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.