there are cottages and separate entrance rooms for under $100 a night. Denver is running around $50.
Seattle’s running $50-75.
Las Vegas is running under $50.
Boston is running $60-$100.
DC is under $100 a night.
If you can afford a whole 2 weeks of shelter in place in an AirBnB (tanking) investment rental — do it. That will give you time to figure out your next moves, with the assistance of a lawyer, domestic violence counselor, and the police.
You are going to need all three, but it will be much easier to locate all three if you’re safe ELSEWHERE. And once you are safe elsewhere, a domestic violence counselor is there to help you navigate your future safety.
If you can’t wrangle a few hundred, you’re going to need a good friend. It may be someone you’ve known for years, or it may be that one person on your social media that you’ve clicked with. I can’t tell you that; what I can tell you is that if you ask this person for help, they’re highly likely to give it.
If it’s not the first person you thought of, well, that’s okay.
The rejection sucks.
Having to go to the ER for a broken jaw or fingers or a bruised esophagus or cerebral hemorrhage sucks a lot more.
And I’m serious here: domestic violence is escalating as lockdown goes on.
This is because abusers are people with a highly limited set of developed social skills. They’ve often got lots of charm and charisma, and they’re good at holding the facade for limited time frames. A few weeks, a few months, or they can do it every day at work, but the facade slips at home.
This is why abusers want to lock down a marriage after only a few weeks, or move in together very quickly. Same with buying a house together, or having kids. They want many externalities and many potential rewards to keep their victim close when their behavior turns bad.
And yes, you will need to admit to yourself that you were manipulated with both positive and negative reinforcements. If your abuser makes a pretty home, or provides a higher standard of living than you had before, or provides more attention/access to sex — this wasn’t an accident.
An abuser needs to instill in their victim both fear of leaving and incentives to stay. An abuser wants you to feel guilty about taking money, or time, or becoming an absentee parent.
Your abuser may not articulate their motives, but they understand how to manipulate emotional attachments.
Part of the reason abuse is escalating under lockdown is because your abuser used those times apart for their own respite & recharge. I am not at all empathizing with your abuser here. Just pointing out that the human capacity for maintaining prosocial behavior has limits.
Which is why you need to get out, because the longer your abuser goes without whatever recharges them, and the longer you lack access to your own safety, the higher the risk to you both/all. The stressors of lockdown will intensify abuse.
And I’m amplifying this if you’ve got guns in the house: the stressors of lockdown will intensify abuse.
Relationships that were merely emotional abuse are turning violent, and violence is increasing.
Stress doesn’t improve abuse.
And abuse doesn’t get better.
Family annihilation is the worst outcome, and it’s not a rare outcome.
It gets more likely with job loss, financial stress, and societal stressors.
We’re in the middle of all three.
Statistically, this is a danger point for people in abusive relationships.
Heed the warning.
But this is also one of the best times to leave, if you need to leave. Because there’s a lot of short-term property with little competition, and movement restrictions make it harder to hide in a crowd. If you’ve been furloughed, you’ve got access to unemployment.
While courts are suspended *in general*, there’s less on the court dockets, which means protection orders are moving a little faster, and often without having to *go* to court.
It’s currently safe to wear a mask, which means you are harder to pick out of a crowd.
The friends you’re most likely able to ask for help are way more likely to have time available to help.
And your friends may in fact NEED your presence — another adult to help watch little ones, someone to pick up a little bit of the rent/mortgage, someone who can help cook.
Many of us who have been abused also have a brain circuit that tends to think through the worst case scenarios — catastrophizing.
It’s a survival skill that becomes toxic when we are safe, but is invaluable when we’re in danger.
So now is the time to put it to work in your service:
Can you imagine your abuser taking care of you if you get sick?
Will they notice if you’re in distress?
Consider how that person would behave towards your kids/pets if you die.
Be honest about it.
Think worst case.
Then go a little darker, because that’s where we’re at.
So go think through the eleven questions that started this.
Then download a safety plan.
I love you and want you to be well on the other side of lockdown.