Abuse is a rampant issue in the US. People of varying ages and genders experience abuse of all sorts every day:
- Half of all American men and women have experienced emotional abuse in their lives.
- 75-80% of women who have been abused were previously abused by the same person. (Takeaway: abusers don’t change…)
- 12 million adults experience violence at the hands of a partner of family member per year. That’s over 30,000 per day — or almost 1,500 people per hour…
- Children in homes with domestic violence are 15x more likely to experience abuse.
While it sounds easy to simply go to the authorities and report your abuser, it can be hard to find solutions that don’t put more stress on an already delicate situation.
You may feel ashamed of being a victim, sure that nothing will change, or scared of retaliation; or if you’re under 18, you may wonder what happens to you once your abuser has been taken away.
In this article, we’ll go through some of the ways you can find help, without or before resorting to more serious measures.
What kind of abuse is this?
While some signs of abuse are more apparent than others, it’s important to know exactly what can count as abuse. There are some situations where it’s hard to tell if you’re being abused, and with some insight, you can have a definitive answer to that question.
Physical abuse is one of the most well-known kinds of abuse and occurs when an individual inflicts physical pain on another, or threatens the use of physical pain. Signs of this typically shows in outward marks such as bruises and scratches.
Sexual abuse can refer to rape, but it also includes any unwanted sexual contact like molestation, inappropriate touching, or moving to a level of intimacy that any party did not agree to.
Verbal abuse involves words or body language to criticize someone else. It can be hard to track because someone can quickly backpedal and say “it was a joke/it didn’t mean anything”, or it can become so common that a victim interprets it as normal even though it isn’t.
Emotional abuse is when someone uses phrases or acts in such a way that manipulates you. Do not believe people who say this is not real abuse.
Outside the US, countries like the UK, France, and Ireland have chosen to make this behavior punishable by law, just the same as physical abuse.
The legal version of emotional abuse is called “coercive control,” and it includes the following behaviors:
- Isolating you from friends and family
- Depriving you of basic needs, such as food
- Monitoring your time
- Monitoring you via online communication tools or spyware
- Taking control over aspects of your everyday life, such as where you can go, who you can see, what you can wear and when you can sleep
- Depriving you access to support services, such as medical services
- Repeatedly putting you down, such as saying you’re worthless
- Humiliating, degrading or dehumanising you
- Controlling your finances
- Making threats or intimidating you
This can include an abuser controlling how much you can or can’t spend, taking away any money you earn for themselves, or someone living in the house but refusing to contribute to food, chores, or other necessities.
Neglect occurs when an individual refuses or is unable to provide another individual with their basic needs, like food, shelter, or love and care. While neglect is more common with children, it can also occur with the elderly.
I am being abused. Where can I go from here?
If you truly feel at a loss, you can contact nationwide hotlines where counselors and advocates can offer advice and support. Talking with them is a great first step, and from there, you can consider what other options are available to you.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline
No matter what kind of abuse you’re experiencing, the first thing you can do is visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline. They have a multitude of resources available, such as number (1-800-799-7233) that’s available 24/7, and a live chat where you can talk with advocates about your situation.
Their services are completely free and available in more than 200 languages. In addition, they can help refer you to agencies and shelters in your area if you need more immediate assistance.
The ChildHelp National Child Abuse Hotline
While the National Domestic Violence Hotline is open to anyone of all ages and situations, for younger kids there is also the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline. Their number (1-800-422-4453) is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.
When called, crisis counselors will be more than happy to listen to your situation and do what they can to help, and their site also has resources such as other children’s stories and a list of numbers and links to your state’s Child Protective Services agency.
The last straw: creating a plan to leave
If you fear the situation will escalate to a point of no return, consider forming a safety plan. A safety plan is a personalized plan that outlines what to do before and after escaping an abusive situation.
There are many different kinds of steps for a safety plan, which will depend on your situation. If you’re stuck on how to create a safety plan, use this template that lets you fill in the blanks and find your own next steps.
Before you leave
Before it’s time to leave, be sure to remember a few important things to bring and do first.
Running away without preparing can cause as much or more harm than staying with your abuser.
Remember, this list is not exhaustive, and the National Domestic Violence Hotline site has a more detailed rundown of steps depending on your situation.
Be sure to remember important documents like your ID, passport, legal papers, social security card, or proof of abuse. Don’t forget any important medication, spare clothes for yourself and whomever you’re taking with you, and an emergency reserve of cash. Consider placing all of these resources in one bag, in a place only you know of. You should be able to grab it in case you need to leave immediately.
Plan your escape route, everything from where to exit the premises to how to get to where you need to go. Also identify safe people or places in case you need to stop along your way. If you have a vehicle, make sure it’s well maintained and accessible. If not, make sure you have some other means of getting to where you need to go, like a friend’s car or public transit. There is also always Uber! You can use a prepaid debit card (from the grocery store) in ridesharing apps so your abuser won’t see you called a ride.
Make sure you have the contact information for any friends and family if you plan to stay with them. If you plan to stay at a shelter, make sure you have their information on hand. Remember to have 911 at the ready, and consider using an app that can call 911 if the situation escalates, or one that will alert the police and all of your emergency contacts when the time is right.
After you’ve left
Once you’ve left, keep some things in mind in order to ensure the safety of you and any loved ones you might be taking with you.
Change your locks and contact
If you’re still able to live in your own home, change your locks as soon as possible. In addition, talk to your cell phone provider and change your number so you can’t be reached by your abuser.
If you’re still in the same region, use new routes to get to work and school. You may want to consider going shopping at different times, or consider going to different stores than your usual ones.
Let authorities know
Inform the police about your situation as soon as possible, especially if you want or have already filed a restraining order. Be sure to also let the school you or your children go to so they can help keep an eye out and help you if you ever need it.
Let your peers know
Let your friends and your peers at your workplace know so they can help you if something ever goes wrong. If possible, your peers can keep the lookout if your abuser tries to go looking for you, and you can have your peers screen any calls you may be getting.
You’re not alone
Being in an abusive situation is incredibly hard, but as hard as it is, remember that you’re not alone. And by taking action, you’re inspiring others to look out for themselves, too.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline or the Childhelp Child Abuse Hotline when your situation escalates. They’re there to help you through this tough time.
And if you don’t feel comfortable taking action quite yet, feel free to let things out to us at Supportiv. We’ll be there to listen and do anything we can to help you through the darkness.