By Lyn Twyman
Many of us are brought up with the belief that we should be able to trust our family for everything, our safety, security, emotional and physical well being but for some of us, the family has proven to be the most hurtful and even most dangerous battle ground we will ever encounter. Survivors and family violence advocates can attest to this all the time, making it almost become a myth that the family is the safest environment. I've talked to many people who have shared their deep, painful pasts about loved ones, mothers, fathers, siblings and spouses who have betrayed them through abuse. When a family member abuses you, it becomes an unsettling, traumatic experience to say the least. We feel that we can no longer trust others and ask ourselves how can we ever trust others again?
So what happens if you ask for help or just mere moral support from a family member to get you through or even after the abuse, only for you to learn they too cannot be trusted, that they actually went to the abuser and disclosed private information about you? At that point you don't know all that has been said but through some event, you learn that this once trusted family member has indeed betrayed your trust and with the abuser of all people. This revelation burns at your core and eats away at you, perhaps making you feel vulnerable. It makes you wonder if they ever believed you in the first place. It re-victimizes you.
Whether the offending family member ever believed the abuse did occur or not does not matter at this point. You now have an obligation to yourself to remain physically and emotionally safe from any further abuse. You also have to wonder how many people have lost their lives to abusers, not because the system failed but because family members failed and failed miserably, either by calling the abuser, writing them or even befriending them on social media sites, disclosing personal information about you. What I have found about people who are so willing to go to abusers, and violate your trust as the victim, is they are often susceptible at being manipulated and victimized as well. In this case, they have been manipulated by the abuser, charmed into gaining the abuser's trust so the abuser can acquire more information about you. All the abuser wants to do is continue his bondage and control over you and the family member is allowing themselves to be used as a tool.
Abusers rarely stop abusing; they rarely stop victimizing and abuse is like an addiction. If you take away the drug of abuse, all the abuser wants is to go back and abuse more. They get an adrenaline high from controlling and hurting the object of their abuse, the victim. Abusers never completely let go and let's face it, someone who has lived their life in attempts to psychologically and physically control others isn't just going to give it up. It's an addiction.
So, as a survivor, you've worked hard to get away from this abusive person and you're thrown this curve ball by a family member you thought you could trust who goes back to the abuser and discloses information about you, your whereabouts, address, pictures, updates on your lifestyle, work, new friends and acquaintances, etc. What do you do? How do you handle this? With all cards put aside, now you are left with a dynamic shift in your relationship with the family member or even friend. There are four things I want to share that I believe may help you:
1. Remember your safety is first and foremost - When someone discloses personal information about you to the abuser, you can never guarantee from that point on what that person says is truth. You can only assume and assumptions are not good enough when it comes to your life. Take all necessary steps to find out as much as you can from the family member in terms of what they repeated back to the abuser. From there take the necessary actions to be extra cautious, either way. Change your phone number, email address, driving routes, ask for a schedule change at work if possible, increase security at your home or even move. You may have to notify a neighbor to be on the lookout for any suspicious activity and don’t neglect to notify your local police depending on the severity of your circumstance with the abuser.
2. Remember you have a right to your privacy that not even the police have the right to disclose your whereabouts - The family member who chose to share personal information about you has taken a liberty upon themselves that even the police nor a private investigator cannot do under law and that's disclose someone's whereabouts and other data without that person's consent or without a court order. What the family member did was wrong and there is nothing that can justify it. Whether the breach in your privacy occurred because of their lack of judgment or because of malice does not matter. Again your safety is first and foremost beyond their motives.
3. Give a written warning and perhaps a verbal warning to the family member or friend - Let the family member know what they did was wrong, they are not to divulge personal information about you and if you have warned them before about your right to privacy, remind them again. State specifically, ‘I do not want you sharing my information to anyone about me without my consent, not even to people you believe I may know and not even to my abuser.’ Also let them know that if you are hurt as a result of their actions with the abuser or the abuser’s acquaintances, they can be held legally responsible for your endangerment.
4. Distance yourself from that family member or friend who breached your trust - It's obvious they lack the necessary concern, discernment and care they need to have for your situation so again, for your safety, it may be more than wise to eliminate any further communication with the family member. As mentioned before, you may have to change your phone number, email, work schedule, etc.
The scars left behind by abusers run deep no matter if the abuse was physical or non-physical. NO ONE has the right to make any decision on your behalf, especially when it comes to your personal and private information. Be careful who you speak with and what you say to them or what you post online, even to family members. Know that your life, happiness and well being is precious and extremely valuable. No one has the right to take that away from you and you have rights even when it comes to family.