Thanksgiving means many things to me. It’s a day to gather with friends and family to enjoy one another’s company. It’s a day that my daughter and I put together grandma’s famous fruit salad for everyone to enjoy (and she eats the cherries as fast as I can cut them!). It’s also a day when I like to stop and think about the many things for which I’m grateful and how my life has been enriched by others.
If you’re reading this, know that I’m thankful for you.
When I founded Operation Safe Escape in 2016 (at the time using the awful name of “Project Safe Escape,” what a mistake that was!), I dreamed that we could help a few dozen people feel safe and start a life they had only dreamed of. If I let my mind wander, I could imagine helping 100 people. 100 people! The effects would be felt for generations if we could help break the cycle of abuse for so many.
Over 3,000 successful escapes later, Operation Safe Escape is still going strong. It’s more than I had ever hoped for and I’m thankful every single day for it. I’m thankful for the volunteers that give their time to help people they’ll probably never meet. I’m thankful for our partners, who have donated goods and services that we can make available to survivors. I’m thankful for for people like you, who support us in so many ways. Many of the people reading this message have literally save lives in one way or another. It’s truly remarkable.
Whether today is Thanksgiving for you, or if it’s Thursday, I hope you have much to be thankful for. I hope this upcoming year is even better than the last.
Director, Operation Safe Escape
Cell phones have changed the way we work, play, and communicate with one another. They can be used to talk to loved ones anywhere in the world, do schoolwork, play games, and so much more. In fact, for many of us, it’s hard to imagine life without it.
323.6 million Americans own cell phones, most having “smart phone” capability. Unfortunately, statistically speaking, up to 6.3 million of those people have been, are currently, or someday will be in an abusive relationship. In many of those cases, the abuser has control over the survivor’s phone plan- even after a breakup. That may allow the abuser to access their phone records, see who they’ve been speaking to, shut off the service at will, and prevent the survivor from moving the device to their own (more private) plan.
In January 2021, Senators Brian Schatz, Deb Fischer, Richard Blumenthal, Rick Scott, and Jacky Rosen sponsored Senate Bill 120, The Safe Connections Act. This bill requires mobile service providers to separate the survivor’s phone line, as well as their children or others in their care, from the abuser’s line whenever technically possible. Furthermore, the providers are not allowed by law to charge fees for this service.
The bill also requires providers to complete the separation within two days of making the request, allow remote methods to make the request, protect the survivor’s confidentiality, and provide information to the public about the service so people know it’s an option.
Happily, this bill has since passed both chambers of congress and is waiting for the President’s signature to become law. Operation Safe Escape agrees with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who says:
“We would have preferred a bill that did not require survivors to provide paperwork to “prove” their abuse. For many survivors, providing paperwork about their abuse from a third party is burdensome and traumatic, especially when it is required at the very moment when they are trying to free themselves from their abusers. However, this bill is a critical step in the right direction, and it is encouraging that Congress so overwhelmingly agreed.”
But, it’s a start and a huge victory for survivors of domestic violence and their advocates.
You’ve probably heard it before: “never write down your passwords. Use unique passwords for each website and memorize them.”
It’s great advice, but it’s not always easy. In 2022, the average person has between 70 and 80 passwords they need to keep track of! This can sometimes lead to people using easily-guessed passwords (like their birthday or pet names, things like that) or reusing passwords for multiple sites (if one site is hacked and the passwords stolen, hackers can see if the passwords work for other websites, too).
Fortunately, you have options for protecting your passwords and accounts. Here’s a few:
1. Use a password manager. A password manager is an app for your phone or computer that can securely store encrypted passwords so you don’t have to remember all of them. All you have to do is remember your password for the password manager, which you should make as strong as possible. This means you can use very strong and unique passwords for each website without having to remember each one.
2. Write them down. I know, right? You always here it- don’t write down your passwords. But this is where you need to decide which is safer for you. Remember that your online accounts can be attacked by anyone with an internet connection, but gaining access to a notebook or password sheet requires access to wherever it is placed. If you feel you can protect a sheet of paper and know you need to use strong and unique passwords, this might be an option.
3. Write them down, but know the secret. If you feel like writing down your password (and securing it) is an option for you, you can add an extra layer of security by changing the password from the actual one. For example, anyone looking at the password sheet wouldn’t know that you actually added an extra letter to the end. Or that you added 2 to all of the numbers in your password. By changing it, you can not only protect your accounts but you can also get an alert if someone tries to use it.
Whichever you choose, you should always turn on two-factor authentication. Two factor authentication (2fA) requires an additional measure to prove your identity prior to logging in. Sometimes, this can be an app, or it can even be a hardware token that must be present in order to log in. Using 2FA means that even if someone knows your username and password, they still can’t log in without you knowing.
Whatever password solution you choose, we recommend changing all your passwords at the same time if possible. This prevents anyone from leveraging their access to undo the work you’re doing to protect your accounts. And don’t forget to choose the option “log me out of other locations” whenever possible! If someone is in your account without permission, this will kick them out and make sure they can’t log in again.
After the recent supreme court ruling overturning Roe vs Wade, many of you are rightfully concerned about your rights, your health, and your safety. One of the ways this has manifested is mistrust of many period tracker apps when you can’t control your data or ensure it’s being properly safeguarded- the worry being that the data will be given or sold to states that are adding criminal penalties for abortions, other losses of pregnancy, and other forms of heath care. Many users have started uninstalling their period tracker apps out of concern, particularly those in such states.
Today, Operation Safe Escape began development of a period tracker app that we will make available for free for Android and iOS. There will be no ads or monetization of any kind. Additionally, the following privacy features are intended to keep users safe and able to make health decisions without compromising their safety or sense of safety:
The app will not access the internet for any reason
The only data collected by the app will be what the user enters and what is necessary for the app to function on the device. None of this data will ever be sold, shared, or given away. Since even we can’t access it, we couldn’t anyway
The information will exist only on the user’s device, not the cloud
All data will be encrypted
All data on the app will be in control of the user, and the app will allow a quick wipe of the data
There will be a space for safety resources and links
Critically, the app will be open source to allow the community (and the users themselves) to know exactly what the app is doing and how their data is being stored. There should be nothing to hide. We will be looking for other ways to protect users from other threats, such as cases where an abusive partner may get access to the device.
More information will be provided as development continues. If you have any input or ideas, please feel free to reach out at [email protected]
Reproduction and body autonomy is a common target by abusers. Reproductive coercion is a form of abuse where the abuser forces the victim to get pregnant or terminate a pregnancy against their will. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 25% of domestic violence survivors have experienced this form of abuse. Reproductive health is directly related to domestic violence, and Operation Safe Escape stands against all forms of abuse.
June 28, 2022 update:
The question was asked, why create a new tool versus supporting existing open source projects? That’s a great question.
Historically, we’ve tried both creating our own tools and requesting changes / updates to existing open source ones. We admire and appreciate the open-source maintainers; they keep the world running. But we have to consider and include our primary mission in everything that we do. I this case, ensuring that the users impacted by domestic violence and stalking have their concerns and needs quickly addressed. This is something we want to do to help everyone, but survivors of abuse sometimes have different needs. Our perception of risk doesn’t stop with any government, although this is certainly a concern. We’re not only concerned about government overreach and weaponization of the courts, we’re also concerned about the abuser trying to control the individual’s fundamental reproductive rights. By developing our own tool, change control and approval is less of a concern. For example, including information and resources on reproductive coercion might seem important to us, but might not be a change that’s accepted on another team’s app (not assuming, just an example). Another issue is that abusers adapt quicker than the government does, so the ability to very quickly add new features, information, and tools can make a major difference for a specific set of users.
In some cases, an abusive partner may add new devices to a wireless network in order to monitor and harass their victim. For example, cameras, microphones, smart home devices, and more are relatively easy to conceal and may be used to listen in on conversations.
When the bad actor (that is, whoever is trying to cause harm) has previously had access to the wireless network, it may be possible that they added those devices to the wireless network to remotely access and receive information. This article will discuss how to identify and remove any unauthorized wireless devices from your wireless network.
If possible, you should look for connected devices any time you’re concerned that your conversations may be being monitored. At the very least, you should follow this process when the abusive partner leaves the home permanently- especially if they had access to the network.
Option 1: Using your router’s browser or web interface
(Please note: logging into the router as administrator will leave a record in the device logs. It will show that the administrator account has logged in, but won’t show who was using it.)
If you’re not familiar, your router is the device, most often provided by your service provider, that connects you to the internet. It’s normally a black or silver box with network jacks on the back, status lights on the front, and it might have an antenna or two on it. If you’re having trouble identifying it, you can always call up your service provider or do an internet search for “[internet provider] router models” (without the quotes).
The router has a web interface that you can access through the browser in order to make configuration changes. The instructions for doing this would have been provided in the documentation that came with the router, but you can also look online if you know the model number. In many cases, the information is on a sticker that can be found on the back or bottom of the router.
You’ll need the device’s IP address to connect to it. Type that number into the browser’s address bar, where you would normally type in a website address. This will take you to the web interface login screen. The username and password, if it hasn’t been changed, will be found in the documentation provided with the router. If it’s been changed or if you don’t know that information, contact your ISP and they’ll help you recover the information. You might also find the default login information online by searching “default login” and your router model number.
The specific location for this information may vary depending on the model and brand of router, but it will generally be under a link, tab, or button called “attached devices,” “connected devices,” or “DHCP clients.” You’ll probably find this on the wifi configuration page or on the status page. This may also be on the main screen for some devices.
On may D-Link brand routers, this can be found by clicking Status, then Wireless.
On many Linksys routers, you’ll find this option under Status > Local Network > DHCP Clients Table.
The list can be confusing at first, but it will show you what devices are connected to the network. Note that if you’re only looking at the “DHCP” devices, you might not see everything. Make sure to look at anything that shows connected devices. If you’re not sure, refer to the device documentation or contact your ISP.
Looking at this list will give you an idea of what devices are connected to your network. Look for anything unusual or that you don’t recognize. If you see a hostname that looks suspicious, search the web for the recognizable parts of the name to try to get an idea of what it might be.
Note that you are likely to see things you don’t recognize, and in many cases that’s normal. Your phones and computers aren’t the only things you’d expect to find here; you’ll also likely to find your home security system, video game consoles, authorized smart home devices, televisions, and more.
This is a good basic step to take, but it’s not foolproof. Device names can be changed or faked to look legitimate. If possible, additional steps should be taken to make sure you know exactly what’s on your network.
Option 2: Change the WiFi Key
Hopefully, you’re using the strongest encryption available on your device, which may be WPA3 if available. Otherwise, WPA2 should be an option. If neither option is available, contact your ISP for a new router because your current one is likely obsolete and needs to be upgraded or replaced. The type of encryption can be checked on the password settings page.
The good news is once you change your password, it will kick all devices off the network until they’re updated with the correct password. This will effectively remove any unauthorized devices off the network and a good way to ensure only devices you know about and approve are connected. This step should be done as soon as possible, especially since your wireless signal can often reach outside the home.
Refer to your system documentation for any wireless devices that will need to be reauthorized, such as smart TVs, cell phones, home surveillance systems, etc.
Consider reviewing the router configuration page after each device you add, so you’ll recognize it when you check up later.
Option 3: Ask Your Service Provider for Help
If you’re not comfortable or are having trouble logging into the router, contact your service provider and explain to them that you’re concerned about unauthorized devices and unauthorized access. They also have an interest in making sure that no one can use your network without your permission, so they will be able to assist you. They may send out a technician that will help confirm your settings and identify any rogue devices.
Option 4: Reset Your Router
This is the most secure option, because it will restore your router to a known-good configuration and remove any rogue devices.
If you’re not able to access your router’s web interface, you can reset it to the default settings. This will re-enable the default passwords as well, which will be noted in the device documentation, affixed to the router itself, of may be found online.
The process for each device may vary, and can be found in the device documentation or online. In most cases, there’s a small hole on the back of the router that says “reset.” Unplug the device. A small pin or paperclip can be used to press the button inside the hole; hold it down for 30 seconds, then remove the pin. Plug in the device again, and it should be reset to its default configuration.
Note that any custom configurations or passwords, including for WiFi access, will be removed and will have to be re-added.
A Whole New You: Name changes and identity updates for survivors of domestic violence
Leaving an abusive relationship is the start of a new life. And, sometimes, that new life comes with a new identity in order to remain safe. This article will discuss two important elements of establishing a new identity: the name change and obtaining a new social security number.
A court-ordered name change is obtained by petitioning the court in the county in which you reside. This is generally approved, unless the court believes that the name change is intended to defraud creditors. If everything is in order the court will issue an order authorizing you to start using the requested name.
Paradoxically, many jurisdictions require a public notification, generally in a newspaper, of the name change. The purpose is to ensure creditors are aware of the name change and have the opportunity to pursue the debts against the new name. However, requiring publication of a name change can also alert a stalker or abusive ex-partner to the new identity.
It’s important to understand the laws in your state when pursuing a legal name change. Whenever possible, seek legal aid or qualified legal assistance if there’s any concern about your safety or legal options.
18 states allow sealed name changes for victims of crime, to include survivors of domestic violence when there is a reasonable concern for safety. Those states are:
Arizona [Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 12-601]
California [Cal. Civ. Proc. Code §§1275-1279.6]
Georgia [GA Code § 19-12-1 (2020))]
Minnesota, only for applicants in a witness and victim protection program [Minn. Stat. Ann. §§ 259.10-259.13]
Missouri [Mo. Ann. Stat. § 527.290]
Montana [Mont. Code Ann. §§ 27-31-201]
Nevada [NV Rev Stat § 41.280 (2020)]
New Mexico [NM Stat § 40-8-2 (2020)]
New York [New York Civil Rights Law section 64-a(2)]
Ohio Ohio [Rev. Code Ann. § 2717.11 (2021)]
Oklahoma [(12 OK Stat § 12-1633 (2020)]
Oregon, for participants in the state Address Confidentiality Program [ORS 192.826]
Pennsylvania [54 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 701-705]
South Dakota [S.D. Codified Laws §§ 21-37-5.2]
Virginia [Va. Code Ann. § 8.01-217]
Washington [Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 4.24.130]
Wisconsin [Wis. Stat. Ann. § 985.07]
Wyoming [Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 1-25-103]
These states will, when certain conditions are met, seal all records of the name change
28 States either don’t require publication of name changes or allow waiver of the publication requirement. However, these states do not currently have a mechanism for sealing name changes even when a risk exists.
Kansas (in Kansas, there is no requirement unless directed by the court)
New Hampshire (in New Hampshire, there is no requirement unless directed by the court)
There are only five states that will not waive publication requirements and do not seal name change records:
Rhode Island (varies by location)
If there is a safety or security concern, it may be worth exploring other options after establishing (even temporary) residency in a different state.
Social Security Number
Another important piece of staying safe and secure after a name change is changing your social security number, if you meet the requirements to get a new number. This will help prevent a stalker or former partner from potentially running a credit report and obtaining potentially sensitive information about your location.
Until relatively recently, the Social Security Administration (SSA) would not issue a new number unless there was evidence that the number itself had been misused. Fortunately, this is no longer necessary in cases of harassment or abuse.
From the SSA fact sheet (https://www.ssa.gov/pressoffice/domestic_fact.html): “The SSA joins with other Federal agencies to provide greater assistance to victims of domestic violence. Some victims seeking to elude their abuser and reduce the risk of further violence choose to establish a new identity.”
Applications for a new social security number must be made in person at any social security office. Bring evidence of your age, identity (to include both old and new names), and citizenship status. If new numbers are being requested for your children, bring court documentation showing that you have custody. The SSA will require evidence documenting the harassment or abuse. From the fact sheet: “The Social Security Administration will assist you in obtaining any additional corroborating evidence, if needed. The best evidence comes from third parties, such as police, medical facilities or doctors and describes the nature and extent of the domestic violence. Other evidence might include court restraining orders, letters from shelters, letters from family members, friends, counselors, or others with knowledge of the domestic violence.”
Address Confidentiality Program
All states have some form of Address Confidentiality Program (ACP), although the specifics will vary from one state to another. These programs provide a state-owned mailing address that is separate from your physical address, allowing you to use that address for things such as utilities, voter registration, driver’s licenses, and more. Any mail you receive at that address will be forwarded to your address of choice, but the forwarding information is not available to the public.
This is, of course, most helpful for after you’ve already moved. Using a confidential address will help prevent your address from showing up in online “people searches” and being otherwise discoverable.
Your local courthouse, advocate, or attorney can help you figure out what options are available to you.
Increasingly, federal, state, and local governments recognize the challenges faced by survivors of domestic violence and other crimes. By understanding the laws in your area, you can take steps to keep yourself safe and start your new life.
The Utah Legislature is one step closer to allowing pets to be included in personal protective orders after the House approved HB175 by a 69-2 vote on Friday.
According to sponsor Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, 71% of women at domestic violence shelters say their abusers also threatened, injured, or in some cases, killed their pets “as a means of control.” She said 25% of survivors return to their abusers because their abuser threatens them with their pet.
“I know people always ask me why I run sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking legislation, and I think I do it because someone has to be that voice,” Romero said. “And in the time of COVID right now, there are a lot of people in very vulnerable situations. I want to make sure that we continue to say, ‘We see you’ and they get the help they need and they protect themselves, their children and their pets.”
A 2021 report from the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice found the U.S. saw an 8.1% increase in domestic violence instances over the first year of the pandemic. Isolation, job loss and the stresses of child care and homeschooling may have contributed to the increase, according to the report.
The House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee endorsed HB175 last week, with all present committee members voting in favor. The bill allows individuals to petition the court to include pets on a personal protective order or stalking injunction — whether the pet is owned by the victim or by the abuser.
The bill would have Utah join 35 other states with similar laws, Romero said.
Rachel Heatley spoke in support of the bill during a committee meeting on Jan. 21, calling domestic violence a “secondary pandemic” brought on by the isolation caused by COVID-19. Heatley is the advocacy director for the Humane Society of Utah.
“What we see here is a significant problem of interpersonal violence,” she said, referencing a Farmington man who was arrested last year for abusing several women and torturing animals that belonged to them — including decapitating a cat and waving the severed head around “to terrify her while he laughed.”
Abigail Benesh, an attorney with the Humane Society, said there is a “significant correlation” between domestic abuse, animal abuse, elder abuse and child abuse.
“Abusers often exploit the emotional attachments that victims have with their pets,” she said. “That has them become pawns in this cruel game of coercion, manipulation and control in order to create an environment of fear and induced compliance.”
Residents — many of whom were victims of domestic abuse — also urged the committee to approve the bill. Inguinn Tersten said her teenage daughter has a brain disease and spinal cord injury, and they rely on a service dog to alert her if her daughter needs medical attention.
“My daughter’s service dog was severely used to threaten us as we were trying to break out of an abusive relationship,” Tersten said. “Every time we tried to get out my ex would control it with the dog. He knew we wouldn’t leave the dog behind because of what the dog does for my daughter.”
Jessica Gonzales said she had been in an abusive relationship where her boyfriend would threaten to lock her dog outside in freezing temperatures if she didn’t come home. She eventually escaped, but said it took weeks before she was able to testify before a grand jury in order to get her dog back.
“If a bill like this would have existed, I probably would have left a lot sooner,” she said.
Reps. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, and Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, were the only two “no” votes in the house. The bill now goes to the Senate, where the floor sponsor is Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville.
Facebook, as we know it today, started in 2004 as TheFacebook- a directory of students at Harvard University. Almost immediately it, and it’s founder Mark Zuckerberg, were embroiled on controversy about privacy, security, and integrity. These controversies continue today, with concerns about user tracking, data handling, and privacy in general. This guide will discuss the options you have to protect your information.
This guide is current as of Jan 27, 2022.
There’s a saying that goes, “if you’re not paying for a service, you’re not the customer. You’re the product.” It doesn’t cost anything to create an account, which means that the company must make its money elsewhere. And they do. Last year, Facebook made $29 billion, mostly from selling ads. And those ads are often targeted to you using data Facebook collects.
Have you ever had a conversation with a friend, only to later find Facebook suggesting a product one of you mentioned in your feed? Maybe you’ve searched for a solution to some problem you’re facing, only to find ads that seem to address what you were looking for? This is called “targeted ads” and it can range from annoying to dangerous. For example, a LGBTQ+ teen may not feel comfortable or safe coming out to their family, but targeted ads may raise questions they’re not ready to answer. Similarly, transgender individuals have been forced to answer difficult questions when Facebook recommended their private account to friends and family.
You have a right to privacy and security.
To access Facebook’s settings, click the arrow in the upper-right corner of the screen. This will allow you to set your privacy and security controls.
1. Prevent Facebook from using your information for targeted ads
Click “Privacy Shortcuts,” which will take you to the Privacy and Security page. Scroll down until you see “Your Facebook Information.” Here, you can see what Facebook knows about you and what data they collect. Click “View or clear your off-Facebook activity.”
This is how Facebook describes “off-Facebook activity”:
Off-Facebook activity includes information that businesses and organizations share with us about your interactions with them. Interactions are things like visiting their website or logging into their app with Facebook. Off-Facebook activity does not include customer lists that businesses use to show a unique group of customers relevant ads.
How did Facebook receive your activity?
When you visit a website or use an app, these businesses or organizations can share information about your activity with us by using our business tools. We use this activity to personalize your experience, such as showing you relevant ads. We also require that businesses and organizations provide notice to people before using our business tools.
The phrase “clear history” is a little bit misleading in this context. This option doesn’t actually clear your history, but it does disassociate the data from your account and prevents targeted ads. You can also see which sites are sharing information about you with Facebook.
You can further restrict Facebook’s ability to display targeted ads by:
Go to settings
Select “Ad settings”
Select “Data about your activity from partners”
Toggle it off
Select “Ads shown off of Facebook”
Toggle it off
Select “Social interactions”
Toggle it off
2. Turn off location tracking
Go to settings
Select “Location Services”
Tap on “Facebook”
Select “while using the app” or, if you don’t need Facebook to track your location, “Never”
Go to settings
Select “App location permissions”
Tap on “Facebook”
Select “Allow only while using the app” or “deny”
3. Limit information Facebook shares with its partners
Many websites allow you to log in with your Facebook account, rather than creating a new account for that site. While easy and convenient, it also allows Facebook to collect additional information about you, and allows the site to collect some information from your Facebook account. This can include your name, email address, photo, and other public information.
View which sites are currently collecting information about you by:
Go to settings and privacy
Select “Apps and Websites”
Click “See More”
Here, you’ll be able to see which sites are connected and sharing information. Click “remove” to disconnect the site.
4. Use two-factor authentication
As in… always use two-factor authentication. Whenever you can.
Two-factor authentication requires a second form of validation when logging into an account. You’re probably familiar with the concept, such as when you’re trying to log into your bank and you have to confirm that it’s really you through the app or by typing in a code that you receive via text message. The benefit of this is that even if someone were to guess or steal your password, your account will still be safe as long as your second authenticator is in your control. This also serves as a way to detect if someone is trying to break into your account.
Two of the most common methods of two-factor authentication are text-based and an app, such as one provided by the service or a dedicated app such as Google Authenticator or Authy. While both are better than a username and password alone, an app-based solution is preferred over text messages which are less secure.
To enable two-factor authentication on your Facebook account:
Go to settings
Select “Security and Login”
Select “Set Up Two-Factor Authentication”
Click “Get Started”
5. Make sure only people that you want to find you, can find you
The default Facebook privacy settings make it very easy to find your account in the search bar, or even in search engines like Google. You can change this by:
Go to settings
Find “Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your profile?”
Unselect the checkbox
On the same page, you can change how people find you within Facebook:
Select “Who can look you up using the phone number you provided?”
Change to “Only me”
select “Who can look you up using the email address you provided?”
Change to “Only me”
6. Limit who is able to see your content
You can limit who’s able to see your content, such as profile, photos, videos, and updates. This should be restricted as much as possible to ensure only people you trust can see your content.
Go to settings
Select “Settings and Privacy”
Select “See more privacy settings”
Select “Who can see your future posts?”
Edit as desired
Select “Limit the audience for old posts on your timeline”
Edit as desired
7. Conduct a privacy and security checkup
Facebook also offers a privacy and security checkup, which shows you who can see your posts, who’s able to message you, and more. This should be done every couple of months, or more often if possible. This is because Facebook occasionally changes its security and privacy settings, which may impact your account without your knowledge.
This is a good way to catch anything that you may have overlooked, and display your sharing settings, privacy options, and security information.
8. Remember that what you put on Facebook may be re-shared, regardless of your privacy settings
No matter how secure you make your account, you can’t control the actions of other people. So be careful what you post, which can be shared with people outside your trusted circle. For example, if you talk about your upcoming vacation, one of your Facebook contacts may, often without intended to cause harm, mention it to someone that you don’t want to know. So be careful what you post online- regardless of which platform you’re using.
Facebook, like other social networking sites, can be a great way to stay in touch with friends and family, and a powerful tool for finding and giving support. However, as with any online service, there is some risk involved. By taking advantage of the security and privacy options that Facebook offers, and by being careful about what you post, you can minimize the risk and get back to enjoying time with your friends online.
It’s a scenario many of us can imagine, or maybe it’s one that you’ve actually seen play out: you’re shopping for groceries when you hear a raised voice from down the aisle.
“Why do you keep buying things we don’t need?”
“I’m sorry, you’re right. We don’t…”
“I’m sick of you, can’t you do anything right?”
You recognize the signs of a survivor of domestic violence. Their eyes are downcast, their arms are wrapped around themselves, and they are clearly afraid of the person they’re with. They clearly need help.
Do you intervene? Will it help the survivor, or place them in greater risk? Is it safe to say anything? Those questions might echo through your mind, and it can be hard to know what’s the right thing to do in such a situation. The answer is deceptively simple- do something. What that is, isn’t quite as simple.
There are three fundamental things to consider if you witness domestic violence in public. The first is your safety and the safety of those around you. Abusers often fear confrontation with those who aren’t their victim, but some are prone to violence- especially if they’re under the influence. The second is the safety of the survivor, who may be at risk of harm if the situation escalates. The third is the long-term well-being of the survivor, who may take the opportunity to escape if given. Or, if they don’t leave at that time, having others confirm that the abuser’s behavior is not okay may break through the gaslighting and emotional manipulation they’ve likely endured.
One of the hidden risks in intervention is that the abuser may blame the survivor for the actions of bystanders, especially if they physically intervene. This can inadvertently result in greater danger later on, behind closed doors. However, in addition to the benefit of validating and encouraging the survivor, careful intervention may show the them that there’s support available to them, giving them hope and strength when they’re ready to leave.
This list is not exhaustive, but includes some signs that a person you may see in public is impacted by domestic violence. Remember that they may exhbit all or none of these signs, domestic violence can look very different from one case to another.
They seem afraid of their partner and anxious around them
They cut conversations short when their partner comes near
Their partner criticizes or humiliates them in front of other people
Their partner orders them around and makes all the decisions, such as what to buy or how much to spend
They appear nervous and depressed, or very quiet
You observe physical injuries
Their children seem afraid of the partner or unwilling to be around them
If you intervene, remember that the primary goal is to prevent a situation from escalating. Even better, to create an opportunity to check in with the individual and see if they need help.
There are many ways you can help to stop a situation from escalating, depending on the specific circumstances. For example:
Find a reason to be within the abuser’s line of sight. By moving elsewhere in the aisle or to another spot on the sidewalk, you can have a pretext for being within the abuser’s line of sight. Just knowing that people can see or hear their behavior may cause them to stop.
Make some noise. If the abuser assumes they’re in a private space, make some noise so they know they can be observed. Cough or start a conversation on your phone. Turn up your music. Whatever it takes to remove the blinders that cause the abuser to focus on the person in front of them
There’s safety in numbers. If you don’t feel comfortable intervening alone, ask someone to go with you. Or if you’re not comfortable approaching at all, let someone know so they can assist. If the situation appears dangerous or to be escalating, call 911
Record and document everything. If possible, record the interaction on your phone to help the survivor get help from law enforcement and the court system. Annotate dates, times, witnesses, what you heard, license plate numbers, and anything else that might help the person in danger. Keep in mind, however, that many survivors won’t take legal action or work with police until they’re ready to do so
Create a distration. Try asking for the time or where something is located in the store. Ask the survivor where they got their outfit. Ask if they have seen your friend who may have left without you. This may cause the abuser to disengage or, ideally, leave. If the opportunity presents itself to separate the abuser and survivor, be there to listen and offer whatever help you can
If you can talk to the survivor alone, give them support but respect their agency. “I’m concerned about what I just saw. Do you need help?” can go a long way for someone experiencing domestic violence. Such a phrase lets them know that people care about them, that the behavior is unacceptable (and not their fault), and that there’s hope. It’s important that they know that they don’t deserve to be treated in such a way. At this point, you can tell them about resources like Operation Safe Escape or the National Domestic Violence Hotline
Remember that many survivors of domestic violence need time to plan and prepare their escape, and trying to compel them to leave right away may actually do more harm than good. On average, a survivor of domestic violence makes seven attempts to leave an abusive relationship, which can be complicated by custody and financial issues. So even if the person is ready to leave in that moment, giving support once or finding a way to offer continuing support may help empower them when they need it.
It may be difficult to accept if someone isn’t ready to leave when the danger seems apparent. Try to remember that the survivor has likely had their autonomy stripped away by the abuser, and they may not have been able to make their own choices on many things. Telling them what to do or trying to force them to make a decision on the spot can inadvertently retraumatize the person you’re trying to help. Instead, respect their choice and remember that they have a much better idea of what’s safe and what they’re able to do in that moment than you do. And understand that some people may not ever leave an abusive relationship for one reason or another. You can share your concerns, give support, tell them you care, help them develop a safety plan, and give them resources, but you can’t make their choices for them.
In 1938, Patrick Hamilton’s play Gaslight hit the stage in London. It was the story of Bella Manningham and her husband, Jack, who was convinced that there were jewels hidden in the apartment above theirs. Every night, he would sneak into the apartment to search for them, and Bella was certain that something was wrong. But Jack would lie to her, telling her that she was imagining the footsteps she heard and doing other things to make her doubt her sanity. As in the title of the play (and later, movie), when the gas-fueled lights would dim, Jack would tell Bella that he was imagining that as well. Over time, Bella began to second-guess everything she experienced, which took its toll on her physical and mental health.
In the movie and the play, Jack is eventually caught in the act and Bella is vindicated. But outside the Theatre, gaslighting is a common form of manipulation in toxic, abusive relationships. Being aware of gaslighting- knowing what it looks like and what forms it can take- can help you avoid this form of emotional abuse.
Gaslighting makes you question yourself, your reality, and your sanity
Gaslighting relies on, and misuses, trust and influence over the target. The abuser lie about events that actually happened in an effort to make the person question their own judgement, memory, and mental health. This allows the abuser to further manipulate their victim into giving them what they want. If you feel that you’re to blame for everything, that you’re being overly-sensitive, that you can’t trust your memories or perceptions, think about what the people around you are saying to you.
Gaslighting and narcissism are closely related
People who engage in this sort of abusive behavior are often pathological liars with narcissistic tendencies. They will often lie about other things, even when they don’t benefit from it. It can be frustrating for the target of their lies, because even when they’re called out or confronted with proof they’re likely to double down and refuse to change their story. They may say things like “you’re making things up again,” “that never happened,” or “you’re crazy.” Eventually, their apparent sincerity might be enough to make you doubt your own experiences. Abusers will also use seemingly kind and loving words to avoid the conversation, saying what they think you want to hear without actually meaning them. This is evident when the behavior is inevitably repeated.
When confronted about their gaslighting, abusers will often change the subject by asking a question or focusing on minor details while avoiding the actual issue.
Gaslighting goes beyond the interaction with the victim
Abusers will often try to bring unwitting allies into the abuse by discrediting the victim through gossip and other comments. They may engage in a form of “concern trolling” by telling others that you seem unstable or have been behaving oddly. Because abusers are generally very manipulative, other people may be convinced and side with the abuser. Sometimes, the abuser will go back to the victim, telling them that other people are spreading rumors about them without revealing that it was them doing it.
“DARVO” is an acronym for “Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.” In order to avoid taking accountability for their behavior, abusers will first deny your observations and attempt to minimize your thoughts and feelings. They may say things like “calm down” or “you’re being oversensitive,” which is intended to downplay or disregard your feelings.
When denying doesn’t work, they will shift into attacking your character or reliability. They will try to convince you that you’re making things up (maybe “without realizing it”, once again an attack on your mental health) or mistaken and that you shouldn’t trust your own perception.
Finally, the abuser will attempt to reverse victim and offender- trying to make themselves look like the hero and you look like the bad guy. They will make every effort to twist your words to make you seem like the cause of their behavior, or insist that you’re treating them unfairly in some way.
The abuser will tell and retell stories in a way that makes them look better than they did in the actual event. For example, if the abuser pushed you off a curb, they may later retell the story about the time you “fell” off the curb and they tried to catch you. Their intent is to tell it enough times that you doubt your memory of the event. If you correct their version of events, they will grow irate and accuse you of lying or relying on your “faulty memory.”
Signs of gaslighting:
If you are concerned that you might be a victim of gaslighting, or impacted by any other form of abuse, be on the lookout for the following signs:
You end up questioning your own judgement, memory, and perception
Speaking up or sharing your opinion only makes you feel worse, so it’s easier to stay silent
You excuse their behavior and your reactions, telling yourself that it’s not that bad or maybe you’re being “oversensitive”
When you second-guess yourself or feel doubt your sanity, it’s their voice you hear in your head
You feel vulnerable and insecure around a particular person
Your self-esteem has decreased since meeting them
You feel that everyone around you is judging you or thinks little of you
Your opinion of yourself has suddenly changed; you feel stupid, worthless, and inadequate
You’re confused about your experiences and interactions
You always feel like they’ve outsmarted you somehow; you end up changing your opinion after speaking with them
You apologize. A lot
You start second-guessing yourself, even when they’re not around
You assume others are disappointed in you and your behavior (and may find that people around you are confused why you would think so)
You struggle to make decisions
What to do if you’re the victim of gaslighting:
Gaslighting can result in significant and long-lasting mental health impacts, so it’s important to begin separation and recovery as soon as possible.
Take time to yourself. Put some distance between yourself and the person that’s gaslighting you. This will give you time to work through your feelings without the constant manipulation of the abuser. Remember that gaslighting IS abuse, and it’s often employed with other forms of abuse. While difficult, ending the relationship can be the best way to end the abuse and begin healing.
Consider therapy. Gaslighting can by psychologically traumatizing, especially if it has continued for a length of time. Consider therapy to help work through those emotions and start to undo the damage caused.
Document the evidence. Gaslighting is intended to make the victim question their very reality. You can counter this by keeping a record of your experiences. Keep a journal or diary, save text messages and emails (screenshot them if possible). Make notations in a calendar. Later, should you start to question yourself, you can look back and see that you were right all along.
Talk to a trusted friend about your experiences and observations. An outside perspective, especially from someone that doesn’t know the abuser, can be very valuable in centering yourself and gaining confidence in your perceptions.