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Abuse via texting isn’t new—abusers will utilize any form of communication to exert power and control over a survivor, and texting is an immediate way to do that. It also isn’t something only “the kids these days” need to deal with—within adult relationships, abusers have been known to harass, intimidate and coerce survivors via their phones.
The thing is, texting doesn’t have the same visual cues as abusive words do said face-to-face, and as a result, can be a little more inconspicuous in nature. For instance, a text that reads, “Come home right now,” may sound more like an urgent request than a controlling order, and a survivor may find themselves confused—is this is a sign of abuse?
That’s why a Quebec, Canada domestic violence nonprofit created a unique tool at itsnotviolent.com that helps visitors to the site examine abusive “texversations” and role play how they think they’d respond to them. Almost like real-time texting, the game-like scenarios provide multiple choice answers to reply to example texts from a partner.
In the “Every Breath You Take” scenario, the first text to come through reads, “Your appointment can’t be taking that long,” to which the reply from the hypothetical nonviolent partner reads, “Back soon babe, I’ve just stopped at my sister’s on the way home.” The abuser replies, “Don’t believe you. Since when does your sister live in the middle of a park?”
At that point, there are three possible reply options: 1. How do you know that?, 2. Hey, chill out..., and 3. What are you implying? I personally chose number one and the reply that came back was, “None of your business! I ALWAYS know where u are.” From there, I can continue choosing replies until the hypothetical abuser backs off, at which point I’m asked, “Was this conversation violent?” I chose yes, and got a GIF of Keanu Reeves giving me a thumbs up.
According to the site, “This conversation features numerous forms of violence, including cyber-violence (enabling geolocation software and demanding photographic proof), threats, psychological violence and manipulation. The abuser takes control of the victim's movements, demanding that she report to him and accusing her of lying if she refuses or deviates the tiniest bit from her stated plans.”
A Fight Over Text or a Sign of Abuse?
Not all arguments that happen over text are necessarily abuse, just as not all arguments that happen between two people in a relationship are abuse. The difference is whether or not there is a pattern of behavior from a person that leaves their partner feeling scared or uneasy or like they’ve been coerced into doing something they don’t want to do.
According to the nonprofit One Love, abusive texts can be spotted by the following patterns:
- They often include threats (“You better be on your way home.”)
- They’re controlling (“You shouldn’t go to that party.”)
- They keep track of your location (“I see you’re at the mall. What are you doing there?”)
- They demand you reply immediately (“Why aren’t you answering me?”)
- They are accusatory and jealous (“I know you’re avoiding me. Do you not love me anymore?”)
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Abusive texts can also include sexting, specifically, demands that you participate in this type of R-rated texting. This one can have serious future consequences: abusers may eventually use explicit images a partner sends them as a form of revenge porn—you can read more about that here on our site.
How Do I Make It Stop?
The most obvious answer here is to ask the person to stop texting you controlling, threatening, harassing or otherwise abusive messages. Drawing this boundary is important because it will hopefully help instill a sense of empowerment that yes, you get to decide how people talk to you. If the person continues to text you, or texts you in a way that makes you feel afraid, they’ve crossed that boundary and then you need to take a more serious step.
You can always block that person’s number on your phone, meaning their texts won’t make it through to you. But if they get a new phone number, or use an online program that allows their number to be disguised as someone else’s number when they text you—it can even appear as though you’re texting yourself, crazily enough—you may still find yourself being harassed. Document everything. Screenshot the texts and keep a log of how often they come in. Record any other forms of abuse or harassment that occur. Then, consider getting an order of protection, which will help prevent the person from contacting you via text.
You may also talk to local police about your state stalking laws—repeated texts can fall under the definition of stalking. You can also review your state’s current cyberstalking laws here. Make sure you contact police in the state the abuser lives in.
Suspect the abuser is keeping tabs on you via your cell? Read “How to Spy Spyware on Your Phone” to learn more.
Looking for someone to speak with? Enter your location to find phone numbers for domestic violence experts in your area.
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