How To Help Someone Facing DV

Learning that someone you know is in an abusive relationship can come as a surprise to many. The warning signs are not always clear, and most people suffering DV put on an Oscar-worthy performance that the relationship is A-okay all around, when in fact it is anything but. 

So what can you do if you do learn that someone you care about is in an abusive relationship? Though it is only natural to immediately want to jump in and save them, it isn’t often the best choice. There are many reasons why it is difficult to leave a violent relationship, and just as many reasons why it can be downright dangerous, too. 

Here are some helpful tips on how to offer your person the best form of support, regardless what stage of their journey they are in.

If they start talking about it

Maybe you suspected your friend, family member, or coworker had a rocky relationship. Maybe you’re hearing about it for the first time. Regardless, the first two things you must avoid doing when your person comes forward and confesses that things are bad, are:

  • Do not express doubt or disbelief (“Well, that just can’t be! Are you sure?”)
  • Do not side with their abuser (“But so-and-so is such a wonderful person/great parent/active church member!”)

Instead, let them know that you heard what they said, that you believe what they just told you, and most importantly, let them know that you are there to support them however you can. 

Some things to say to your person when they confess that they are in an abusive/toxic/violent relationship:

  • I believe you
  • How can I help?
  • Do you have a safe place to stay if things get bad?
  • You can stay with me/us if you need to (assuming this is something that you are genuinely able to provide)
  • Can I help you find a safe place to stay? (assuming you are not in a position where you can offer them shelter in your home)
  • Is there anything that I can look up for you? (abusers frequently keep close tabs on their victim’s cell phones and search history. Your person may not be able to look up the number to a hotline, or explore what their legal rights are, etc)

What your person needs most at this stage is to see that they are not crazy. In nearly every abusive relationship, the abusive partner will use tactics to convince their victim that they (the victim) are “crazy”, or overly emotional, or too sensitive. This ensures that the victim will be less likely to talk about the abuses going on at home, because they will doubt themselves. So if your person has come forward and they have let you in on some of what has been going on at home, the most important thing for you to do is reassure them that they are not overreacting, nor are they “crazy”. Your person needs your help gaining clarity that their abusive relationship really is “that bad”, and that they really do need to, for their own well-being and safety, escape their abuser. 

When they start planning their escape

For those of us lucky enough to have never experienced an abusive relationship, it may seem like the idea of an “escape plan” is far-fetched and unnecessary. But with an abuser, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. 

Statistically, abusers become their most dangerous selves when their partner voices their intention to leave, or if they catch their partner leaving them (this can happen if the victim attempts to leave without informing their abuser, but they wind up getting “caught” if the abuser returns home unexpectedly). 

Escape plans help assure that the victim of DV has everything they need in order to leave swiftly, safely, and with resources in place so that their departure is a sustainable one. 

Some things that you can do to help:

  • Help your person secure a place to stay. Be it at your home, a friend’s home, or a shelter
  • Offer to safeguard your person’s important documents, new bank cards, new cell phone
  • Help them find an appropriate support network. For some this can be a church, for others it can be groups that come together at a local shelter, but a group of people who have been through similar hardships can be invaluable to someone who is just getting out of an abusive relationship
  • Help secure material resources for your person. This can be clothes, so that they don’t have to leave with bags and bags full; transportation; basic furnishings and or kitchenware if they are able to get set up in an apartment of their own
  • Advise them to set up a new bank account and start putting some money away in it
  • Advise them to get a new phone
  • Help them document instances of abuse. Many victims are too afraid to report their abuser to authorities (and with good reason, because this can often lead to even more dangerous and violent behavior from the abuser), but it can still help to have a journal of listed events that have taken place. Even better if these instances are dated, or if there are any text messages, emails, written letters, or photographs supporting the incidents. 

When they are ready to make their escape

Even with all of the planning that has likely taken place up until this point, your person will still need some help in getting out of their current dwelling and away from their abuser. Sometimes this may involve helping them carry their packed up personal effects out of their home. Other times, it can mean being ready with transportation. And yet other times, it can be as simple as showing up with a trusted friend or two, cell phones in hand, ready if the abuser comes home unexpectedly so that authorities can be informed immediately. 

  • Be available to pick them up if you can, or arrange other transportation
  • Do not post about any of this on social media. It doesn’t matter how vague you think you’re being, or how tight you think your privacy settings are, this is one of the worst things that a person can do. It is one of the easiest ways for the abuser to catch wind of what’s happening, and again: abusers become their most dangerous and violent selves when they learn that their partner is going to leave them
  • Help them settle into their new space, even if that means accompanying them to a shelter
  • Remind them that you are their for them, even after they’ve safely left their toxic partner

After they have safely left their abuser

This, to most people, may seem like a good time to return to things as normal. Your person is safely away from their abuser, and you have done all you can to help them reach that point. But, alas, transitioning to a life free from one’s abuser is a whole other can of worms. Interestingly, some victims find the calm after the storm to be its own form of unexpected anxiety, and the support of a dear friend can be tremendously beneficial. 

Here are some ways you can continue to show your support:

  • Ask them what other things they might need as they transition to a life free from their abuser
  • Help them research their legal rights. These vary by state, and they vary based on whether the two parties were married, shared property, or had children together
  • If your person permits you to do so, advise their new neighbors of the situation and give them a description of your person’s abuser. It is not at all uncommon, in fact it is to be expected, that the abuser will come around their victim’s new neighborhood, dwelling, and/or place of work. It can be helpful for those living or working around your person to know what’s going on, and what to be on the look-out for

If they decide to return to their abuser

This can be the toughest situation for a friend or family member to have to witness. When we are not the ones in the abusive relationship, it can seem like the most illogical decision a person could possibly choose for themselves. But because we are not in that situation, we cannot pretend to know how we would behave if we were. 

To be supportive if your person decides to go back to their abuser, consider the following:

  • Remind them that you will remain there for them whatever they decide to do
  • Check in on them regularly. Whether it’s via phone, text, or email, make sure that you reach out regularly, so that (A) they know you still care, and (B) you know that they are well enough to be able to respond to you.
  • If you do not hear back from your person, report it. Most police officers will insist there is nothing to worry about. Most will remind you that you are asking them to check up on an adult, who is old enough to do whatever they please, go wherever they please, and associate with whomever they please. Report it anyway. Make a stink at your local station if you have to, until you are heard and the officer you are dealing with sends out a car to perform a welfare check. 
  • Take care of yourself so that if/when they decide to leave again, you will be able to provide them with the same level of support

Though it may seem like leaving a relationship should be a relatively easy endeavor, it is absolutely not so when it comes to leaving an abusive relationship. It takes tremendous courage, a great deal of support, and a very skillfully thought out escape plan. This can be all the more complicated and difficult if there are children involved. So if it does happen that you find yourself listening to someone in your life talk about the difficulty they are experiencing in their relationship, and that it isn’t in fact all smiles and sunshine, be prepared to help them seek the support they are surely going to need in order to get out safely. Though the list of things one can do for someone facing DV may seem long, don’t feel that you have to do it all on your own. Ask your person if there is anyone else they trust to help start planning their escape. Guide them towards helpful resources like support groups and hotlines. And most importantly, do not judge. There are a multitude of reasons why it takes a victim a long time to even come forward and confide in another person about how bad their relationship is, and there are even more reasons why they don’t escape sooner. Give them your ear, your support, and your compassion, and help them remember that it will be better on the other side of things, and that once they get there, you will still be there for them.

Looking For A Sign

By Rick Dougherty

Social media has been a blessing and a curse for those of us who try to battle violence against women.  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms have allowed organizations like Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence to spread our message.  Unfortunately, as many of us are well aware, social media has also given platforms to Incels, Mgtow, and just general misogynistic and bullying behaviors.  It has given abusers access to more potential victims, and another outlet to spread false information about women who reject them. 

Luckily, one social media trend has actually served to help save a sixteen-year-old girl who went missing. 

A Happy Ending to a Horrible Story

On Thursday, November 4th, sixty-one-year-old James Herbert Brick was arrested by the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office in Kentucky.  Brick resides in Cherokee, North Carolina.  When Brick was arrested, a sixteen-year-old girl from North Carolina was found in his car.  According to the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office, when investigators looked through Brick’s phone, they found pictures that “allegedly portrayed a juvenile female in a sexual manner.” (Acevedo,2021)

How was James Herbert Brick caught?

What led to this young woman being saved, and returned to her family in Asheville, North Carolina?

Finding a silver Toyota on a highway four states away from the home of a missing girl is the law-enforcement version of finding a needle in a haystack.  Without knowing a description of the suspected abductor or what type of vehicle he may be driving; the odds were certainly stacked against a teenager who must have been petrified of her situation.

A Sign of Hope

No matter how scared she was at the time, the young lady stayed level-headed enough to use a clandestine hand single that has been circulating throughout the internet among victims and survivors of domestic violence.  Luckily, a passing driver recognized the signal being flashed by the passenger of the car, and contacted the authorities. 

According to the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office, the signal was commonly known “to represent violence at home – I need help – domestic violence” on TikTok. 

The driver called 911, asserting that the passenger in the silver Toyota, “appeared to be in distress.”

NBC News is reporting that, “Brick is facing charges for unlawful imprisonment and possession of material showing a sex performance by a minor over the age of 12 but under age 18, according to the sheriff’s office.” (Acevedo, 2021)

Knowing the Sign When You See It

The Laurel County Sheriff’s Office never stated definitively which sign was given in this case.  It is possible that the specific information needs to be kept confidential at the moment for purposes of trial.  That being said, a hand gesture that was originally popularized by the Canadian Women’s Foundation has spread through TikTok (ForSure7, 2021).

While the office didn’t comment on the gesture, they have uploaded a video to YouTube that shows a sheriff demonstrating that particular gesture.  That video was uploaded on November 6th; two days after Brick was apprehended.  There is a link to that video, and other descriptions of the gesture at the bottom of this blog (WHAS11, 2021).

Essentially, to make the signal, lift a hand with the palm facing towards the intended recipient.  Keep the thumb tucked over the palm, with the four fingers pointing towards the sky.  Once the recipient sees the first part of the sign, fold the four fingers over the thumb.  With the movements being so subtle, it is not likely to draw much attention from an abuser, and it can easily be explained away if it does attract questions (#SignalForHelp, 2020). 

Awareness Is Key

Last month was Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and that is very important in our community.  Not only do we want to raise awareness to the size and scope of the problem; but we also want to raise the profile of other forms of abuse that aren’t physical, while also helping bystanders identify abusive situations.  Something as simple as sharing this hand signal could potentially save lives in a very tangible way. 

We are inundated with pictures and videos of our friends on social media.  From vacations to fancy dinners to school functions to multi-level-marketing jobs, the people in our lives often share images of themselves to the point that it can be annoying.  Those seemingly mundane social media posts could provide the lone connection of victim has to the outside world.  Even with a controlling partner who has access to the accounts, these covert codes can subvert the walls an abuser puts up to trap a victim.

The best part is that it takes practically no time at all to share this story with friends.  It is simple.  We don’t have to feel powerless.  It is hard to change laws.  It is hard to get the local police department to take domestic violence seriously.  It is hard to convince a friend who is in an abusive relationship to leave.  It is easy to let someone know about this potentially-life-saving signal.  Imagine what could happen if we all told five acquaintances. 


Acevedo, N. (2021, November 8). Missing N.C. Teen found after using TikTok hand sign alerting she was in Danger. NBCNews.com. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/missing-n-c-teen-found-after-using-tiktok-hand-sign-n1283401.

ForSure7. (2021). Violence Against Women . TikTok. Retrieved from https://www.tiktok.com/foryou?is_copy_url=1&is_from_webapp=v1.

#SignalForHelp. Canadian Women’s Foundation. (2020.)., from https://www.instagram.com/p/CHvIal5r3B_/.

WHAS11. (2021, November 6). Watch: Kentucky sheriff shows how to do Tiktok Hand Signal for help that led to Teen’s rescue. YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6XOeVkQYEk.

Pride is Power

Similar Goals:

As we come to the end of Pride Month in the United States, we have all hopefully been reminded of the important language of inclusion necessary for the continued advancement of members of the LGBTQ+ community.  Many of us can remember a time when multinational corporations were not rushing to show their support for these marginalized communities.  The LGBTQ+ community has led the charge towards gaining support; controlling the narrative, and eventually empowering the language in a way that forced the acceptance we see today. 

Intersectionality is real, and many Domestic Violence survivors have yet to realize the strong connection we should feel towards a group of people that shares many similar characteristics and obstacles.  We need to make sure that we are always leading the charge in acceptance, and that we are learning the techniques that have been successful for our LGBTQ+ friends.  Most importantly, we must recognize that a large number of victims and survivors are members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Heteronormative Conversations:

So much of the dialog surrounding Domestic Violence can take on a heteronormative slant.  This is not a problem exclusive to Domestic Violence.  Topics of racial, religious, and ethnic identities and issues also commonly fall into this trap of heteronormativity.  We must break out of this narrow viewpoint to really thrive in our desire to include LGBTQ+ allies into our movement and to be better allies to those in the LGBTQ+ movement.

Pride was created as a way to escape the closet and to raise awareness.  Visibility has been a prominent reason for many of the advancements that have occurred in recent years.  The work of inclusion and equality is never finished, but many heterosexuals began to ally with LGBTQ+ goals when they saw the common bonds.  A Gay relative, Lesbian friend, or Transgender co-worker has often provided an example to many people that what unites us is stronger than what divides us. 

This visibility should not be limited to issues of marriage, adoption, and health care.  As survivors of Domestic Violence, we must make sure that the LGBTQ+ community is heard in the conversation.  Too often we paint the abuser and victim narrative in simple male and female terms.  This framing completely removes same-sex relationships from the conversation.  It also often removes straight men or straight women who were abused in a domestic setting by a member of the same sex, who is not a romantic partner. 

Heteronormativity is inherently patriarchal.  It presupposes a way a family is supposed to look.  These are the same preconceptions that allow Domestic Violence in all of its forms.  The more visibility the LGBTQ+ community gains in all conversations, the more we will see that all families are different.  The more we stop accepting the outdated narratives surrounding power structure in the home, the more we will empower survivors. 

Pride is About Power:       

In the Domestic Violence conversation, we are aware that abuse is almost exclusively about control.  Somebody with power tries to maintain or expand that power through physical, emotional, financial, or psychological abuse.  In short, the purpose of Domestic Violence is to remove the victim’s pride.  The abuser intends to humiliate, and subjugate the target.  Pride is about power. 

Stonewall, often cited as the igniting incident in the fight for Gay Rights should be an event to which many Domestic Violence survivors can relate.  After years of having their Gay bars busted by the NYPD, the patrons of the Stonewall Inn fought back against the random threats.  The raids of Gay bars were meant to be arbitrary.  Just like an abuser will alternate between love-bombing and tantrums, the NYPD would go for long spells without random arrests in Gay bars.  That would be followed by sweeps that would find many members of the community put behind bars with ramifications that extended to their jobs and home lives.

These are the patterns of abuse.  A person who is always afraid is always on edge.  This is one reason that Pride celebrations have proven to be so important.  Standing up and refusing to live in fear is a powerful statement against patriarchy, abuse, and inhumane treatment.  Beyond gender identification or sexual orientation, all survivors of Domestic Violence can take a message from that.  Pride is power.  Pride is the very quality the abuser is trying to take from you.  Pride is what gives a victim the strength to escape an abusive relationship.  Just like it led the brave customers of the Stonewall Inn the courage to stand up for themselves back in 1969, pride is what can lead so many of us to stand up for ourselves in the battlefields of the home.

Learning From Our Allies:

It is no coincidence that Stonewall happened in 1969.  Members of the LGBTQ+ community had been watching other groups make great strides through concrete activism for the better part of the decade.  Black activists fought for justice, and it directly resulted in the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.  The American Indian Movement raised awareness to issues faced by a group of people this country and long been ignoring.  Women began to demand equal treatment and went a long way towards changing the conversation for future generations.  Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers fought and won many battles.  Pride did not happen in a vacuum. 

Again, intersectionality is real.  Many of those heroes at Stonewall were also members of other marginalized groups.  The first brick was thrown by a Black-Transgender-woman.  It is here where our movement against Domestic Violence can learn lessons from Pride.  The same methods that the LGBTQ+ community used to raise awareness to its issues and concerns are the same methods that will work in combatting Domestic Violence.

When the NYPD successfully scattered the patrons of a Gay bar, those people were easy to control.  When Queer people were kept in the closet and ashamed, they were easy to control.  They lost their power.  Pride parades and celebrations were ways for LGBTQ+ people to remove the stigma surrounding their lives on their own terms.  As survivors of Domestic Violence, we can take so much power from that.  The stigma that surrounds abuse permeates through so many of our stories. We can remove that stigma by refusing to stay silent.  By sharing your survivor stories with us at BTSADV, you are throwing a metaphorical brick-like those tossed so many years ago at Stonewall.  Instead of scattering into the dark allies, we are coming together as a community with pride. 

There is no monolith among Domestic Violence survivors.  There are women, men, and gender-non-conforming survivors.  Survivors are Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, and European in ancestry.  Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and all other religious groups suffer from (and members of those groups also commit) abuse.  Yes, survivors are Gay, Straight, Transgender, Lesbian, Bisexual, Pansexual, Asexual, and many other classifications.  Pride can remind us of the diversity in our ranks.  It can also remind us to stand up for ourselves. 

The Language of Pride and Phobia:

Quite possibly, Pride has made the greatest impact on society in our language.  Recently, even the business networking website LinkedIn added an option to include your gender pronouns on your profile.  We are learning to speak in ways that include more people.  We are learning to avoid phrases many of us once incorrectly thought were inoffensive.  We have started to separate from some of our preconceived notions of masculinity and femininity.  With that, we have changed our terminology in these areas.

The way we talk about things matters.  Homophobic phrases that serve to emasculate men for sensitivity or compassion only perpetuate the same patriarchal preconceptions of toxic masculinity.  We have all heard male survivors of abuse be subjected to these slurs.  By challenging transphobic, homophobic, and sexist terminology in our daily lives, we are actually making it easier on survivors of Domestic Violence to reach out for help.

Yes…All Men

all men

Hiding Behind A Hashtag

#NotAllMen was trending once again on Twitter within the past few weeks.  It rears its ugly head quite frequently.  Whenever there is some public sexual harassment or sexual assault scandal, we hear the same cries from “the good guys.”  These men will post about how they “respect women,” and may even mention that…surprise, surprise…there are also female members of their family, and they love those female members of their family.

Unfortunately, it is all men.  

The Problem With “Not All Men

Why this hashtag, and sentiments like “nice guys finish last” have such a negative effect on our discourse about sexual harassment, sexual assault, and Domestic Violence is that the people who are saying it honestly believe it to be true.  Of course, there are men who intentionally and deliberately use this as a weapon to control the narrative, but bad-faith actors aren’t the only ones using the hashtag.  Many of the men saying “not all men” have never intended to hurt a woman.  Many of the men saying “not all men” have probably even tried to be allies to women in difficult situations.

The sheer fact that #NotAllMen can trend on social media indicates that many men are oblivious to the problem.  In fact, the absurdity of men flocking to Twitter to say that they have never sexually harassed a woman is a big part of the problem.  They are setting themselves up as the defendant, defense attorney, and judge in a proceeding that doesn’t even have an accuser.  These men may not be aware of times that their words or actions have made a woman feel uncomfortable sexually.  These men may have had interactions with women that have been resolved through a conversation.  They may even have learned from those interactions and conversations.  Learning does not absolve.  Forgiveness does not absolve.  It is still a mistake.

Missing the Point

#NotAllMen isn’t a symptom of the problem, it is the problem.  The hashtag reframes the discussion to be one of intent.  With an act of rhetorical slight-of-hand, sexual harassment is no longer the center of the conversation.  The proverbial magician has created a diversion with his left hand, while pulling out the Ace from his right sleeve.  Conversations of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and Domestic Violence need to focus on the women, and often men, who are victims of this behavior.  This isn’t the time to coddle male egos.  Instead of hijacking the conversation with a hashtag intent to vindicate you from any potential criticism, join the conversation.  If you truly are a “good guy,” irradicating sexual harassment would be a higher priority than a preemptive public relations campaign against non-existent accusations.

As a man, I have 100% made mistakes in this area in my life.  It was never my intent to make someone feel uncomfortable, but that doesn’t matter.  It may be a hard pill for a lot of us men to swallow, but there are probably times that we have made people feel uncomfortable sexually in public or business settings, and nobody ever told us.  We could be blissfully ignorant of the joke, comment, or well-intentioned compliment that someone just accepted as a “cost of doing business.”  How can we claim #NotAllMen, when there could be dozens of these little moments out in the universe?  

Accountability of All Men Over Taglines

Justice is hard.  We have to be able to admit #YesAllMen, so that we can turn the mirrors towards ourselves and our own actions.  As men, if we accept that we have almost certainly made mistakes, we can work on not making those same mistakes in the future.  In recent years, it has become glaringly obvious even to the most unreceptive observer that sexual harassment is a huge problem that permeates all aspects of society from sports to politics to Hollywood to offices.  People are being harmed by this every day.  We can’t shirk responsibility.

Luckily, many women commandeered the hashtag to tell their stories about harassment.  We need to hear those stories.  Men, we need to stop making this about our intentions.  Most abusers don’t view themselves as abusers.  Most harassers don’t view themselves as harassers.  It is a small segment of society that goes out and tries to harm people.  Until we can all listen to victims of sexual harassment without getting defensive, we will never learn ways to be even better.  We can’t be “good guys” until we have learned what that actually means, and how it looks in our societal interactions.  We can’t be “good guys” until we can look back on a situation and admit we made a mistake.  To truly be a “good guy,” you have to work towards equitable workplaces and public spaces where people can feel safe and comfortable to interact.            

Survivors in the Grey-Area: Intersecting Identities, Vulnerabilities, and Inequalities

The characteristics of our identities are multi-faceted. They are based on our race, class, gender, sexuality, faith, nationality, and many other factors. But these aspects don’t just stack up on top of each other to create the layered people we all are. Instead, they interact, intersect and collide. This places us in a grey area, where we don’t feel 100% like any one of our identities. The ways in which our multiple identities interact can also potentiate discrimination associated with each of them. However, the Law doesn’t fully address the complex issues of the victims and survivors who live in this grey-area.

Intersectionality = Grey-Area

Before 1964, General Motors did not hire black women. In the early 1970s, a recession that brought about seniority-based layoffs hit. The firm laid off all black women hired after 1964. Five black women sued General Motors, claiming that its policies were targeted solely at black women. In the DeGraffenreid v. General Motors 1976 case, Judge Harris Wangelin ruled against the plaintiffs. This was done by arguing that black women shouldn’t be deemed a separate legal class. What he failed to realize was that these women were under a double bind that required special attention. The layoffs did not seem prejudiced against black men or against white women. However, it was prejudiced towards those at the intersection of race and gender who suffered from the firm’s policies.  

In 1989, black feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality.” She describes it as a unique framework for understanding how different forms of disadvantage associated with each of our identities sometimes compound themselves (Crenshaw 1991). In the previous example, the General Motors workers’ disadvantage of being black ganged up with their disadvantage of being a woman in the 1970s.

Grey-Area in Domestic Violence

Crenshaw further pointed out that mainstream feminist and anti-racist institutions resisted publishing socio-demographic statistics about victims and perpetrators of domestic violence. They feared authorities would use these statistics to portray DV as a minority crime, reinforce negative racial stereotypes, and ultimately cut off their financial support. Collins (2017) furthered this claim, arguing that mainstream feminist research tends to focus on domestic violence against white women whereas racial scholarship usually looks into public violence against black men (such as police brutality). Mainstream research thus somewhat overlooked domestic violence against black women, pushing black female victims to the backdrop of the social debate on intimate partner violence.  

Types of Intersectionality Within Domestic Violence and Survivors

So, how can we use the framework of intersectionality to better help survivors of domestic violence? Ultimately, intersectionality is a tool that allows us to pinpoint why victims are treated differently. It also helps us identify the ways in which laws need to change to accommodate survivors whose intersecting identities push them to the margins of existing DV legislation. 

Immigration status

Migrants are often at high risk of domestic violence (Morash et al. 2009). In addition, being an immigrant is usually a racialized identity, which adds another layer of complexity to the experiences of migrant survivors. One of the particular vulnerabilities associated with migrants’ identity, especially for illegal immigrants, is their legitimate reluctance to report their abuse for fear of deportation, which national citizens don’t face. 

An officer described how the police handled the case of a migrant survivor in the UK as follows: 

The police came round and found her [the survivor] unconscious on the floor and found him strangling her … he was arrested… she disappeared. … only through going back through their records [were we] able to find a phone number (Day and Gill, 2020).

In the end, the police referred the victims to immigration services: 

we’d have to refer that to the Border Agency, but we’d also refer that in the context of how we’ve come across them… we’d have to do a Nacro check and things like that on the suspect, and similarly if we think the victims are here illegally.

(Day and Gill, 2020)

This account highlights the dangers of our failure to acknowledge the intersecting vulnerabilities migrant survivors face, particularly illegal ones. Whereas we might not, abusers who are not migrants themselves most certainly do, and they will use the cruel ways in which the criminal system treats migrant survivors against them. 

Pregnancy and Class

Pregnant working women may suffer employment discrimination and see their wages or career progression hindered as a consequence; worse, they are at a higher risk of being fired. Women in low-paid or precarious jobs may not have access to even basic maternity employment rights (James 2012), sometimes having to rely on their abusive partners for financial support. Intersectionality is at play in the lives of pregnant working survivors because their limited financial resources interlock with their vulnerability as new mums. What are their intersecting vulnerabilities? As a woman, a new mother, and someone who might struggle financially to escape their abuser, pregnant working survivors need and deserve to see their compounding vulnerabilities recognized by employers, legislators, shelters, helplines, and other resources. They deserve their situation to be seen through the lens of intersectionality.


The intersection of gender with other identities fosters discrimination against not only female survivors but also men.  

On the one hand, by-standers and the criminal system sometimes use male survivor’s gender to belittle their pain, directly or indirectly telling them to “man-up”. On the other hand, this appeal to toxic masculinity may headbutt survivors’ identity as someone who thinks it’s morally wrong to harass or strike back. Here also, the concept of intersectionality can help us understand why male survivors are usually not afforded sufficient recognition, as noted by a DV advocate:

I’ve got a male client… he’s a straight man in a relationship with a woman; she’s harassed him a lot. When the case didn’t go to charge, because … there wasn’t enough evidence, the police officer in the case said to the victim, ‘Taking my police officer’s hat off, this is because you’re a man’ .

(Day and Gill, 2020)

Moving Forward

As a survivor and/or advocate, you can use the framework of intersectionality to better understand the inequalities that DV victims who are very different from you face on a daily basis. Ask yourself: How can this victim’s identities (race, gender, class, sexuality, etc.) put them at a higher risk of discrimination? Does current legislation honor the struggles that this victim faces? For example, should victims who are illegal immigrants face arrest or deportation given their vulnerabilities as an immigrant and a DV victim?

Your thoughts on these questions can advance current debates on how DV legislation should change to accommodate the intersecting identities of more survivors and victims. Your voice can help press for more awareness and better laws.


[1] Collins, P. (2017), ‘“On Violence, Intersectionality and Transversal Politics,” Ethnic and Racial Studies’, Taylor & Francis, 40: 1460–73.

[2] Crenshaw,  K. (1991), ‘Stanford Law Review Mapping the Margins : Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color’, Stanford Law Review, 43: 1241–99.

[3] Day, A. S., & Gill, A. K. (2020). Applying intersectionality to partnerships between women’s organizations and the criminal justice system in relation to domestic violence. The British Journal of Criminology, 60(4), 830-850.

[4] James, S. (2012), Sex, Race and Class—The Perspective of Winning: A Selection of Writings 1952– 2011. The Merlin Press.

[5] Morash, M., Erez, E., Adelman, M. and Gregory, C. (2009), ‘Intersections of Immigration and Domestic Violence’, Feminist Criminology, 4: 32–56.

Advocating for Teens in a Domestic Violence Relationship


Our relationship started as a happy one. He was charming, a track star, and showered me with attention. We were teens and high school sweethearts, and I thought we would stay that way forever.

I still remember the first time he was violent towards me. We were arguing, and he pushed me into a snowbank. I got up, and we continued walking as if nothing happened. Things only escalated from there. 

It was my first relationship. I thought I was in love. I didn’t know love wasn’t supposed to hurt. It was hard to leave– despite the abuse, my feelings for this boy were strong, although misconstrued. I stayed in the relationship for the first year of college before I was able to break free.

Being young and confused, I didn’t know what love was supposed to feel like or look like. I thought abusive relationships affected isolated adults stuck in unhappy marriages, not valedictorians with plans to attend college. It would honestly be a long time before I could look back on the relationship and see it for what it was– toxic, abusive, and far from love. 

I’m still healing from this abusive relationship that began when I was 16. I’m still trying to understand my emotions and learn what a healthy relationship is seven years later. 

Teen Dating Violence Survivor

What is Teen Dating Violence (TDV)? 

Teen dating violence, also known as dating violence, is abuse between two people in an intimate relationship between the ages of 13-19 [1]

Dating violence does not have to be physical abuse; it can include [2]:

  • Physical violence—  intentional acts of physical violence, like shoving, kicking, hitting, grabbing, choking, restraining. 
  • Sexual Violence— forcing or attempting to engage in a sexual act, such as intercourse, touching, or sexting without receiving consent.
  • Psychological aggression (verbal/emotional)— tactics used to harm the victim emotionally. This can include name-calling, isolating the victim from family and friends, attempting to control the victim, and manipulation. 
  • Stalking— a pattern of unwanted attention that causes, or would reasonably cause, the victim fear

This is not an exhaustive list. Any time a person is intentionally causing harm to their intimate partner, it can be considered abuse. No one should feel afraid in their relationship or fear their intimate partner– that is NOT normal. 

How common is TDV? 

Teen dating violence affects millions of US teenagers each year. While TDV, like most violent crime types, disproportionately affects females, anyone can be a victim of TDV [2]

  • One in three people will experience some type of intimate partner abuse before they reach adulthood [3].
  • According to a CDC survey, 1 in 11 females and 1 in 15 males under 18 reported experiencing physical dating violence in the last year [2].
  • One in 9 female and 1 in 36 male high schoolers report having experienced sexual violence in the last year from an intimate partner [2]
  • LGBTQ+ youth are at a higher risk for TDV victimization. Forty-three percent of LGBTQ+ youth reported experiencing physical dating violence compared to 29% of heterosexual youth [4]
  • Transgender youth, predominantly female, report the highest levels of TDV, with 89% of transgender youth reporting physical dating violence and 59% reporting emotional abuse [4].

The Impact on Teens

TDV, just like domestic violence, is ruthless, and the road to recovery is often long and uphill. This is why it is an issue that should not be minimized and, instead, should be taken as seriously as intimate partner violence in adults. As seen in the survivor story above, it can affect survivors long after leaving the abusive relationship. And for some victims of TDV, the consequences can affect every aspect of their teen years. 

Victims/survivors of TDV are more likely to:

  • Miss or receive low grades in classes due to feeling unsafe [5]
  • Become pregnant or contract an STD [5]
  • Engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as drinking, drugs, or disordered eating [2]
  • Attempt or commit suicide [5]
  • Have lowered self-esteem [5]
  • Continue a pattern of abusive relationships [2]
  • Face mental health issues, like depression and anxiety [2]
  • Have trouble maintaining independence and establishing a personal identity in adulthood [5]

Advocating For Your Teen

Teenage years are meant for the giddy feeling of butterflies in the stomach. Many teens are experiencing their first relationship and learning what it means to be “in love.” Young relationships can set a precedent for their future relationships and their perception of what love is. 

That is why one of the most effective ways of preventing teen dating violence is showing your teen or teens in your life what a healthy relationship should look and feel like while also opening up the discussion about what an unhealthy relationship looks like.

Characteristics of a healthy relationship:

  • Respect. Both partners should like their feelings and wishes are valued and understood by their partner.
  • Individual Identities. Both partners should have lives outside of the relationship. This includes spending time with friends, engaging in hobbies, and pursuing their interests. Partners should maintain, or even grow, their self-esteem when in the relationship. 
  • Openness and Trust. Both partners should feel comfortable being honest with each other and have trust in each other. 
  • Good Communication. Each partner should communicate with the other freely, without fear, and without getting hostile. Intimate partners should not ever resort to violence or name-calling when disagreeing and work together to solve problems. 

Characteristics of an unhealthy relationship:

  • Controlling behavior/Jealousy. One partner attempts to exploit the other partner. This can mean keeping him/her from seeing family members and friends, dictating what he/she wears and does, and making the majority of choices for the relationship.
  • Hostility/Intimidation. An intimate partner using intimidation or hostility to manipulate the other member of the relationship. 
  • Dependence (Trauma Bond). When an intimate partner feels as if he/she cannot live without the other partner. They feel entirely reliant on their partner and cannot imagine life without them. 
  • Any type of violence. Intimate partners intentionally hurting or attempting to harm each other in any way. This can include physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual abuse. 

**For information about what a healthy teenage relationship should look like, check out Dating Matters— a prevention model put forth by the CDC for educational use by individuals, peers, families, schools, and neighborhoods.

Receiving Help for Teens in an Abusive Relationship

For teenagers facing the dangerous reality of being in a toxic or abusive relationship, know you are not alone, and there are resources to help you reach the pathway of healing. 

First of all, we encourage you to break your silence. Speak up to a peer, teacher, parent, law enforcement officer, or anyone else you trust. You can contact our helpline at 1-855-287-1777 or share your story

You can also contact organizations within the community:

Find a Safe Place— you can enter your zip code and find a safe place near you. 

The National Dating Abuse Helpline 1.866.331.9474 is similar to the Hotline and specializes in assisting teens and young adults. 

National Center for Victims of Crime 1-800-FYI-CALL– serves victims of crime and assists them in finding proper counseling services. 

Break the Cycle— for more information about teen dating violence and how to break the cycle. 

Remember: Everyone deserves a loving and healthy relationship. No matter what your age is.


  1. Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. (n.d.). What is teen dating violence TDV. https://www.mocadsv.org/What-is-Teen-Dating-Violence-TDV/
  2. CDC. (2020, Jan 27). Preventing teen dating violence. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/teendatingviolence/fastfact.html
  3. Love is Respect. (n.d.) Teen dating violence awareness month. https://www.loveisrespect.org/get-involved/tdvam/
  4. Teen Dating Violence. (2020, Oct 28). Studies show LGBT youth face higher risk of dating violence. https://www.teendvmonth.org/studies-show-lgbt-youth-face-higher-risk-of-dating-violence/
  5. Youth.gov. (n.d.) Consequences. https://youth.gov/youth-topics/teen-dating-violence/consequences

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