Speaking Out Against Abusers

By Rebecca Lynn

What would our world be without communication? Communication is essential for society to function. Communication, regardless of what form it takes, allows us to have social relationships, ask questions, understand others, inform, and gain knowledge. Communication has always been a part of society, primarily through storytelling.

Telling a story is powerful; it allows us to discover our history, learn current events, explore new subjects, and gives those who hear or read our stories the ability to learn something new, that they in turn share with others. Some stories are told by people who weren’t involved, but help recreate and re-tell what occurred. However, sometimes the best stories are the ones that are told first hand, by someone who has experienced it and can accurately share their emotions and help others feel as if they were there.

According to Domesticshelters.org more than 1 in 3 women (35.6%), and more than 1 and 4 men (28.5%) in the U.S have experienced physical violence, sexual assault, or stalking by an intimate partner. Those statistics alone are staggering; however, the same article states that most cases of domestic violence are not reported. This means that there are victims who are still in relationships who have been terrified to ask for help. There are children without parents due to murder, or murder-suicides, that are not recognized as domestic violence. Some survivors are scared to speak up and don’t know how vital and influential their story is and can be for others if told.

The #MeToo movement provided a platform for victims of sexual abuse to speak out publicly. Celebrities came forward sharing their stories and society reacted, either victim blaming or dumbfounded that this was going on without their knowledge. Abusers started being held accountable for their actions, while others were defended. As the movement grew, more victims were empowered to speak out, consent became a hot topic, new services were created, and victims rights were re-evaluated. Regardless of how someone felt about the subject, they were talking about it and gaining valuable knowledge on an issue that had been ignored.  By choosing to tell their stories, survivors all over the world were able to educate society, support others in similar situations, and make a change in how sexual abuse and abusers were viewed.

So, if the #MeToo Movement gave abuse victims the platform needed to make changes, why didn’t domestic violence victims and survivors join in and share their stories too? Most would see it as the perfect opportunity to shed more light on the topic of domestic violence. However, according to Amy Thomson’s article Crafting a Movement for Domestic Violence Survivors apart from #MeToo Movement, there are numerous obstacles for victims and survivors when it comes to publicly speaking out, and creating a domestic violence movement like #MeToo.  Some of these hindrances include:

  • Fearing retaliation from their abuser,
  • Victim blaming
  • Having nowhere to go,
  • Being conditioned by the abuser to be silent,
  • Lacking finances to support themselves and children,
  • Fearing losing custody of their children,
  • Lacking support,
  • Receiving threats from the abuser of suicide and injury to pets, children or family
  • Religious or cultural beliefs,
  • Lacking support from family and friends who believe the abuser,
  • Hoping that the abuser will change,
  • Desiring to keep the family “intact,”
  • Fearing deportation,
  • Lacking self-confidence,
  • Experiencing feelings of shame,
  • Lacking trust in the legal system and
  • Knowing that leaving is the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship.

It is not uncommon for victims to feel as if they are the only one in the world experiencing abuse at the hands of a loved one. In fact, isolation is a prominent component of abuse. What very few victims or survivors know is that they are not alone; statistics prove this and survival stories confirm how each story is unique, yet surprisingly similar. Sharing with others can give hope to a victim, strength to a survivor, or knowledge needed for an outsider to recognize when a victim needs help. Speaking out about the fear, reasons for staying, and intense control of the abuser assures others in similar situations that they are part of a bigger story. It unites victims and survivors and gives them the power to speak up, creating a chain reaction that forces society to listen and empowers change.

Breaking the Silence Against Domestic Violence, and other domestic violence advocates and organizations have made it possible for survivors to break their silence and share their story, aside from the #MeToo movement. Each survivor is different in the amount of time it takes to feel comfortable and confident talking to others about their experiences. Some prefer to have someone else put their story to words, so they can remain anonymous. Many express their story through poems, music, or simple discussions at the dinner table.

Others choose to go more public and write their own story, talk about it on social media, or speak in public. Every story matters, regardless of how it is told. Just one survivor story can encourage a victim to get help, speak up, speak, and even save a life. Every story has the potential to educate society, debunk myths, and get people talking about domestic violence. Your story can make a difference and combined with other survovor stories, they can make a change in how the world views domestic violence and holds abusers accountable.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

Signs You’re in Healthy Relationships

For many domestic violence survivors, dating might seem daunting after surviving abusive relationships. For survivors, a time will come when they’ll feel comfortable dating again, but do not know the signs of healthy relationships.

However, some survivors might fear dating again because they fear future partners might be similar to their abusers. Some survivors struggle with trusting and opening up emotionally to future partners. They also worry about struggling to differentiate what is a toxic relationship versus what are healthy relationships after suffering through abuse and manipulation.

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, counselors recommend survivors seek treatment to recover from their physical and emotional trauma before starting to date again. Healing takes time, and each survivor’s journey is different.

When you feel like you’re ready to date again, there are several signs of healthy relationships to keep in mind.

According to Love Is Respect, healthy relationships are devoid of emotional, mental, sexual, and physical abuse. Healthy relationships have open and safe communication, mutual respect, trust, compromise, support, and boundaries.

In healthy relationships, both partners speak up if something is bothering them instead of ignoring the issue. Disagreements happen in healthy relationships regularly, so it’s important for both partners to resolve any problems in a rational calm manner.

While it’s important to know the signs of healthy relationships, it’s also necessary to know safe dating tips.

Building healthy relationships

Take it slow.

There’s no need to rush, so take your time getting to know your partner. If your partner tries to rush the relationship, it might be a warning sign. Don’t feel as if you should rush just because your partner pressures you. Everyone should be on the same page and feel comfortable with the relationship’s pace.

Practice safety.

Make sure a trusted friend or family member knows where you’re going with your partner for dates. Date in public areas like meeting up in coffee shops. These methods will help you figure out if you can trust your partner.

Trust your gut.

If your partner displays red flags and other warning signs that make you feel uncomfortable, trust your gut. Don’t ignore these signs.  If you feel safe talking about it, discuss these warning signs with your partner and observe how they react. Most people show their true nature when you confront them.

Create a list and remind yourself.

Make a list of signs of healthy relationships and carry it with you to remind yourself. Look for partners who match those characteristics.

With these safety tips in mind, they’ll help survivors date carefully. If at any moment, you start seeing red flags in a new partner, know that you have the power to end the relationship and seek support.

Additionally, here are ways to promote healthy relationships.

Set your expectations with your partner in the beginning.

Create a list of expectations with yourself and your partner. Even healthy relationships have difficulties, so be realistic with one another about expectations. Your relationship doesn’t have to look perfect or impress anyone. It’s more important that you and your partner are on the same page about what both people desire from the relationship.

Check yourself and your partner.

During the early stages of dating, perform a check by asking yourself if your new partner is displaying red flags such as pressuring you and flaking on commitments. If they are, cut the relationship.

Fulfill promises.

Don’t make promises that you and your partner can’t keep. If your partner promises anything, make sure they deliver. Saying is one thing, but doing is another. Keeping promises is a solid way to build trust in a relationship by showing you’re dependable and dedicated to the relationship.

Support each other.

Encourage one another to grow and become better day by day. Stand by each other through the good and the bad.

Set and maintain healthy boundaries.

As you spend time with your partner, make sure both people have separate identities instead of melding into each other. The relationship shouldn’t be the only defining characteristic for you and your partner.

Set boundaries early on in the relationship by discussing rules with your partner. Setting clear and healthy boundaries with your partner reinforces mutual respect within relationships.

Spend equal amount of time with your family and friends along with your partner. Do hobbies that you like separate from your partner. Being in a relationship doesn’t mean you have to spend all your time with your partner. Maintain space by doing activities separately and hanging out with friends without your partner.

Wherever you’re at in your healing journey, remember that it’s okay to stay single if that’s your choice, and it’s also okay to date at your own pace.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

Why Saying “It’s Not Bad” is Dangerous

By Jenn Rockefeller

Language is at the core of what we are as a society. It’s how we communicate our wants, needs, thoughts, and emotions. Sometimes using a slightly different word to convey something can give a statement an entirely different meaning. When we talk about something as serious as domestic violence, sometimes we use language that doesn’t carry significance and thus, the situation is downplayed.

Minimizing abuse
To minimize is to reduce to the smallest amount or greatly underestimate the true importance of something. So when domestic violence victims tell themselves, “Oh it’s not that bad,” they are, by definition, not admitting the true depth of the problem at hand or, if they do realize the severity, they don’t want to admit it to others.

The more a victim minimizes the abuse they are experiencing, the more likely they are to not even identify their experiences as domestic violence. This puts victims in a more dangerous situation and exposes them to further abuse.

Why does a victim minimize the abuse to begin with? Victims may pretend that the abuse “isn’t that bad” for a variety of reasons. They may fear that no one else could care for the them like the abuser; they may not want to acknowledge that the person who claims to love them is the one hurting them; or they may not be willing to admit that they are experiencing domestic violence at all.

The language we use
Everyone (victims, survivors and society in general) uses specific language to talk about domestic violence. But that specific language can sometimes make abuse seem less dangerous. It’s vital that victims and survivors call it what it is–violence–and the definition of violence is emotional or physical force intended to hurt, damage or kill.

No matter how unimportant the act seems to the victim, it’s essential to use the phrases and terminology that will garner awareness and bring justice. Below are just a few phrases that victims often tell themselves (and others) to minimize the severity of the abuse:

  • “Oh it’s not that bad.”
  • “(The abuser) only emotionally abused me.”
  • “(The abuser) only hit me twice.”
  • “It’s not like any bones were broken.”
  • “(The abuser) just had a bad day, that’s all.”
  • “My friends and family don’t know (the abuser) like I do.”
  • “I should have listened to (the abuser) when I was told to do something.”

The language we use to talk about domestic violence makes it seem less dangerous than it really is. But how is it less dangerous? When victims don’t immediately recognize the severity of abuse or downplay it, they are essentially staying in a relationship that may escalate into something more violent. By the same token, when victims downplay the severity, the courts and the authorities may not take it seriously either. They may say, “Well if it wasn’t that bad, why are you making a complaint then?” Authorities may not have the “incentive” to investigate the crime.

The importance of language
Words are powerful and, when used in proper context, can have a significant effect on how society views certain situations. The language we use to describe domestic violence is one way we can control this societal perception. Using stronger and more accurate language to convey the severity can garner more widespread awareness. Even the way we communicate can help–make direct eye contact and use urgency in your voice. Use more powerful words. When we use words that carry more weight to them, then others around us will know we are serious about our situations.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

What is Reproductive Coercion?

By Jenn Rockefeller

It is not gender specific. It can happen to men, women and non-binary  victims of domestic violence. It can happen at any time within relationships. It doesn’t discriminate – it can happen to the rich or poor, and to all those with differing racial backgrounds. What is “it?” It’s called reproductive coercion and it can have severe adverse effects on its victims.

What it is

According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, reproductive coercion is “behavior intended to maintain power and control in a relationship related to reproductive health by someone who is, was, or wishes to be involved in an intimate or dating relationship with an adult or adolescent.”

More specifically, reproductive coercion is a form of sexual abuse that is not widely talked about because many people are unaware it even exists. People may have heard stories about the nightmarish occurrences when one partner pokes holes in condoms or when one partner commits an act of rape. But what these individuals likely did not know is that there is a name for those acts of intimate partner violence.

What it can look like

Reproductive coercion can take on many forms, such as interfering with contraception use that can end up in pregnancy. Please note that any person can be the instigator. If you answer yes to any of the below questions, you might be a victim of reproductive coercion.

  • Has your partner hidden, destroyed or withheld your oral contraception?
  • Has your partner removed the condom during sex?
  • Has your partner poked holes in the condoms in order to result in a pregnancy?
  • Has your partner pressured you into having children?
  • Has your partner threatened violence against you if you do not agree to become pregnant?
  • Has your partner continually hounded you to have sex?
  • Has your partner threatened violence against you if you did not comply with terminating or continuing a pregnancy?


According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, a national study in 2011 determined that one in four callers reported being reproductively coerced. However, a more recent report released in October 2018 by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), indicated that one in 10 (40%) survivors reported reproductive coercion by either tampering with contraception or forcing them into becoming pregnant. Of that 40% who reported coercion, 84% became pregnant as a result. Furthermore, if a woman becomes pregnant due to reproductive coercion, it can severely hinder her options for financial independence, as well as educational or work opportunities.

How it’s used for control

Domestic violence is an imbalance of power in a relationship. As such, the primary aggressor will exhibit any kind of behavior to maintain that power and control over their partner. This can include becoming pregnant on purpose to trap the partner into staying in the relationship, or if the relationship did end eventually, the one partner would be in the primary aggressor’s life forever. The abuser can and will use the children as pawns for ongoing abuse aimed at the victim/survivor.

Even if no pregnancy occurs as a result of the reproductive coercion, there are still many ways that abusers can use coercive tactics to their advantage in order to maintain power and control over the victim. Violence and threats of violence are sometimes enough to get a victim to comply. There are already enough ways that abusers can covertly abuse their victims, and reproductive coercion is just another tactic in their arsenal.

As humans, it is our right to decide what is best for our bodies and our reproductive health. When abusers force us to give up that right, we are subjected to yet another form of domestic violence that ends up resulting in great harm to our mental, emotional and/or physical health.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

When Abuse Escalates

By Jamey Sheesley

Escalation in abusive relationships is very dangerous. Victims tend to experience a steep increase in the abuse as part of the abusive cycle or if they find any sort of independence from their abusive partner.

What is the cycle of abuse?

Even though every abusive relationship is different, there is always a cycle. The first part of the cycle is when you meet your abusive partner. They never show their abusive side right away and usually hook you in before they start the next phase of the cycle.

After this initial manipulation, abusers move into the next stage, which is the tension building stage. In this stage, the abuser will start to create tension by picking at the victim. Tension can be built in many different ways, including accusing the victim of wearing something too scandalous; making snide comments about the victim, or anything that makes the victim feel insecure. Many times the victim will start to feel on edge or fearful because of the change in atmosphere.

Communication in the relationship often breaks down at this point, as well. This phase can last anywhere from a day to weeks. Escalation begins in this stage.

The next stage in the cycle is the “acting out” stage or the abusive stage. This is where the escalation comes into full effect. This is where physical violence tends to happen. If a victim has only experienced emotional abuse from their abuser, this is the stage where it might rise to the next level and become physical. All forms of abuse, including emotional, financial, sexual, and physical, get worse during this stage.

What is “escalation?”

According to The National Domestic Violence Hotline, there are two different types of escalation. The first type is gradual escalation. Gradual escalation is where the abuser will make comments that become more hurtful over time. The second type of escalation is sudden escalation. Sudden escalation is when the abuse suddenly becomes more severe, like an emotionally abusive partner becoming physically abusive for the first time.

Full escalation is a dangerous time for the victim because the abuser is using violence to show the power they have over the victim. The abuser wants to show the victim what can happen if the they disobey. The abuser is trying to gain all power back, especially if the victim has shown some sort of independence. This is especially likely when the victim is trying to leave the relationship. According to The National Domestic Violence Hotline, 75% of injuries in abusive relationships happen when the victim tries to end the relationship.

Why should I safety plan?

It is good to have a safety plan if you are planning to leave an abusive relationship. Please take all precautions when leaving an abuser. According to Love is Respect and Huffington Post, some safety plan tips include:

  • Documenting everything that is happening, including taking photos of any injuries,
  • Creating a safety network of friends and family and letting them know your plans,
  • Going to the emergency room and documenting injuries,
  • Finding a safe place for your children to go during abusive incidents (like going to a separate room or staying with a friend or family member),
  • Contacting local shelters if you need a place to stay or visit WomensLaw.org for state-by-state legal action,
  • Trying to set money aside and having a trusted family member or friend hold it for you.

If you are experiencing escalation, chances are it is not your first time seeing your abuser do this. Every relationship is different so each victim may have different strategies on keeping the abuser calm during this stage. Since this is a very dangerous part of the cycle, it is very important to keep yourself and your children safe, whatever that means for you. You are the expert on your own safety, so take every precaution you can when creating your safety plan. If you know the best time to leave is when the abuser is not around, then leave when they are gone. Do not wait around, get out.

It is important to get out before it is too late. Many times as each cycle happens, the abuse continues become more violent in order to establish power and control. The escalation of abuse can also change each cycle. Sometimes the escalation is gradual, but other times it is sudden. That is why it is important to create a safety plan and get out as soon as possible. Trust your “gut” instincts and get away so you can start living your life away from the abuse cycle.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

Reactive Abuse: What It is and Why Abusers Rely on It

reactive abuse woman floating in water

One of the most common tactics abusers use is to shift blame for the abuse onto the victim. The abuser will claim the victim is the abuser because of the reaction the victim has. The abuser may even attempt to convince the victim that there is nothing worth reacting over and that the victim is overreacting to the abuse. What the victim is actually experiencing is called reactive abuse.


Reactive abuse occurs when the victim reacts to the abuse they are experiencing. The victim may scream, toss out insults, or even lash out physically at the abuser. The abuser then retaliates by telling the victim that they are, in fact, the abuser.

Why abusers rely on it

Abusers rely on this “reactive abuse” because it is their “proof” that the victim is unstable and mentally ill. The abuser will hold these reactions against the victims indefinitely. It could be years later and the abuser will say, “Well, back in (whatever year), you had this reaction and acted all crazy. You’re the crazy one! You need help.”

Sometimes abusers use this reaction as an excuse to go to police or even file for protective orders of their own.

A method of manipulation

To manipulate is to unfairly influence a situation. When an abuser claims they are the ones being abused, they are manipulating us into believing we are at fault for the abuse. The abusers are conditioning and manipulating us to accept the blame. The longer this blame shifting goes on, the longer we will believe we are to blame for the reactive outbursts and abuse that the abuser is dishing out. We will begin to believe we are the violent and unstable ones.

This manipulation can even go so far as to cause us to feel shame. When we react, it causes the abuser to claim we are the abusive ones. But these reactions also add a second element to the mix – they cause us to feel bad about ourselves to the point of guilt and shame. We act against what we know to be true about ourselves – that we are good, kind, capable, loving people. But that goes out the window when we experience the guilt and shame more and more. The guilt and shame that the abusers continue to condition us to feel.

Reactive abuse vs. mutual abuse

According to domesticshelters.org, mutual abuse is when both partners are equally abusive to one another. Many survivors often ask themselves if they are abusive too because of how they react, but the truth is that mutual abuse is very rare and many experts don’t believe it exists. The power and control dynamics involved in domestic violence would make it nearly impossible for both partners to be abusive.

The key word here is “react.” That’s the difference between reactive abuse and mutual abuse. Victims and survivors react to the abuse doled out by the abuser.

What we can do instead

When you see yourself reacting in this manner, many times you begin to say to yourself, “Whoa, this isn’t me. This isn’t how I am normally.” When you begin to ask yourself those questions, you know something is not right with the relationship. I know I thought those things before – that I knew how I was reacting wasn’t me. It wasn’t who I was. That’s what the abuser wants – to make you question yourself, your character, and your integrity. But many times, by the time we get to the point of asking ourselves those questions, we are either too scared to leave the abuser or we just don’t have the means to do so.

So what can we do instead? The abusers bank on us reacting negatively to their tactics. When we begin to truly think about how we respond to them, we are taking back our power. We begin to respond and not react. To react is almost like an automatic thing – it’s the fight or flight response. But responding involves a thought process that requires us to really consider our thoughts and actions.

Within the realm of domestic violence, there is always one who initiates or instigates the problems in the relationship. It comes back to that one person needing power and control over their  victim. That’s what abuse is – the imbalance of power. The abuser, however, would like us to believe otherwise and say, “Well, we were abusive to each other. It’s mutual abuse.” It’s because the abusers will never accept responsibility for their actions and instead shift blame for the abuse onto us.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

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