The National Domestic Violence Hotline

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Safety Planning for Family and Friends (Wednesday, September 13th 2017)

By Heather, loveisrespect Advocate  

Here at The Hotline we often hear from survivors who are afraid to leave their abusive partners because of the threats that have been made against their loved ones. Because abuse is all about power and control, as a relationship progresses abusive people tend to escalate the things they say and do to maintain the power they take from their partners, and that can include threats to hurt or even kill friends, family or co-workers. This post is meant for any family, friends or colleagues of survivors of intimate partner violence who are concerned for their own safety, and for survivors of domestic violence who are concerned for the safety of the people in their support system.

It’s important to note that survivors can utilize this lethality assessment to learn what their individual risk of being killed by their partners may be. The language in the assessment is a bit dated, and very gendered–with men as the abuser and women as the victim–but we know that anyone of any gender can perpetrate abuse or be abused. The biggest threats for survivors are strangulation (10x more likely to be killed), the presence of a firearm (five times more likely), and if the abusive person is genuinely suicidal. It is not at all uncommon for an abusive person to threaten to kill themselves if they feel like they’re losing control over their partner, but they pose a serious risk to their victim if they have attempted suicide in the past, talk about a specific plan, or have access to a gun.

Domestic violence is the single biggest indicator of murder-suicides in the United States, and unfortunately, we’ve often seen that escalate to include survivors’ families, friends, and co-workers, or even strangers. The warning signs of suicidal thoughts can include seeking out lethal means, a preoccupation with death, expressing no hope for the future, self-loathing, self-hatred, getting their affairs in order/giving things away, saying goodbye, withdrawing from others, and self-destructive behavior. For adult women who are in a relationship with an abusive man femicide-suicide risk increases with:

  • gun ownership
  • threats with a weapon
  • threats to kill
  • a step-child in the home
  • estrangement

We know that when a survivor of abuse chooses to leave the relationship that (and pregnancy) is the most dangerous time for them, so we strongly encourage any survivors who are considering leaving to reach out to us via chat or phone to talk through a thorough, personalized safety plan. Friends, family, co-workers, neighbors and even strangers who are concerned about a survivor’s safety, or their own, are always welcome to call or chat with us too.

One of the most helpful things anyone who is concerned for their safety can do is to document the abuse or threats. Documentation of threats, damaged property or injuries can help if a restraining order is needed, with a custody case, or if someone decides to press charges. This website details how the laws around domestic violence and protective orders vary from state to state.

For their own safety friends, family and colleagues of domestic violence survivors can:

  • Talk with the survivor about the risk factors above and their concerns for everyone’s safety
  • Keep a charged cell phone on them at all times to call for help if needed
  • Travel in pairs or groups/try not to be alone
  • Plan to not let the abusive person into the home or business if they are not with the survivor
  • Seek a restraining order that would make it illegal for the abusive person to contact them
  • Inform neighbors/security/human resources of concerns and if possible provide a picture of the abusive person so they are not allowed at the place of business and the police/survivor/targeted support person can be notified of the threat
  • Install an alarm system/security cameras/motion sensor lights at home
  • Get a guard dog
  • Utilize safety planning apps like Kitestring and Circle of 6
  • Create a personalized safety plan with the survivor’s input & The Hotline’s help

We know that supporting someone who is being abused, dealing with threats, and talking about lethality concerns can be really frightening, so we can’t emphasize enough that every individual in a situation like this HAS TO prioritize their own physical safety and emotional well-being. It’s important too that anyone who is affected by abuse engages in a strong self-care practice, which can include counselingmeditationsocializingmovement, or anything relaxing or fun. Advocates are available 24/7 via phone and chat if you need support or help making a safety plan.


Safety Planning With Sex Workers (Tuesday, August 15th 2017)

Sex worker” is a term used to refer to people who work in all aspects of the sex trades, indoor or street-based, legal and criminalized. Sex work can include people who trade sex for money as well as safety, drugs, hormones, survival needs like food shelter or clothing, or immigration status or documentation.

Anyone planning to leave an abusive relationship faces obstacles, both from their abuser and the lack of understanding about why people stay in abusive relationships. When the survivor of abuse is a sex worker, they may face even more challenges when planning to leave safely, access resources, or pursue legal action.

There are various types of sex work–from phone sex workers who never have any kind of physical contact with their clients to exotic dancers and to professional dominatrices who consensually push their clients to their mental and physical limits–and many reasons that a person may choose to engage in it. The reasons why people engage in sex work are varied. Like other fields of of labor some sex workers are unable to gain employment, while others may engage in sex work as a form of subsistence living, which is especially common among socially marginalized groups, including the LBGTQIA community; non-English speaking populations, including recent immigrants; and those with mental health issues.

At this time , most types of sex work are illegal or unregulated in the United States, therefore, a  survivor who is a sex worker may face very specific tactics of abuse by their partner. An abusive partner may threaten to call law enforcement on their partner, or interfere with their ability to go to work, or withhold money that the survivor has earned–which are forms of financial abuse. Survivors in abusive relationships may experience the same behaviors of an abusive relationship with non-sex workers but here are some additional behaviors they can experience:

Tactics of Abuse That May Specifically Affect Sex Workers

The specific types of abuse a survivor is facing should be taken into consideration when creating a safety plan. If the abusive partner is involved in arranging employment for the survivor, it may be financially challenging for the survivor to leave, but survivors are super creative and resilient. If the survivor works at a club or regular location, showing a photograph or giving a description, of the abusive partner to any security at the venue can be a good way of making sure an abuser does not disrupt the survivor’s work or intentionally cause them to lose employment. Some states offer address confidentiality programs, so that if a survivor moves, they can make sure their abuser does not find their new address through public records.

If possible, carpooling or using “the buddy system” when arriving to and leaving work is a valuable way of staying safer when an abusive partner resorts to stalking. Making sure that a trusted friend is always aware of where the survivor will be working is an easy method of staying safer. For example, apps like KiteString can make that process even simpler. Coming up with a code word that can be texted to that buddy in an emergency may also be useful:the buddy can come pick up the survivor or arrange transportation. Being familiar with the streets and neighborhood around where the survivor is working can be useful in planning for an emergency situation where a survivor must leave work immediately.

Sex workers may not want to involve law enforcement when dealing with an abusive situation, out of concern that they may be arrested themselves. Bias against sex workers might lead law enforcement to characterize domestic violence as “a trick gone bad” or otherwise attribute abuse to “workplace hazards,” rather than treat it as a crime. Law enforcement officials may also target sex workers, arresting them on vague charges like “loitering,” “lewdness” or “public nuisance,” in addition to charging them with statutes that specifically target sex workers. For instance, in New York state, as well as many others, it is legal for police and courts to use the possession of condoms as evidence of solicitation.

Social stigma against sex workers may also cause a survivor to hesitate to reach out to local resources like shelters, and some domestic violence organizations do discriminate against residents who break the law. Regardless of criminal history, anyone who is a survivor of abuse is legally entitled to protection under the law. All survivors deserve to be treated with respect, and believed. HIPS is a Washington, DC-based organization that provides support and information for people involved in the sex trade/exchange that may be a useful resource for survivor-sex workers. For all survivors of abuse or assault, self-care and counseling can be powerful methods of processing and overcoming trauma. This article from RAINN talks about  how to determine if a therapist is right for a survivor of sexual abuse/assault; while this one from our website has some suggestions for easy self-care.

Sex Trafficking

When someone is forced, coerced or threatened into sex work, they may be a victim of sex trafficking, and anyone under 18 who engages in sex work is considered a victim of trafficking under U.S. law. Sex traffickers may recruit victims by promising them lawful, paid work, often as models or dancers, but once lured into the situation, they are unable to access their earnings or stop doing sex work. If you suspect that you or a loved one might be a victim of sex trafficking, you can contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline and learn more about the signs of trafficking at Polaris Project.

If you are a sex worker or the loved one of a sex worker in an abusive situation,  our advocates are here to talk with you by chat and phone every day from 6am-2am CST. Chat with us online or call us at 1-800-799-7233 (1-800-787-3224 TTY).

Additional resources:

  • The HIPS Hotline helps those impacted by sexual exchange and/or drug use due to choice, coercion, or circumstance by phone, 24/7 at 1-800-676-HIPS
  • FORGE offers anti-violence support for members of the trans community and can supply referrals to local providers by phone at 1-414-559-2123
  • The Northwest Network and The Network/La Red provide support services to LGBTQIA+ survivors of sexual abuse and assault
  • The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) has a 24/7 hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) and also offers an online chat
  • After Silence and Pandora’s Project are useful websites offering support for survivors of sexual violence
  • Male Survivor is a great resource for male survivors of sexual abuse and assault
  • The Planned Parenthood Chatline offers support and education to anyone with questions or concerns about their reproductive health


Tips for Intervening If You Witness Domestic Violence (Tuesday, May 30th 2017)

Yellow background with a graphic of a grey eye and the words Witnessing Domestic ViolenceMore than 12 million people in the U.S. are affected by domestic violence each year. While domestic violence typically happens behind closed doors, in some cases it does happen in a public space or around friends or family members, meaning that other people may witness or be aware of the abuse. When we overhear or see something that doesn’t feel right, it can be difficult to know how to react. So, here are some tips and suggestions for what you might do to intervene and interrupt that violence.

If you witness abuse in public, it’s important to take into account your own safety as well as the survivor’s. There is safety in numbers, so gathering a group of people to stand nearby and either verbally or physically intervene is one option. Contacting the authorities is another option. You might even record the incident with your phone to pass to law enforcement if the survivor chooses to press charges (keep in mind, however, that some survivors choose not to take legal action).

If you’re hearing suspicious noises from your neighbors, one option is to speak with the survivor in person the next day. You might greet them with a question like, ”Hey, I heard some stuff last night. Are you okay?” Make sure to approach them in a safe, private space, listen to them carefully and believe what they have to say. Never blame them or ask what they did to “provoke” their partner. Let them know the abuse isn’t their fault, and that they deserve support. You might give them The Hotline’s contact information or direct them to a local crisis line. If you are ever concerned for the survivor’s immediate safety (or your own), you do have the right to contact the police. If the survivor decides to press charges against the abusive partner, your statement can be one way to help them document what they’ve experienced.

At The Hotline, we often hear from family members who want to physically remove the survivor from the abusive partner because they won’t leave themselves. We strongly discourage doing this because that action, like the abuse, encroaches on the survivor’s autonomy. It’s understandable to want to step in and take care of someone you love, but it is important to remember that they are the only person who can decide what is right for them; this is a choice they must make on their own. Abuse is so difficult to witness, but you can’t “save” them or “fix” the situation. The hardest thing to realize is that even with your help, some people won’t ever leave the relationship, and they do have the right to make that choice. You also have the right to express your concern, offer support, ask them to talk about a safety plan with you, and refer them to those who can help.

But, with all of that being said, it’s still important to have hope. On average, it takes domestic violence survivors seven times to leave the relationship for good, so if it’s physically and emotionally safe for you, try to continue offering support in any way you can. Believing and supporting them can be a major factor in helping them stay safe or helping them find empowerment to leave when they’re ready.

Is someone you know experiencing relationship abuse? We’re here to help! Call 1-800-799-7233 (24/7) or chat here on our website between 7 a.m. and 2 a.m. Central time.


When Your Family Member is Abusing Their Partner (Wednesday, May 24th 2017)

Green background with a silhouette of a person in the foreground watching a coupleBy Anitra, youth organizer at The Hotline and loveisrespect

At The Hotline, we talk a lot about how to support someone you care about if they are being abused. But what if the person you care about is the one who is being abusive toward their partner? What if they’re a member of your own family?

This can be an incredibly difficult situation to deal with. You might love your family member, but you know that what they’re doing is harmful. You may not want to admit that it’s happening, or you may just feel like cutting them out of your life. These are all normal reactions. Relationships with family members can be complicated, and if someone is behaving abusively, that makes things even more complicated.

It’s important to remember that you have the power to be an active bystander. Ultimately, your family member is the only person who can choose to stop the abuse, but there are a few things you can do to encourage them to behave in healthier ways.

Educate yourself on the dynamics of domestic violence and abuse. Abuse is about power and control, and the signs are not always obvious. Learning the warning signs of abuse can help you help your family member identify their abusive and unhealthy behaviors. If you witness behaviors that you feel are unhealthy or abusive, try not to be silent about them. You might say things like, “I don’t think it’s healthy to talk to your partner that way,” or “If you care about someone, I think you should treat them with respect.”

Avoid blaming the victim or excusing abusive behavior. If you witness the abuse, or if your family member tells you about a time they behaved abusively, try not to place blame on their partner or make excuses for the abuse. For example, avoid saying things like, “Well, what did they do to make you act that way?” or “You couldn’t help it.” There is no excuse for abuse; it is a choice, and it’s one that no one has to make. Although you may care about your family member, it’s important to focus on identifying the abusive behaviors. Even if their partner stays in the relationship, that doesn’t mean they deserve to be abused. Remember, you’re not turning against your family member. You’re just trying to help them have a healthier relationship.

Realize that you can’t make them change. You can’t “save” or “fix” another person. It’s up to them to decide that they want to change. Acknowledging that their behavior is abusive is the first step, and change can be a long and difficult process. Encourage them to seek professional help or to reach out to a confidential, non-judgmental hotline. Remind them of the effects that their abusive behaviors are having on their partner and their family. And remember, your family member’s decision to be abusive is not a reflection on you.

Practice Self-Care. It can be very difficult knowing that someone you care about is an abusive partner. You might feel stressed or emotionally drained, and that’s totally normal. You have the right to take a step back from the situation when you need to and practice lots of self-care! By self-care, we mean doing things you enjoy or that help you feel calm and relaxed. Your own wellbeing is important, and you can’t put energy into supporting others if you aren’t taking care of yourself.

If someone you know is being abusive, we are here to help. Call 1-800-799-7233 (24/7) or chat here on our website between 7 a.m. and 2 a.m. Central time.



When an Abusive Partner Ends the Relationship (Thursday, May 11th 2017)

abusive-partner-ends-relationshipBy Nicole H., a Hotline advocate

“There are things that can bond stronger than love, and that’s trauma… his exit was just one more way she was walked on.” – Lundy Bancroft

When talking about domestic violence, most people assume that the survivor will be the one who will take steps to leave the relationship. After all, most abusive partners do not want to give up the control they have over their partners and will attempt to keep them in the relationship as long as possible. But in some cases, it’s actually the abusive partner who ends the relationship and leaves.

If this has happened to you, you may be thinking, “What just happened?” When someone ends a relationship with you, it can feel like a rejection of who you are and your worth as a person. Adding an abusive partner to the mix can magnify this pain, if not cause real trauma. According to author Lundy Bancroft, survivors in this position “experience the abuser’s departure as one final slap in the face following a long line of previous ones” and are left “feeling even more humiliated and unlovable.” Maybe your abusive partner truly wanted to change, and they left out of concern for your safety. But, chances are they were using their leaving as a final tactic to hurt you on purpose.

This has nothing to do with what you deserve or how much you’re worth. The abuse you experienced during the relationship was never your fault. This final abusive act isn’t your fault, either. This is hard, but you are not alone.

Leaving Isn’t the Only Thing That Hurts

Maybe you put a lot of time and love into the relationship. Perhaps there are children involved, and you feel the loss of the family you wanted to keep. Maybe others in your community made you feel like the abuse was your fault (it wasn’t). Maybe you didn’t get the support or legal assistance that you needed and deserved. Maybe your partner isolated you to the point where you lost connections with friends, family and even yourself. All of these factors can compound the pain of being left by your partner. Your ex-partner’s rejection or abuse may have turned everything in your life upside down for now. But in this break, a new door can be opened to endless possibilities of the happiness, love and respect you always deserved. Healing can take a lot of time and effort, but it is possible. This can be the start of your journey towards a happier and safer life!

Why Am I the One Suffering?

You have already been through so much pain in your relationship. Now that it’s over, you’re still feeling pain. Why? Part of the reason is likely because you cared deeply about your partner and your relationship. Loving an abusive partner isn’t uncommon, strange or wrong. And it’s never easy to deal with the end of a relationship, whether it was abusive or not.

Also, many survivors talk about their struggles with recovering after their abusive partner leaves because they believe that their partner is not suffering at all. Maybe they’ve even moved on to someone new. This may feel terribly unfair or disheartening, but it’s important to remember that they are not “better off,” happier, or “fixed.” They are still exactly who they were when they left you. Their “love” was not loving or safe; they hurt you on purpose. You deserve to be with someone who treats you with respect and kindness. Whatever your ex-partner’s life may seem like now, it does not change how amazing and full your life can be now that they’re gone.

Tips for Healing and Recovery

As impossible as it might seem at the moment, your life will move forward and things will get better. To help you on this journey, we have some tips for healing and recovery that have worked well for many survivors:

  • Trust yourself. Know that the pain you went through and are going through is real and not your fault.
  • Be patient with yourself. We all heal at different times and in different ways. Healing often takes longer than anyone wishes it would. It is a process!
  • Allow yourself to feel your emotions. You may be feeling a lot of emotions: sadness, anger, loss, resentment, frustration, confusion, fear, love, relief, loneliness, hope. These feelings are normal, and it’s important to allow yourself to work through them. Being present and getting through this rough patch means you are that much closer to a healthier, more peaceful life. If you ever feel like your emotions are too much to handle, you deserve to seek support. Trusted friends, family members, a counselor or therapist, hotlines, support animals, or support groups are all good options. Try to remember: you can and will get through this.
  • Practice self-care. Anything you can do to show yourself the love you always deserved, calm yourself, or even distract yourself in healthy ways can really help. If self-care feels like too much to think about, or you feel like you don’t even know what you enjoy anymore, Scarleteen has a great list of ideas! If you enjoy journaling, check out these tips from Your Life Your Voice. Reading books, watching funny movies, moving your body in ways that feel good to you, meditating, learning a new skill, or just getting back into a regular meal routine are all great ways to take care of yourself, too.
  • Block and shut down triggers. Try to identify the things that remind you of the relationship or trigger negative feelings. These can include old meeting spots, songs, or items in your home. Do your best to avoid them or rid yourself of them as you heal. If you’re following your ex-partner on social media, you might consider unfollowing them or blocking them from your feeds. You might be tempted to check their Facebook or other social media accounts for updates, and that feeling is normal. But, take a deep breath and remind yourself that it will likely not make you feel better. It’s difficult to move on from someone and put them in your past when they are still an active part of your present. Continuing to look at their pages and accounts will only keep them a part of your present. With time and practice, you can stop giving them your energy. Consider changing your number and locks, if necessary. Also, you have the right to avoid being around people who don’t make you feel comfortable and supported. This is you getting your control and power back. That is huge!
  • Change it up. Whether it is your looks, routine, or even your environment, consider making changes that represent this new and endlessly loving start of your life.
  • Above all, be gentle with yourself. If you end up back in contact or even back together with your ex-partner, that doesn’t mean you failed or are to blame at all. It’s also important to recognize that, even if your abusive partner left you first, it doesn’t mean you’re weak or that you could not have left them at some point. Abuse is difficult to recover from for anyone. There are many reasons why a person might stay with or return to an abusive partner. No matter what, know that you deserve to be safe and happy, always.

Remember, this is not your final destination. Take things one day at a time. You can be happy and safe again – if not happier than ever.

If you need support, resources or just someone to talk to about your relationship, Hotline advocates are here for you 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233 or via online chat from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Central time.


Behind the Screens: Key Copier Apps (Thursday, April 27th 2017)

Key copier apps and domestic violence: image of a cellphone with a key on its screen on a dark blue backgroundThis is a post in our Behind the Screens series, which explores issues related to digital abuse. This post was contributed by Eleanor, a Hotline advocate

As technology continues to make our lives more accessible and seamless, it’s always important to be aware of how it can also be used for potential abuse. In our previous Behind the Screens posts, we’ve discussed ways that computers, mobile devices and spyware can be used to manipulate, control and/or stalk a victim. Now, there are apps – such as the KeyMe App – that could allow an abusive partner to enter your home without your consent.

According to the Stalking Resource Center, “stalkers often use technology to assist them in stalking their victims.” At The Hotline, we know that abusive partners use a variety of tactics, including the use of technology, to intimidate or control their partners. Though the intended purpose of key copier apps is to ease the frustration of losing one’s keys or getting locked out of one’s home, it’s important to be aware of their existence and how they could be used by an abusive partner. For example, with the KeyMe app, anyone with an account can photograph your keys using the app and store photographic copies of them in their digital cloud to print keys as desired, thus allowing access to your personal spaces.

How can you tell if copies of your keys have been made?
If you suspect that someone has entered your home, vehicle or personal spaces, it is possible that you are correct. A spokesperson for the KeyMe app says that the amount of data they collect from account users can help identify anyone using their platform maliciously. However, if you suspect that your keys have been copied, it may be best to contact local law enforcement first.

You might also consider the following tips for increasing your security:

  • Keep your keys in a secure place at all times
  • Change locks and keys to your personal spaces, including your home, vehicle, office, etc.
  • Have personal and confidential mail routed to a USPS P.O. Box
  • Install a deadbolt, keypad lock, home security alarm and/or cameras in your home
  • Take photos of your personal spaces before you leave your home to compare upon your return
  • If you feel safe doing so, share photos of your abusive partner and/or stalker with your neighbors. Ask them to report to authorities if they notice any suspicious activity around your property and/or home when you are away
  • Turn off location services/GPS on your cell phones, tablets and all social media pages. Do not check in on social media apps with your whereabouts or let people know on social media platforms that you will be leaving town on vacation, etc.

If you believe you are being monitored, or even if you’re not sure, try to find a safe phone or computer and call us at 1-800-799-7233 or chat online every day from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Central time (chat en español de 12 p.m. a 6 p.m. Hora Central). We can help you make a safety plan and direct you to local resources.

Additional Resources:


Can BDSM Be Healthy? (Thursday, April 6th 2017)

By Melissa, a Hotline advocate

bdsmHere at The Hotline, we hear from quite a few people who have questions about BDSM (which encompasses a variety of erotic practices or activities that may involve bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and/or sadism and masochism). They might be wondering if it’s healthy, or they may have concerns about a current relationship in which they’re practicing BDSM with a partner.

A lot of stigma is attached to certain sexual appetites and desires, but we want to be very clear that BDSM is not inherently or automatically abusive. It’s possible to have healthy BDSM relationships, and they require just as much–if not more–of the same things that healthy “vanilla” relationships do: trust, honesty, respect and equality.

Abuse is about one partner gaining and maintaining power and control over another, whereas healthy BDSM relationships revolve around a consensual power exchange. Abusive people will not be seeking consent, respecting boundaries or engaging in fantasies for mutual benefit. If you feel pressured to engage in any kind of sexual activity, kinky or vanilla, to “prove” your love/devotion/connection/submission etc. to your partner, that’s a huge red flag for sexual coercion and sexual abuse. If you don’t have the room to comfortably and freely say no, you don’t have the space to say yes. Consent is sober, informed, uncoerced, enthusiastic and can always be revoked.

BDSM vs. Abuse

With any type of partnered sex, it’s important to separate fantasy from reality. If you want to do something kinky, chances are it’s not going to have that instant gratification element that it does in movies and books. There are logistics to consider, such as personal feelings, appropriate conditions, consenting parties and more. Like any relationship, BDSM involves some level of mitigated risk and can, in some cases, reasonably lead to accident, injury, hurt feelings and otherwise uncomfortable scenarios. This makes excellent communication, a willingness to take personal responsibility for one’s choices, crisis management skills and a strong and healthy understanding of consent paramount in all BDSM interactions. If everyone involved is not comfortable communicating, taking responsibility, and ensuring consent at all times, that may mean it is not the right time for them to engage in BDSM or even to pursue a sexual relationship at all. And if BDSM is not for you, that’s okay. Everyone is different, and not everyone will enjoy and appreciate all aspects of BDSM.

Equality in BDSM Relationships

With regards to equality, healthy BDSM relationships are based on the premise that both partners are equals and that one person consensually agrees to submit in a way that is mutually beneficial for them both. This submission is something that the bottom/submissive gives to the Dominant, and they have the right to take it back and walk away at any time. If someone is domineering, makes demands that are not agreed upon or are uncomfortable for the submissive, or treats the submissive in a way that makes them feel like they are less than a person and that they do not have a right to speak up for themselves, then it is not healthy. Be wary of anyone who solely dictates the rules of the relationship or does not allow community involvement and education – isolation is a common tactic of abuse.

Communication & Boundaries

Before you jump into anything kinky, it’s important to sit down with your partner(s) and talk about what kind of relationship everyone wants and what each person’s boundaries, expectations and limits are. Then talk about it some more. And then talk about it even more!

What people may not realize is how much communication goes into any type of BDSM relationship, whether that’s just in the bedroom or a 24/7 dynamic. Understanding even small things, like differences in terminology, is what keeps the encounter or arrangement safe and enjoyable for everyone. Communication with your partner(s) should be very open and ongoing. If you don’t feel like you can be honest with someone about every single detail of your fantasies, including what you want and what you don’t want, then you may want to re-evaluate your relationship with that person.

Safety Considerations

When practicing BDSM, it’s important to consider safety at all times. Below are some tips and important things to keep in mind for BDSM relationships:

  • In BDSM play, safe words are necessary. Beware of anyone who says they “don’t use” a safe word or who requires it only to be used in emergencies. A safe word is for the safety of the bottom/submissive and should be used any time they feel unsafe, uncomfortable, or just need the scene to stop. In cases where a safe word cannot be verbalized, then a safe signal should be agreed upon. A Top/Dominant should also be aware of what physical signs to look for to ensure a bottom’s/submissive’s safety, i.e. shallow breathing, breath holding, hyperventilation, cold hands and feet, losing consciousness, etc. This is necessary to keep a scene safe and enjoyable for all parties. Even if a bottom fails to call a safe word, the Top is still responsible for their well-being, and it’s important they keep a constant monitor on the reaction time and reactivity of the bottom. This is not a sign of a ‘weak’ Dominant, but one who respects their play partner. It’s also common for Tops to check in regularly with their bottom to ensure they are still agreeable with what is happening.
  • It’s important to recognize and agree to off-limit areas on the body (such as the neck or spinal column and kidneys) and agree on off-limit practices. It can also help to have a first-aid kit handy, as well as training in First Aid or CPR. Don’t be afraid to ask for documentation of this and a very recent STI report from a potential play partner.
  • If you’re meeting someone for the first time, consider using Circle of 6 or Kitestring so you can quickly let people in your support system know if you’re in danger.
  • It can be tempting to want to jump right into all the fun, kinky stuff you’re discovering with your equally enthusiastic partner(s), but it’s important to add new things slowly and not all at once. It can be overwhelming to try a lot of new things if you or your partner(s) don’t know how you will respond to them yet.
  • Red flags in a BDSM relationship can include moving too quickly for your comfort; pressuring you into things you are unsure of; inappropriate attitudes, comments or questions that make you uncomfortable; unwillingness to follow safety guidelines; lack of communication or an unwillingness to communicate. If someone ignores a safe word or signal, or gives you attitude about any hard limit you have set, those are signs they do not and will not respect your boundaries and body. Always trust your gut instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

If you have questions or concerns about your relationship, Hotline advocates are available 24/7 by calling 1-800-799-7233, or you can chat online here on our website from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Central time. Chat en Español esta disponible de 12 p.m. a 6 p.m. Hora Central.

Additional Reading:

  • We’ve linked to a lot of articles on Scarleteen in this post because it’s an excellent resource for young people and adults alike! Check them out for more information about sex and sexuality.
  • If you are experiencing sexual abuse in any kind of relationship, it can be helpful to create a safety plan.


April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (Monday, April 3rd 2017)

SAAMDid you know…

According to RAINN, every 98 seconds, another person experiences sexual assault. Women ages 18-24 are at the highest risk for sexual assault. We think this is totally unacceptable!

The staggering statistics for sexual assault and sexual violence continue to underscore the need for awareness and prevention work.

The good news is more and more people are becoming aware of this issue and are taking steps to prevent it. And, the best way to prevent violence is to address its root causes and start shifting the social norms that perpetuate it. To do that, we need people from all backgrounds and communities to lift their voices and say “No More” to sexual assault!

The theme of 2017’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) campaign is “Engaging New Voices.” We need everyone’s support in the movement to end sexual assault and promote healthy, respectful relationships! Faith leaders, parents, coaches and members of Greek life are encouraged to get involved and raise awareness during SAAM. Find out more from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and RAINN.org.

Need help or information? Check out these resources:

National Sexual Assault Hotline (RAINN)
National Sexual Violence Resource Center
LGBT National Help Center
The Trans Lifeline
It’s On Us


Biphobia is Real…and Really Hurtful: Part 2 (Wednesday, March 22nd 2017)

bisexuality-2By Heather, an advocate. This is part two of a two-part series. This post is for partners, friends and parents of bi+ folks. Read the first post for bi+ folks here!

There are a lot of harmful myths out there about bisexual people and bisexuality. If you love someone who identifies as bisexual, (or pan- or polysexual, hetero- or homoflexible, or Queer & non-monosexual), here are a few examples of the hurtful things they’ve probably heard at some point:

A full 2% of men identified themselves as bisexual on a survey from the Centers for Disease Control published in 2016. This means that there are at least three million bi guys in the United States alone—a number roughly equivalent to the population of Iowa. (On the same survey, 5.5% of women self-identified as bisexual, which comes out to roughly the same number of people as live in New Jersey.) The probability that an entire state’s worth of people would lie about being attracted to more than one gender is about as close to zero as you can get. But even the CDC isn’t accurate at measuring just how many people are bisexual.

Unfortunately, bisexual people hear all of those hurtful myths from the straight community and from the Queer community, too. Some lesbians refuse to date women who aren’t “gold star lesbians,” and bisexual men are marginalized by men and women for their sexual appetites. So, coming out as bisexual, even in spaces that are supposed to be LGBTQ-friendly, isn’t always safe. If your partner, friend or child is experiencing biphobia, it’s important to support them and encourage them to find community with people who can relate to their experience. They don’t need or expect you to fully understand what they’re going through, but loving them and reminding them of their worth can make a huge difference. And if you’re the one who has said any of those hurtful things to your partner, we need to talk.

There are plenty of examples of bisexuality being denied in the media (even when characters on our favorite shows have love interests of different genders, the bi label is rarely spoken aloud!). But bi-erasure also happens frequently at the personal level. When most people assume what someone’s sexual orientation is based on who they’re dating, bisexuals who are out may be compelled to come out again and again for fear of having their identity made invisible by their choice of partner. Unfortunately, this combination of biphobia and bi-erasure means that bisexuals of all genders may have worse health outcomes than straight, gay or lesbian people of all genders by comparison. This paper from the San Francisco Human Rights Commission has some great recommendations (and a handy glossary if you’re just getting started) for supporting your bisexual loved ones.

Has your child just come out to you as bisexual? This letter from the Bisexual Resource Center is worth a read! You can also reach out to us here at The Hotline if you have concerns about your child’s relationship. If you have other concerns about supporting a Queer child, the LGBT National Talkline is available at 1-888-843-4564. If you feel like you and/or your child could use some ongoing support, GoodTherapy is a great place to find someone near you. Other resources for parents are available here, and you might consider joining a Parents Anonymous group. Want to get even more involved? You can find your local PFLAG here.


Biphobia is Real…and Really Hurtful: Part 1 (Friday, March 17th 2017)

By Heather, an advocate. This is the first of a two-part series. This post is for bi+ folks!

bisexualityHey bisexual readers, we see you! March is Bisexual Health Awareness Month, so we want to talk about the health of your relationships.

If you’re bisexual (or pan- or polysexual, hetero- or homoflexible, or Queer & non-monosexual) it’s possible that your sexuality has caused some concerns or confusion in your relationship. (Sadly, bisexual women are more likely than any other group to experience intimate partner violence.) We’re here to tell you that none of this is your fault! Healthy relationships are based on trust, honesty, respect and equality. Everyone, of every sexual orientation, deserves that. No matter which gender you or your partner are, your bisexuality is valid.

If you’ve experienced biphobia or monosexism from a past or current partner, Hotline advocates are available by phone and online chat to talk it out. Unfortunately, we know that most bisexual people experience some biphobia most of the time. If biphobia from outside your relationship is affecting your relationship, our advocates can talk about that, too. If you’d like ongoing support from a professional counselor, GoodTherapy is a great place to find someone near you.

Finding community, whether it’s in person or online, can literally be a lifesaver for bisexual people who may feel all alone. Building a support system of people who love you unconditionally is important. While the closet can be lonely, it can also feel safe, so the only person who ever has the right to disclose your sexual orientation is YOU. Bisexual people are the least likely sexual minority to be out to the most important people in their lives, and that’s totally okay. Coming out is complicated!

Some people dismiss bisexuality by claiming all bi women are secretly straight and all bi men are secretly gay. This is a prime example of bi-erasure. But, sexuality is fluid. Who we’re attracted to, what kinds of sex we want to engage in and when and how – all of those things can and do change throughout our lives. While someone dismissing your sexuality as “just a phase” is incredibly hurtful, it’s also painful if someone dismisses your sexuality because the label you’re using has changed since you’ve met them. There’s a lot of pressure for people to know for certain if they are gay/straight/bi/pansexual. It’s normal to explore and question your own sexuality as you see fit. We figure out and identify what our sexuality is through our experiences and different relationships. It’s okay to feel like you are a certain sexual orientation for a while, but then realize maybe that isn’t quite right for you after all. Labels are meant to be used by individuals to identify themselves and help them find community. They’re not for judging, dividing or hurting other people. You have the right to call yourself whatever feels most comfortable for you.

Biphobia can be isolating, even if your partner isn’t using it against you. But if your partner is behaving abusively – like threatening to out you, claiming you’re not a “real” bisexual, accusing you of cheating or using your sexuality against you in any way – know that you deserve better. Warning signs of an abusive relationship include jealousy, trying to isolate you from your support system, yelling or talking down to you, demanding your passwords or that you check in with them all the time and any physical or sexual contact that makes you uncomfortable. This Power & Control Wheel has other examples of red flags for abuse, too.

One thing that can help combat the pain of biphobia is to learn more about bisexuality and the bisexual community in general. Plenty of people identify as bisexual, and learning how other individuals have become comfortable in their own sexuality can help all of us learn to be authentic in our own. You can find resources by and for the bi+ community here, read all kinds of books and comics by and about bisexual people here, join a thread for bisexual women dating men here, rock out to a bi-affirming playlist here and maybe even find a support group near you for bisexuals!

If you have any concerns about your relationship, you can call The Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233 (1-800-787-3224 TTY for Deaf/hard of hearing) or chat online from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Central time (chat en español esta disponible de 12 p.m. a 6 p.m. Hora Central). We’re here to help.