In the latest installment of our conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, Holli Hammer, director of nursing at Texas Health Recovery & Wellness Center, discusses intimate partner violence, a kind of abuse that nearly 1 in 2 women and 1 in 4 men will experience in their lifetimes.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For a longer version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.
Alexis Allison: Holli, first, Happy Valentine’s month. I know this isn’t a very romantic topic, but we’re going to talk about intimate partner violence today. And I’m wondering, when we say, intimate partner violence, what are we talking about?
Holli Hammer: Happy Valentine’s month to you as well. And I will say, although the initial topic of intimate partner violence doesn’t sound happy, and certainly isn’t happy, there is a component of survival there. And I want to be sure that people know that there is a way out, and there is a life to be had after this is over. I’m a domestic abuse survivor, so this is a topic very near and dear to my heart.
So when we talk about what intimate partner violence is, we’re talking about a lot of different things. And it looks a little bit different for everybody. So intimate partner violence, it could be:
- Financial abuse — and that could be that your partner doesn’t allow you to have access to a bank account, or a debit card, or credit card or any financial independence whatsoever. They kind of cause you to be dependent on them for any financial needs.
- Physical violence — throwing things at you, choking you, hitting you, you know, anything like that.
- Psychological violence — where they demean you, make you feel that you’re not worthy of love, or that you always do things wrong, or that you’re stupid, or any of any of those types of things.
- Sexual abuse — forcing you to do things you don’t want to do or forcing you to do things with other people that you don’t want to do things with.
- Reproductive coercion — which is where your partner doesn’t allow you to get things that you need for your reproductive health. That could be doctor visits, screenings, birth control, condoms, it could be any number of things. It could also be forcing you to go through with a pregnancy that you do not want or forcing you to end a pregnancy that you do want. And everyone is at risk for any type of violence, but I do want to point out that reproductive coercion is especially a concern for people of color and for the LBGTQ+ community.
- Revenge porn — by which your abuser will post photos or videos of you in a platform without your consent, or send them to other people via email or text message, or any electronic medium without your consent.
Allison: You’ve covered a wide range of topics under the umbrella of intimate partner violence. How common are these? How often do people experience these types of violence?
Hammer: Unfortunately, intimate partner violence is very common. The (U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention) reports that up to 41% of women in the United States and 26% of men experienced some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetime.
Allison: Are there some red flags that could suggest that a partner may commit these types of violence in the future?
Hammer: Absolutely. I do want to preface this by saying that, although a person may have some of these red flags, it is important to look at each individual situation, because a red flag doesn’t necessarily indicate that the person will engage in abusive behavior.
But it is important to do an inventory of these red flags and kind of do some self-reflection. Here are some common signs that your partner is or could be an abuser: If they have experienced the cycle of violence as a child or an adolescent, or if they have gone through a previous abusive relationship, or have had other life circumstances that could predispose them to being an abuser.
If your partner is very jealous, or controlling of your movements of your finances, if they put you down, often telling you that you don’t do things, right, you never do anything, right, you’re stupid, you couldn’t do things without them. Or if they prevent you from making decisions about your life, such as your job, what you decide to go back to school for continuing education experiences, any of those things or, or pressuring you to do things that you don’t really want to do, or threatening to take away your children, your pets or to “expose you.” Any of those things are red flags that you really may need to do some serious self-reflection on and possibly seek guidance.
Allison: What would that guidance look like? I’m thinking about people who are listening and might recognize some of these red flags in their own relationship.
Hammer: So, two of the easiest ways that you can get some help are actually through the National Domestic Violence Hotline. You can either call or text them. The phone number for the hotline is 800-799-7233. This is a confidential hotline, and they are standing by 24/7 and ready to help you.
If you need to text them, because I certainly understand that people may be in a position where they’re not able to speak out loud, you can text the word ‘start’ to 88788. And that will get you to the National Domestic Violence Hotline as well, where again, they are standing by and waiting.
Finally, I do want to give you the website for the National Domestic Violence site, which is www.thehotline.org. One really cool thing about this website is that they actually give you tips on how to erase your browser history and be smart about your technology. Because, if you go through an abuse situation, abusers are typically monitoring all of your movements and what you’re doing and what you’re looking at. And so they do kind of teach you how to be smart about that. And they also have a rapid Escape button, where if you’re on their website, and you need to quickly get out of it, you can press the Escape key on your keyboard twice, and it will automatically shut the website down.
When you’re seeking help, it is important to create a safety plan. The National Domestic Violence website has an interactive tool that will help you create a safety plan and what’s really great about their website is they have safety plans for people with children, for pregnant persons, for people with pets, and they really do a great job of taking into account all the special components that are there and helping you and your other dependents to stay safe.
Allison: I’m curious if a person were to call or text the numbers that you gave, what would happen?
Hammer: So a couple of different things. Depending on your situation and your immediate needs, their advice, and what they will walk through with you is a little bit different. So for instance, if you’re at home and your partner is away at work, and you, you may have a little bit more time to talk through things and really do a thorough safety plan, then they can certainly walk through that with you.
If you are in the same vicinity as your abuser and you only have a couple of minutes, then they’re going to try and get you the most pertinent information as quickly as possible, because they do understand that when you’re being abused, you don’t have a lot of time. And I know from personal experience that if you’re taking strange phone calls, or people are asking questions about things, that can certainly set off in a new cycle of abuse.
Allison: Is there anything else that you think listeners should know about this topic?
Hammer: Yes, I think that it’s important for people to know that intimate partner violence can be devastating for individuals, for families, for communities. But there is help out there. I come from a very, very small town where it felt like nobody is there, and nobody can help me. But the truth is, there is help out there.
The CDC.gov has a really great website about intimate partner violence. And they have a complete toolkit called Preventing Intimate Partner Violence Across the Lifespan, which would help communities take advantage of the most current research and evidence about intimate partner violence and how to best prevent it. So you can use it as a tool to educate your children, potentially your teenagers, about what intimate partner violence is, what some red flags are, and talk to them.
Intimate partner violence is certainly a hard thing to overcome. But I do want people to know that there is help available. Therapy is a great option. Many employers have employee resources that also may be able to help you locate local resources in your area, shelters, you know, whatever you may need.
Allison: As a survivor of intimate partner violence yourself, what message would you want to convey to someone who’s listening who may be in a similar situation?
Hammer: I will tell you what I wish I knew: I wish that I knew that, as overwhelming as the situation was, and as afraid as I was, you are strong enough to be able to be OK without them. It’s really hard to explain to people that haven’t been through it. But when you’re in it, you feel like you can’t do anything, right and you’re not smart, and you aren’t going to have enough money and you’re not going to be able to take care of your kids or they are going to take your kids away from you or, or even worse, what if they they kill me or the kids when we’re trying to leave?
And those are all certainly very scary ideas. And certainly there have been instances of familial homicide. And so we have to be careful, we have to have safety plans, but know that you are worthy of love and respect. And you are smart and you are capable and you are more than a victim.
Alexis Allison is the health reporter at the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from Texas Health Resources. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.