Quick Escape

By: Mary-Margaret Sweeney, Director of Community Engagement, DVN

A common feature on most domestic violence service provider’s websites helps explain exactly how domestic violence functions, and what extent some abusers go to to maintain control over their victims. It also helps us understand the answer to one of the most frequent questions I field during trainings: why don’t victims just leave?

If you find yourself on a website that gives information about domestic violence services, chances are there will be a button you can click that will quickly divert you to a neutral website, like the Google homepage for example. The need for this easy access button highlights just how pervasive the control over a victim  of domestic violence may be. I worked with a victim years ago who told me that she would have moments at a time to gather information from her local DV shelter website. She actually got the information she needed over the course of a week, stealing a few seconds here and there when her abuser would leave the room. She would read what she could and as soon as she heard the toilet flush, she would click the “Quick Escape” button. After a week of these stolen moments, she got herself to the shelter.

Some of these sites will still show up in a person’s browser history. This link demonstrates ways to clear your history so someone else cannot see what you’ve been searching. Some former clients of mine detail going to libraries so the computers they used were not ones their abusers had access to; using a work computer; or asking a friend or someone else outside the home to look up the information for them.

I am writing this blog from my home and it strikes me how differently healthy and abusive relationships function. I came home from my last meeting of the day and opened my laptop, which was already on and sitting out in the living room. At any point my partner could have opened it up and gone through my search history, social media, and email accounts. I realize two things: first, he didn’t do that. And secondly, if he did, I wouldn’t be made to answer for anything he found. And it goes both ways. He leaves his phone on the kitchen counter and I’ll enter his password to use the calculator function when my phone is out of reach, or I’ll see that his mom texted and he’ll ask me to open his texts and read it to him. In the past, however, I lived in a home that did not feel this safe and trusting. I have cleared my own browser history–then began to only clear it selectively because once my previous partner confronted me with, “What are you doing behind my back? You keep clearing your browser history. I can tell.”

Those living in violent situations are watched, tracked, and controlled in ways that, even after over a decade in the field and experiencing my own controlling relationship, shock me. When a training attendee asks me why a victim would stay in an abusive relationship, I have a formulated, researched, practiced answer. But, what still often comes to my mind first is a swirl of these examples. Imagine thinking that you should clear your browser history–and then realizing that the person you share your home with is keeping such close tabs on you, they even notice that. Imagine that former client of mine, waiting for her partner to use the restroom, getting information on resources 30 seconds at a time. Think of the technology “helicopter parents” use to monitor where their children are, and then imagine that being applied to you, as an adult, by the person who is supposed to love you. Leaving a relationship when you have no privacy to plan your escape is an extraordinary chore. The “quick escape” relates only to the website button.

Written by Mary-Margaret Sweeney, DVN’s Director of Community Engagement