Recognizing Red Flags: Signs of an Abusive Relationship

Entering into a romantic relationship should be an exciting and fulfilling experience. However, it’s crucial to be vigilant about potential red flags that may indicate an unhealthy and abusive dynamic. Recognizing these signs early on can help individuals make informed decisions about their well-being and safety. In this article, we’ll explore some common red flags that may signal an abusive relationship.

Isolation and Control:
Abusers often seek to control their partner by isolating them from friends and family. If your partner discourages or prevents you from spending time with loved ones, questions your every move, or monitors your activities excessively, it may be a sign of controlling behavior.

Extreme Jealousy and Possessiveness:
Healthy relationships are built on trust, but excessive jealousy and possessiveness can be warning signs. If your partner becomes overly jealous, accuses you without cause, or insists on knowing your whereabouts at all times, it could indicate an unhealthy level of control.

Verbal and Emotional Abuse:
Abuse isn’t always physical; verbal and emotional abuse can be just as damaging. If your partner consistently belittles, criticizes, or humiliates you, it’s a red flag. Emotional manipulation, such as guilt-tripping or blaming, is also cause for concern.

Physical Violence:
Perhaps the most obvious red flag is physical violence. Any form of physical harm, including hitting, slapping, or pushing, is unacceptable. It’s essential to seek help immediately if you experience or witness physical abuse.

Manipulative Behavior:
Abusers often manipulate their partners to maintain control. This can include gaslighting, where the abuser denies or distorts reality to make the victim doubt their own perceptions. Manipulative behavior is aimed at undermining the victim’s self-esteem and confidence.

Unpredictable Mood Swings:
Frequent and unpredictable mood swings in a relationship can be indicative of emotional instability. If your partner goes from extremely loving to excessively angry or aggressive without apparent cause, it’s a red flag for potential abuse.

Financial Control:
Financial independence is a crucial aspect of personal freedom. If your partner controls your finances, limits your access to money, or makes major financial decisions without your input, it may be a sign of abusive behavior.

Intimidation and Threats:
The use of intimidation tactics, threats, or displays of aggression can create a climate of fear. If your partner threatens to harm you, your loved ones, or themselves, take these threats seriously and seek help immediately.

Recognizing and acknowledging these red flags is the first step towards breaking free from, or avoiding, an abusive relationship. If you identify with any of these warning signs, it’s essential to reach out to friends, family, or professionals who can provide support and guidance. Everyone deserves a healthy and respectful relationship, and understanding these red flags empowers individuals to prioritize their well-being and safety. If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, we’re here to help.

art-abuser-and-victims and duress codes

Duress Codes and How to Use Them

Duress Codes can be an effective tool in awareness, defense, and escape

In the 1968 Star Trek episode Bread and Circuses, Captain Kirk uses duress codes when he is captured by a previously unknown civilization that modeled itself on Earth’s ancient Rome. Worse, a former Starfleet captain is leading the civilization, so he’s wary when the Enterprise hails Kirk to ask if everything is okay. Kirk replied, “Condition Green,” satisfying the former captain that no rescue would be attempted.
What the former captain didn’t realize is that “Code Green” was a pre-arranged code that actually meant “I’m in danger.”

Duress codes have been and continue to be used in fiction, real-life espionage, and even within families for ages. Reportedly, even Queen Elizabeth II had a subtle signal involving the way she was holding her handbag to signal to her staff that she wanted to leave a conversation or social situation. Basically, these “codes” are any pre-arranged message, behavior, or signal that means something to the intended receiver but won’t appear suspicious to anyone else watching. For people in an abusive household or relationship, duress codes may be one effective and safe way to summon help.

The three main characteristics of a duress code are that it needs to be pre-arranged, unlikely to be used by accident, and undetectable by anyone for whom the message isn’t intended.  

Duress Codes should be pre-arranged

The message is coordinated between the survivor and their support system and only to those they absolutely trust to help. The survivor and their support system then agree on one or more codes and their meanings. The code should be something that makes sense to be used without standing out as unusual.

They should be unlikely to be used by accident

Duress codes should be unique enough to avoid false positives- that is, accidentally using the code word when there’s not actually an emergency. This can be a challenge because the code, when trying to choose something the survivor will believably share, say, or do without being common enough that it might be used inadvertently.

Duress Codes should be undetectable by anyone the message isn’t intended for

A duress code is essential in cases where the abuser is strictly controlling or monitoring the survivor’s actions, online accounts, and conversations. It should be assumed that the abuser is going to see the code, and it’s critical they are unable to recognize it as one.

A duress code can be anything the survivor and their support system agrees on, and they can have as many codes as they can manage and as they need. Some examples may include:

– “If I post a picture of a flower, please check on me.”

– “If I mention in a text that the network went down at work, call the police.”

– “If I wear this necklace, I need help immediately.”

– “If I click ‘like’ on your profile picture, I’m in trouble and need you to pick me up.”

Or anything else that’s pre-arranged, unlikely to be used by accident, and undetectable by the abuser. It’s important to define not only what the code is but also exactly what needs to be done when it’s used.

The empowerment and security that comes from having a well-thought-out safety plan, including using duress codes, cannot be overstated. These codes are more than just secret signals; they are a bridge to safety for those who might find themselves in perilous situations, providing a discreet way to ask for help without alerting potential threats. Remember, you’re not alone in navigating these challenges. Organizations like Operation Safe Escape are here to support you, offering guidance, resources, and assistance in developing effective safety strategies tailored to your unique circumstances. Safety is a fundamental right, and through collaboration, preparation, and the use of tools like duress codes, we can work together to protect that right for everyone. If you or someone you know needs help in crafting a safety plan or understanding the use of duress codes, please reach out. Together, we can create a network of support that empowers individuals to live safely and confidently in any situation.

If you need assistance creating a duress code, Operation Safe Escape is here to help.

More about Duress Codes:

Peoplesafe
https://peoplesafe.co.uk/blogs/what-is-a-duress-code

Kraden Blog
https://blog.kraden.com/duress-code

International Foundation for Protection Officers (IFPO)
https://ifpo.org/resource-links/articles-and-reports/officer-issues/duress-phrases/

 

OPSEC History and OSE

New facts emerge from the NSA’s previously Top Secret history of OPSEC.

Operation Safe Escape - You are not aloneMost people don’t know the full history of Operation Safe Escape. Until 2016, Operation Safe Escape was a project under the Operations Security Professional’s Association or OSPA. At that time, the organization was the largest non-profit organization in the world dedicated to teaching people about Operations Security (OPSEC) and how to use it to protect themselves, their businesses, and more. Over time, the anti-domestic violence mission became more important and the organization’s core focus, now referred to as OSE.

Introduction to OPSEC’s Evolution

OPSEC, or Operations Security, remains a key aspect of our mission to protect survivors of domestic violence, stalking and harassment, and human trafficking. Far from its original application of protecting military missions and plans, OPSEC today can help protect an individual’s plans to escape abuse or other circumstances. For that reason, in a practical sense, OSE is the successor for many of the OPSEC organizations that came before. Consistent with the OSE mission, this report is a historical analysis of the roots of OPSEC and is not an endorsement of any aspect of the Vietnam War or any other military application.

For context, the term “Purple Dragon” refers to the code name for the survey team in Vietnam. As a historical aside, the code name was originally intended to be temporary, so the team chose the name they liked best from a list of code names provided. The other options have been lost to history.

In 1993, the National Security Agency (NSA) released a report titled “Purple Dragon: The Origin and Development of the United States OPSEC Program,” which described the unusually high American losses in the high altitude bombing missions code-named Arc Light and Rolling Thunder, and the reconnaissance missions under Blue Thunder, and discussed the intelligence failures that led to them as well as the measures taken as a response. The process developed at the time later became what we call OPSEC today. In 2007, a heavily redacted version of the report was released to the public under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, bringing some of the previously Top Secret history to light. However, significant portions of the documents remained redacted.

In 2018, Operation Safe Escape researchers requested a declassification review from the NSA to determine which redacted information could be released. In January 2024, we received a largely (but not entirely) unredacted version that provided additional context and historical information. This report does not attempt to summarize the entirety of the 102-page document but instead highlights some of the most surprising or compelling facts not previously made available. While the document also explores OPSEC findings related to ground and riverine operations, the findings are generally similar to the ones identified by the Air Force.

The original 2007 release can be found here:
https://www.nsa.gov/portals/75/documents/news-features/declassified-documents/cryptologic-histories/purple_dragon.pdf

The 2024 release can be viewed here:
https://safeescape.net/opsecdoc

It’s interesting to note that many of the original redactions were public knowledge (and some were even referenced in official government OPSEC training resources) in 2007 when the original redacted version was made available. For example, the 2007 release redacted the name of the Commander in Chief of U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral U.S. Grant Sharpe Jr., that he originally convened the Purple Dragon team, and for what purpose.

New and noteworthy information in the 2024 release include:

1. Initially, many members of the team believed the losses were due to a communications security issue. In fact, the communications security team found 50 different nonsecure communications during the survey that included specific details regarding the time of the bombing run, referred to as “time on target” (page 9). These sensitive details were transmitted over nonsecure (and, as such, able to be intercepted) between an hour and a quarter and up to 15 hours ahead of the mission. The now-unredacted section of the report notes that 228 aircraft had been shot down and 60% of Blue Springs photography drones were destroyed up to that point, and the report questions whether North Vietnamese forces had advanced knowledge that may have contributed to those losses. The following line answers this question, which was redacted in the 2007 release: yes, they did. Adversarial forces had up to three hours, sometimes up to eight hours, to prepare or evacuate the area.

2. The National Security Agency (NSA) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed to launch a counterintelligence effort to identify and close the sources of the leaks (page 12). The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was tasked with coordinating the effort and convened two working groups- a counterintelligence (CI) working group and a communications security (COMSEC) working group. The CI working group ultimately concluded that “losses of sensitive information through enemy human intelligence (HUMINT) could not be prevented.” It made no recommendations aside from increasing ongoing, general CI activities. The COMSEC working group was convinced that the blame could be placed on individuals failing to protect sensitive information properly and that monitoring communications and transmissions could identify who and punish offenders. A plan was put in place to conduct a COMSEC survey- a new concept at the time- which the DIA approved with the condition that another team be established to examine all aspects of military operations, from planning to execution, to look for other ways they might be compromised.

3. One piece of history that was available through other sources (but was redacted in the 2007 release as “classified matters of national defense or foreign policy”) was the overall strategy for identifying information leaks and vulnerabilities (page 14). The committee ultimately decided to focus on three areas: “enemy exploitations of U.S. communications, enemy recognition of patterns and operations, and enemy access, by whatever means, to pre-execution plans and preparations for operations.” To put it another way, the committed proposed searching for insecure communications channels, patterns and indications, and anything else that might give adversarial forces access to allied plans. What wasn’t previously known was that Admiral Sharp himself elected to assume official responsibility for the survey.

4. Initially, responsibility for the survey was offered to the CINCPAC communications staff, known as J6, because no one was certain who else should manage it (page 14). However, the communications staff lacked experience in the intelligence aspect of the survey and passed ownership on to the intelligence staff, J2. But J2 wasn’t sure how to approach the survey as a concept, so it finally landed with the operations staff, J3, under the command of Colonel James Chance, J3 Deputy for Command Center and Nuclear Operations. At the time, the concept of “surveying operational effectiveness” was new to the military, but the assignment makes sense in hindsight. Although Colonel Chance’s role as direct manager of the project has been widely discussed, it deserves special mention here due to his contributions and decisions throughout.

5. Although a relatively minor historical note, the size and scope of the survey team was previously undisclosed (page 15). Teams were established at seven commands at various airbases in Japan, Thailand, Guam, and Vietnam. At each command, the number of personnel assigned ranged from a small handful of men at some bases to 39 assigned to the U.S. Military Assistance Command in Vietnam.

6. In the 2007 document, pages 17-31 were almost entirely redacted, representing nearly the entirety of the “Birth of a Dragon” section, which primarily focused on the team’s findings and observations throughout the survey. Although much of the section still remains classified, a significant amount of previously redacted information was revealed in the 2024 release. Much of the information is commonly known, but noteworthy revelations include:

In order to encourage everyone surveyed, from the lowest ranks to the commanding officers, the team agreed that the Purple Dragon survey wouldn’t be treated like a traditional inspection and that no reprimands would come from the gathered information. It was decided at that time to capture the information would be kept non-attributional
In a departure from the original COMSEC team’s plan, the goal was to address the root of the problem rather than punish those who failed to follow proper procedures. With this in mind, unit commanders were given the opportunity to fix any issues before they were reported higher.
To avoid having those interviewed from unconsciously altering their usual activities and gathering accurate information, participants were not told the nature of the survey when being interviewed or observed.

Much of the information disclosed in the document detailed the specific procedures and goals for the team. Based primarily in Pearl Harbor (partially, we learn from other sources due to travel budget limitations for the NSA members of the team), team members compiled a database of findings and evaluated the information as it unfolded. Given that the team was looking for something entirely unknown, it’s interesting to see how they approached the problem and made sense of what they discovered.

7. Even the initial recommendations proved effective (page 22). Before OPSEC as a process was formalized, the initial recommendations given on-site increased survivability and recovery rates for bombers and drones.

8. By reviewing unclassified Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) for upcoming missions, the Purple Dragon survey team was able to gauge upcoming targets and mission times with about 80% accuracy (page 22). The NOTAMs are generally made widely available with limited control to deconflict airspace and help prevent aviation accidents. It’s certain that adversarial forces had access to those reports, which detailed specific times and general locations of missions.

9. Local Vietnamese allies and officials were warning their friends and family of upcoming bombing missions to give them time to leave the area (page 24). The process for selecting and approving targets could take a week or more, and it involved approvals from multiple different commands and up to the Pentagon. This included coordination with local allies. There is no evidence that any Allied official leaked information to adversarial forces. Still, it should have been foreseen that local officials would naturally want to warn their family and friends who may be in the area. Those family and friends would warn their family and friends, and so on. The local civilian population would start evacuating the general target area one to three days before the mission, which signaled to adversarial forces that they should do the same.

10. Many Rolling Thunder missions were compromised shortly after takeoff (page 25). Early in the survey, it was estimated that up to 90% of Rolling Thunder missions were compromised to varying degrees after takeoff from Thailand or the Gulf of Tonkin, giving the adversary up to 45 minutes’ notice before a strike. Given the sophistication and resiliency of the North Vietnamese tunnel systems, this was more than enough time to shelter personnel and equipment. The Navy and Air Force would use exactly four electronic countermeasure aircraft to jam enemy radar when targeting heavily defended areas, but only two when targeting others. Simply by observing the configuration of the flights or noting the distinctive (and unchanged) call signs of the aircraft, the type of target could be determined. There were also other examples given, including the pattern that Airborne Command Post (ACP) aircraft would land at certain places and times depending on when and where the mission would take place, the fact that the Air Force and Navy would strike at specific times (the Air Force, for example, would almost invariably strike targets between 0800 and 0900, and again between 1600 and 1700) and only in good weather, that airborne refueler aircraft would use the same route and fly several minutes ahead of bombers (using the flight route and plane number as their call sign, which was sent over nonsecure voice channels), and more. Putting this all together, it became trivial to determine the timing and target of a bombing mission.

11. The Purple Dragon survey wasn’t intentionally intended to be repeated, but the survey team and agency leadership advocated for a permanent program based on their findings and the likelihood of reoccurrence (page 30). The survey was intended to be a one-off response to specific security concerns. Still, COL Chance and Admiral Sharp agreed that the survey should become a standard procedure for any military operation. The final report to the Joint Chiefs of Staff included a recommendation that the survey be expanded into an enduring capability; the Joint Chiefs agreed and authorized a permanent OPSEC branch under the CINCPAC J3. This answers a long-standing question as to where OPSEC was intended to “live” from its inception and whether it was originally viewed as a security discipline or an operational one.

While not in this document, an interesting historical side note was that the name for the new discipline was decided at a bar in Hawaii. According to Robert “Sam” Fisher (and retold by others from the team): “The next question was what to call this new organization. Our role was operations analysis, but operations analysis would not do for a name. We wanted to distinguish ourselves from the many operations analysis groups that already existed in Vietnam. One knew that Mother NSA would not allow me to be a part of this new organization unless security was among our objectives. Hence, we arrived at the name Operations Security. A side benefit to this name was the acronym OPSEC, a good way to catch people’s attention.”

12. As a mildly interesting note, the original 2007 release showed the affiliation (U.S. Navy) of the artist that drew the dragon on the cover of the final Purple Dragon report, but the new release redacts it, likely in error (page 35).

13. The first major Purple Dragon survey of a non-Air Force mission took place in 1967 when the survey team examined Navy and Marine amphibious landing missions and found multiple similarities nearly identical to the Air Force operations assessed previously (page 37). The (reasonable) requirement to coordinate landings and raids with local officials and allied forces during the early planning phases of the mission led to provincial chiefs and local villagers moving their cattle and equipment out of the area well in advance of the assault. The movement signaled to adversarial forces that “an operation of some sort was going to occur.” It was also noted that helicopters were pulled from other areas and limited in use the day before to ensure availability in support of the landing. Naval bombardment would also begin several hours before the landing, a literal “wake-up call” for those forces that hadn’t already left, and the reporters would be notified up to four days before the assault and transported by helicopter to one of the assault ships the day before. Perhaps the most significant observation was that a Navy hospital ship, which required more time to move and stage, would be anchored off the opposite side of the target beach the day before the assault. Hospital ships are distinctly marked and easily observed, giving at least an evening’s warning.

14. About a week before an amphibious landing, the Marines would send an Airspace Reservation Request to the Air Traffic Controller in Saigon, along with a formal request to keep the NOTAM secret until a few hours before the requested time (page 40). However, this request was often ignored, and the NOTAL was released immediately. This revealed the fact that a military operation was planned for a specific day at a specific time in a specific location up to a week in advance. The solution was to send the request to Saigon at the last moment and, in at least one case, not until the Marines had already landed on the beach.

15. In an interesting twist, the largest amphibious operation of the war at the time, Operation Bold Mariner, used the same OPSEC weaknesses the adversary was exploiting to mislead them (page 40). Now understanding that the adversary was looking out for certain patterns and indications, mission planners spread misinformation through those channels to convince them that the attack would take place at Mo Duc rather than the actual target, Batangan. The Marines issued a NOTAM for Mo Duc eight hours before the apparent landing time, naval gunfire targeted the decoy target on schedule, and a Naval hospital ship anchored near Mo Duc only to reposition once the actual assault had already begun.

16. The American logistics system in Vietnam was a major success when it came to moving weapons and supplies around the country, but at the same time, the process turned into an intelligence goldmine for adversaries (page 47). Supplies came into the theater through centralized supply depots in “rear” areas and were distributed by truck convoys all over the country. Coordination for convoys and road clearances was often conducted well ahead of time and often over unsecured phone lines that were frequently intercepted. Worse still, larger convoys often used the same routes at the same times and on the same days for their deliveries, which made planning ambushes relatively simple. The survey team also found that many combat units would requisition supplies for a particular operation a month or more in advance. This request, which was often processed by local civilians, would list the latest acceptable delivery date, the unit designation and location, and often even the cover name for the operation. These details would then be stenciled on the crates and left in plain view of anyone with access.

17. The initial success of OPSEC measures to protect Arc Light bombing missions was overestimated and may have been historically overreported (page 52). One of the primary metrics for the effectiveness of Arc Light OPSEC measures was the number of alerts detected by adversary forces transmitting a warning of upcoming strikes. After the measures were put in place, these transmissions had nearly stopped completely- in one six-month period, only five valid alerts were detected out of over 2,600 missions flown. Not long after, however, North Vietnamese defectors reported that the units were still being informed of airstrikes up to several days in advance but had switched to courier and landlines to avoid detection.

18. Another section of the report that was redacted in the 2007 release was the discussion of the concept of and rationale behind “thinking like the enemy.” (page 65). Even in 2007, a fundamental concept of OPSEC is viewing your own operations from an adversarial perspective in order to identify vulnerabilities and shortcomings that you would have missed otherwise. The 2024 release discusses the effectiveness of the approach and how combat commanders were eventually able to embrace it when shown concrete examples of lessons learned.

19. In yet another example of content that was redacted for unclear reasons, the section in which the Joint Chiefs of Staff noted that one-year rotations led to repeated OPSEC issues was redacted due to national security and classification reasons (page 76). The decision was then made to train servicemembers on OPSEC concepts before deployment rather than on the job when they get into theater. To help with coordination and planning, the DIA hosted the first Worldwide OPSEC Conference from 30 April to 2 May 1968 in Virginia. Shortly after this, COL Chance was named the head of the newly-created Joint Chiefs of Staff OPSEC branch, building on his

20. After the war ended, the OPSEC process was applied to peacetime drills and exercises to determine if the same issues would be discovered away from the chaos and fog of war. It turns out they were (page 77). Joint training exercises in Korea, code-named Combat Dawn SIGINT, found many of the same issues and indicators encountered in Vietnam only a few years prior. One example of many is that drone aircraft were deployed to skirt the North Korean airspace in an attempt to activate and test the country’s air defense radar system, but the drones invariably flew the same path for the same duration at the same time of day, making the mission predictable. Much like in Vietnam, the flight plans for the recovery helicopters were filed ahead of time- in this case, exactly at 0800 the day before.

21. An interesting perspective found in the 2024 release, but not the 2007 one, determined that “the greatest single cause of the U.S. military’s poor operations security in Vietnam (was) the general lack of respect U.S. personnel felt for the VC/NVA” (Page 85). General Creighton Abrams (the namesake for the M1 Abrams series of tanks) also reportedly said, “A lot of Americans over here underestimate the cleverness” of the North Korean people. In underestimating their adversary, U.S. forces underestimated their ability to intercept unsecured communications and their intelligence in analyzing intelligence.

22. Perhaps of interest to some, the 2024 release discusses the circumstances and resourcing concerns that led to the National OPSEC Program being ultimately established under the NSA (Page 90). The CINCPAC OPSEC branch was the rightful successor to the Purple Dragon survey team, but by 1980, the branch had dwindled to only five employees and was left unsure of its peacetime role. The NSA, however, had provided many of the staff for the CINCPAC team and, in no small part due to the leadership role of Sam Fisher and others, maintained a recent institutional memory for the process. In 1981, the agency began providing OPSEC training to the government, civilian, and military elements, so it came as no surprise when President Ronald Reagan established the NSA as the executive agent in charge of the National OPSEC Program when it was created in 1988.

A lot has changed in the decades since this history was written. And even more has changed since the date the final Purple Dragon report was submitted in 1967. But in understanding the history of OPSEC, we can understand just how many things have actually stayed the same. OPSEC is no longer only a military discipline, but the challenges faced by the original Purple Dragon survey team have a lot to teach us about the challenges we’re likely to face in our own organizations and communities.

Survivors, Why don’t they just leave?

Survivors hiding her face and pushing away.
Survivor hiding her face and pushing away.

For survivors, leaving an abusive relationship can be complex, challenging, and even dangerous. But once in a while, people looking in from the outside don’t fully understand the challenges survivors face when making such an important decision. Advice or comments like “Why don’t you just leave?” or “Just get a divorce” might seem to make sense to someone unfamiliar with the specific situation. Still, it can also leave the survivor feeling unheard and ultimately misunderstood.

So why don’t survivors of intimate partner violence “just leave”? The thing is, it’s not always quite that easy.

Lots of Concerns

The first and most important concern for survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV) is their safety – them and their children. Unfortunately, there are nearly 17,000 homicides associated with IPV every year, often once the abuser realizes they’re losing control over their victim. While sometimes the safest option is to leave immediately, the survivor has a better idea of their circumstances and what their partner is capable of than most people. When children and pets are involved, their safety is also affected by the survivor’s decisions. In fact, many abusers use threats against children and pets in an effort to control their partner. This is further complicated by fears of custody issues or cultural pressures.

Another concern survivors have to contend with is a potential lack of resources, such as finances, housing, and transportation. Research shows that between 94 and 99% of abuse cases include an element of financial abuse, where the abuser controls or limits the survivor’s access to finances. This can lead the survivor to weigh even their physical safety against their other survival needs. When the survivor doesn’t yet have the resources lined up, even temporarily, escaping can be an even greater challenge.

What are the Options?

Even if it’s the safest option, leaving an abusive relationship can also be difficult emotionally or psychologically. Abusive relationships are often cyclical, where acts of abuse are followed by seeming remorse and “love bombing.” or excessive forms of affection and gift-giving to manipulate the target. Until the survivor notices the pattern, it can lead to a sense that things “aren’t that bad” or have somehow gotten better. Another thing that can make abuse difficult to confront is the concept of trauma bonding, where the cycle of abuse and reinforcement- as well as the “shared” experience surrounding abuse- leads to an unhealthy bond with the abuser.

Leaving any relationship- especially an abusive one- can be difficult and complicated. But no one knows better than the person leaving just how difficult and complicated it may be. Understanding the many challenges they face can help allies, relatives, and friends of survivors focus on what’s truly helpful.

But what would that be?

How To Help

If someone confides in you that they’re in an abusive relationship:

  • Make time to talk. If you don’t have privacy or time to talk at that moment, make time for them as soon as possible
  • Share your concerns about their safety.
  • Be specific in what type of help you can offer, whether it’s support, resources, a ride, or anything else.
  • Don’t blame the victim or push them into leaving before they’re ready or it’s safe.
  • If they’re in immediate danger, help them find nearby emergency resources.
  • Help them make a safety plan, which is something Operation Safe Escape or a local domestic violence advocate can assist with.
  • Encourage them to seek therapy and medical services as needed.
  • Encourage them to reach out for help, which can include:
  • Keep in mind that they might not decide to leave at that time. Accepting that can be difficult, but they may be willing to discuss their reasons with you. If those reasons include a lack of resources or support, they may be encouraged to find out those resources are available. But either way, let them know you’re available to help, you care, and that you’ll support them no matter what. Knowing people are there for them can be a real lifesaver.

    Someone you know is struggling today. Celebrate Be an Angel Day, be an angel in their life by helping them recover from abuse.

    National Be an Angel Day is TODAY!!!!!!

    Today is the 29th annual “National Be an Angel Day.” This is a day when we not only remember the people that made a difference in our own lives, but also a day where we reflect on the many ways we can help others around us. Someone you know is struggling today; how can you help?

    You can make a difference in the life of a survivor. It starts with listening.

     

    How do you recognize domestic violence?

    Abusers will generally put on a sort of “mask” in public, reserving the most obvious forms of abuse for in private. This is itself a form of manipulation, so it’s important to recognize the signs of abuse that might not be so obvious:

    • Their partner insults them in front of others, or even in public
    • They are constantly worried about upsetting their partner or making them angry
    • They keep making excuses about their partner’s behavior or minimize their comments
    • Their partner appears to be jealous and possessive, or even controls who they’re able to associate with
    • The relationship seems to be moving very quickly, and they’re pressured to make commitments early on in the relationship
    • You notice unexplained marks or injuries, such as bruises or cuts
    • They stop spending time with friends and family, or significantly reducing the time they spend with friends and family without a clear reason
    • They seem depressed or anxious, or demonstrate other personality changes
    • They have unexplained financial problems, often a symptom of financial abuse

    Don’t wait for someone close to you to tell you what’s going on. If you see something concerning, say something!

     

    Teen Dating Violence and Abuse

    Teenage relationships can often be more volatile than adult ones. It’s just as important to share information and resources with teens, especially if you have reason to suspect the relationship is abusive in any way. Some signs of abuse include:

    • Changes in behavior, such as unexplained moodiness, temper, depression, or withdrawing from friend or family groups
    • Pressure to take the relationship “to the next level,” either physically or with long-term commitments
    • Showing up unannounced and uninvited
    • The relationship is extremely volatile; they’re constantly fighting or breaking up and getting back together. The cycle is often restarted with a grand gesture by the partner, which may include expensive gifts or frequent efforts to contact them
    • New signs of body or appearance insecurity
    • The partner starts speaking for the teen, especially when discussing plans or opinions
    • They’re monitoring the teen’s devices, tracking their location, and otherwise invading their privacy
    • They are pressured to respond to text messages or other contact immediately, and become distressed when they’re not able to receive and respond to messages quickly
    • Their possessions get vandalized or destroyed by their partner
    • Unexplained or hidden injuries

     

    What can I do?

    If you know or suspect that someone close to you is in an abusive relationship, taking the next step can be hard and you may even be afraid of offending someone you care about. It’s always okay to share your concerns, and it might even save their life.

    • Tell them you’re concerned about their safety, and what specifically worries you. This can help them see that the behaviors aren’t okay and that people care
    • Be specific with how you want to help, whether you can offer resources, space, comfort, childcare, or anything else
    • Encourage them to talk to someone that can help, such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Operation Safe Escape, a local agency, etc
    • Encourage them to do things they used to enjoy but may have stopped doing
    • Give them your attention. Find a time when you won’t be distracted while talking
    • Don’t try to force them to do anything; it can be hard, but they might not be ready or able to make a change at that time. Let them know you’ll be there for them when they are. Also, don’t try to shame or blame them for anything that happened
    • Let them know you’ll always be there for them, whether they stay or are ready to leave

     

    Resources: 

    Make a safety plan. Note: when making a safety plan, which may include storing important documents or clothing, be careful not to give clues to the abuser. If they would notice important documents missing or see a “go bag” hidden in the home, this can escalate the abuser

    The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The Hotline offers anonymous chat, text, and other resources

    The Coalition Against Stalkerware. Not only does the Coalition do great work in combating stalkerware apps and tools, take a look at the members for even more resources

    Elon plans to remove the Block function from Twitter (X) – A potentially unsafe decision.

    Elon Musk made an announcement that X (aka Twitter) will be removing the block feature for public posts, leaving the function only available for direct messages. Elon is - frankly - wrong.On August 18, 2023, Twitter… we mean “X” owner Elon Musk made an announcement that the site will be removing the block feature for public posts, leaving the function only available for direct messages. He later clarified his (flawed) belief that the mute button is good enough to protect Twitter’s users.

    Elon is, frankly, wrong.

    Survivors of domestic violence and stalking block accounts for their own safety and mental health. It can help people share their story, connect with their support system, and enjoy the internet without the constant harassment of people who want to cause them harm or distress. And while not a perfect solution, it gives them some measure of control over their online presence even when the harasser creates new accounts for the same purpose. This is why we typically recommend survivors of abuse, stalking, and harassment block and report any accounts sending abusive messages.

    Instead of blocking, Elon says that Twitter users should mute abusive accounts. The biggest problem with this approach is that the abuser can still send messages, which often includes threats, lies, and even non-consensual pornographic images. If the account is muted, the survivor won’t be able to see or address them, but everyone else on their timeline can. In effect, it gives control of the narrative over to the abuser while taking away from the voice of the survivor. This plan also makes it easy for abusers to view posts and replies from the survivor and their support system while remaining logged into their own account.

    Blocking isn’t a perfect solution- there are ways around it, and stalkers or abusers know that. But taking away a tool that survivors of crime use to protect themselves is not okay. We’ve reached out to the Twitter team- and to Elon himself- to make it clear that this plan will put people at risk. Whether or not he listens remains to be seen.

    Personally, we believe that Twitter will ultimately end up doing the right thing, but maybe not for the right reason. It’s been pointed out that the iOS app store requires that social media services require “The ability to block abusive users from the service.” Elon may argue that allowing users to block direct messages meets this requirement but we, and many Twitter users, can see that this isn’t enough to protect users.

    Elon, millions of survivors of domestic violence, stalking, online abuse, and harassment are watching.

    Additional Links:
    https://www.cnbc.com/2023/08/18/elon-musk-says-x-users-will-be-losing-the-ability-to-block-content-.html
    https://www.theverge.com/2023/8/18/23837494/elon-musk-twitter-x-remove-blocking

    Musk says X’s ‘block’ feature is going away

    Social Media Abuse Resources

    The State of Online Harassment


    https://www.getsafeonline.org/personal/articles/online-abuse/
    https://wellnesscenter.gatech.edu/report-social-media-abuse

    Our Commitment to Equality

    Equality, diversity, and safety are important in May. They’re also important in July. But June is when we celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month- a time when we should all reaffirm our commitment to treating human beings equally and with the dignity they deserve. But, more importantly, that commitment needs to be firmly and unwaveringly held every single day of the year.

    Operation Safe Escape wants to take this opportunity to renew our pledge to help all survivors of domestic violence, stalking and harassment; we do not discriminate based on gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, or any other innate characteristic. We believe that love is love, and no one should be denied safety and security because of who they love or who they are.

    Members of the LGBTQ community are too-often affected by domestic violence and related crimes, and sometimes it can be difficult to know where to go for help. We see you, we support you, and we‘re here for you.

    Password recovery questions: who already knows your mother’s maiden name?

    We’ve all been there- you go to log into a website and realize that you just can’t remember your password. And it’s not like you can easily guess it, because your probably used a strong password rather than something insecure like your dog’s name (right?). So you click that little link that says “forgot password” and start the process of getting back into your account.

    The website developers made a choice at that point, and it affects your security. They might send a password reset link to your email address and let you reset it there. Hopefully they don’t send you your current password in the email itself, that just means they’re not protecting it right. It’s a bit better if they send you a temporary password that expires after a set period of time. But in many cases, they’ll prompt you to reset your password by verifying your identity and answering password recovery questions.

    In the early days of social media, there was a game making the rounds. It said that your “adult entertainer” name was your first pet’s name and the street you grew up on. If I had played it, I would have been Alex Sunset, which honestly has a nice ring to it (I’ll explain in a bit why I don’t mind telling you that). But do those pieces sound familiar? “Pet’s name” and “Street you grew up on” were at the time (and in too many cases, still are) some of the most popular password recovery questions. By giving hackers and identity thieves that information, you’ve already made their job a lot easier.

    Fast forward to today, we’re living in the information age. Back in the 1800s when telegraph banking became a thing, most people didn’t know another person’s mother’s maiden name unless they were a part of the family or at least from the area. So when they came up with security standards, it seemed like a good question to ask someone who was asking for their money to be transferred to a different area. Yes, “mother’s maiden name” as a security question is really that old. But today, websites collect that information for you and make it very easy to find. The other answers might be found on your facebook page or other “people search” websites.

    Fortunately, many websites have realized this and changed up their questions to ones that can’t be easily found. They’re more opinions and personality traits than searchable facts, things like “what’s your favorite vacation spot” or “who was your favorite teacher in high school?” Sure, someone following you on social media might also know the answers to those questions, but the idea is that only you would know all of them. Well, maybe you and someone who lives in your home or grew up with you. That’s the biggest flaw in even these “second generation” security questions- they assume that only you would know about your memories and opinions, and that’s clearly not always the case.

    There’s no delicate way to put this, so I’ll just say it: it’s okay to lie. Or maybe I’ll put it another way- it’s perfectly fine to use answers that you’d remember but someone else might not think to use. If your favorite vacation spot is New York City, make a habit of naming your LEAST favorite vacation spot instead. Instead of naming your favorite food, name your favorite drink. Be consistent, be unpredictable, be secure. There’s another benefit to doing it this way- most sites will alert you if someone tries to reset your password. You get an alert but your password remains intact.

    So feel free to use my first pet’s name and the street I grew up on to reset my passwords, because I don’t.

    (Just want to mention, another option is to use a password manager to store your very secure passwords. That’s another topic on its own, but if you’re going to use one make sure you’re able to protect the primary password, since it controls access to the rest of them!)

    Set your own PACE

    In some professions, communication is important. In the military and public services, for example, they use what’s called a PACE plan to make sure they always have a way to send a critical message when time’s a factor. And you can, too.

    PACE stands for Primary, Alternate, Contingency, and Emergency. In other words, it’s a way to make sure there’s multiple ways to reach someone or communicate even if something goes wrong and the primary method isn’t an option. Broken down, it looks kind of like this:

    Primary is the way you routinely talk to someone. It’s the one that makes the most sense to use and is often the most convenient. For example, many of us will be using our phone to call, text, or DM someone we want to talk to. If it’s what you normally use to talk, that’s probably going to be your primary method.

    Alternate is what you use if the primary method isn’t available. If you drop your phone in the bathtub and have to wait for the bag or rice to work it’s magic, what would you to do reach out to someone you want to talk to? Maybe then you’d use your computer or a tablet- that’s your alternate method.

    Contingency is what you use if neither the primary or alternate method is an option. This is often something that’s a bit less convenient, but will still do the trick. This could be a neighbor’s phone, sending someone with a message, or another way to get information across.

    Emergency is when you or someone else needs help right now, and there might not even be time to send a message privately or securely. Consider how the military communicates- in most cases, they’re using encrypted radios or some other way that hides what they’re saying. But if there’s an emergency, sending out a message “in the clear” can make sure everyone gets it and can respond quickly. You hope to never need to use an emergency method of contact, but deciding what it might be ahead of time is important.

    Another benefit of setting up your PACE plan now is that you have time to think about safety and security for the methods you choose. If your phone is your primary method of communicating with your support system, of course you want to make sure your phone is protected and private. But if your computer is your alternate communication method, you should probably make sure it is too- just in case you need to use it.

    So set your own PACE, what that means is up to you.

    The Aldrich Ames mailbox

    Sending a signal, just like in the movies

    Have you ever watched one of those exciting, edge-of-your seat spy movies? Or maybe an equally exciting documentary about the life of a real-life spy? In both cases, there’s one scene in particular they tend to get exactly right.

    At a certain point, the spy needs to signal to his or her handler that they need to speak. Or maybe that they have information. Or maybe that there’s trouble. Whatever it is, they use a pre-arranged to send that important message. Sometimes, it’s a piece of tape on a window. In the real-world case of Aldrich Ames, the CIA double-agent would leave small chalk marks on a specific mailbox. The important part is that the spy and their contact both knew what they messages met and what to look for, and their adversary didn’t.

    While you’re (hopefully!) not a spy, you might someday have a need to send secret messages in a way that won’t alert an abusive partner. With the advent of social media, this is a lot easier to do than it was before but traditional options can still be useful. For example, leaving the window blinds open at a 45 degree angle could mean “please check on me.” Posting a specific picture on instagram might mean “my phone is being monitored.” Using a specific phrase on facebook could be saying “call 911.”

    If you choose to set up a clandestine communication method like this, keep the following important principles in mind:

    1. Set up the signal and what they mean ahead of time with someone you trust. Make sure they understand what each signal indicates and what they need to do

    2. Make sure the signal doesn’t stand out or raise suspicion. In the previous examples, if you never change the way the window blinds are oriented doing it to send a signal would be seen as out of character

    3. Make sure the signal is unique and stands out, but isn’t likely to be accidentally used (or thought to be used)

    4. Establish how often your ally should be checking for a signal, if applicable. Is it enough for them to drive by your house once a week to see if the houseplant in the window has moved? Should they be looking at your twitter feed regularly?

    Even if you feel you can safely reach out to your support system or call for help if you need it, it’s helpful to set up an alternate way to communicate with others just in case you need it. Setting up signals ahead of time and making sure they’re not too obvious to someone not “in the know” can help you do so safely.