Domestic Violence and Social Media

Note: If you are a victim of domestic violence, please be sure you are safe accessing the Internet. If you have an emergency, dial 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233). To leave this site immediately, click here.


This blog is dedicated, among other things, to exploring the intersection of health and social media. It swings its angle around different perspectives: from marketing to professional awareness of technology to the healthcare implications of the very existence of social media in our lives.

So I’m going to use this platform to talk about and raise questions about domestic violence in a world that is increasingly being overtaken by social media.

To that end, here’s video on some of the challenges raised by domestic violence in the age of social media. [If you don’t see the video below, you can view it here.]

Domestic Violence. What a strange combination of words: there’s nothing domestic about violence. And yet, it’s one that we’re familiar with.

Or are we? Do we fully appreciate the expansiveness, depth and consequences of Domestic Violence?

For Social Media has opened wide the gates of communication and connection and sharing.

And stalking.

And manipulation.

And misinformation.

And subversion.

And intimidation.

You see, not everybody is in exactly the same position as everyone else when it comes to social media – its use and its access.

A newly diagnosed cancer patient is in an entirely different situation from a woman whose husband or boyfriend abuses her. The former doesn’t have to worry about a husband who stalks her every move; implants spyware on her computer; and threatens to kill her if she tells anybody else what’s going on.

A tweet, or a check-in, could be as effectively dangerous as a bullet.

Violence isn’t just a physical act: its a violation, one which ranges from subtle manipulation to implicit threatening and emotional terrorizing to murder.

And therein lies the peculiar challenges of domestic violence and social media. If social media is – as is claimed – Social, then there are specific social ramifications to be considered in the context of domestic violence.

On one hand, victims of domestic violence need support and resources and the information needed to acquire them.

On the other, abusers often go to any length to control their victims. Their insecurity with themselves is so deep – so out of their own control – that they seek control and security in the emotional and visceral pain of others.

So what does a victim do when the abuser dominates so much that social media isn’t much of a safe option?

Remember: often these victims are so terrorized, that even anonymity isn’t an option.

There’s a lot of talk about Empowered or Engaged patients. But if you think about it, victims of domestic violence are Un-Empowered and Dis-Engaged – not because they don’t want to be empowered or engaged per se, but rather because their freedom is violated by abusive behavior.

This is one more reason why healthcare professionals need to receive the training to sense for signs and symptoms of abuse and know how to appropriate assess and address.

I think this is a uniquely important problem which demands much more attention and focus than it receives currently.

And when it comes to social media, there are quite complicated issues which we need to consider.

The United States Declaration of Independence asserts our rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

We are all, to some degree, denied those rights as long as domestic violence transpires on our soil – or anywhere else in the world for that matter. It’s not a civilization if it’s not civil. If it’s not a civilization, it’s not a Republic.


Who is doing this kind of research?

Are we doing enough?

What are the best resources for domestic violence?

What organizations are leveraging social media? I know there’s Hubbard House: @HubbardHouse on Twitter, on Facebook, and Website.

There’s also the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: NCADV on Twitter; Facebook; Website.

Who else is there?

What are your thoughts? How can we best balance the need for victims’ access to support and resources online while ensuring they’re safe?

Again, if you’d like to watch the video Domestic Violence and Social Media, you can view it here.

UPDATE: Additional resources per comments and Twitter:

Violence Unsilenced: Website and Twitter. Hat-tip to Katherine Stone@postpartumprogr on Twitter.

National Network to End Domestic Violence’s Technology Safety page . Hat tip to Amy Kiel – @Abeeliever on Twitter; Website.

@PhilBaumann –         @HealthIsSocial

PS: On the video, there are a couple of points which I repeat. I could have edited them out, but decided to leave them. I think they are worth repeating.

13 Replies to “Domestic Violence and Social Media”

  1. I also should direct you to this post on KevinMD by Wendy Sue Swanson, MD. Excerpt:

    “A study published in Pediatrics recently found that 65% of parents to 3 year-olds said they had spanked their child within the last month. Sixty five percent? The number surprised me. If you’d asked me to guess, I would have said 20-25%. Talk about way off. Another reminder of how much I have to learn.”

    That statistic shocked me too. Here’s the link:

  2. This doesn’t get nearly enough attention. And it’s an evolving issue in the teen population that exists in various shades of grey. AAP needs to take the reigns here with a defined research agenda that tackles some of the questions addressed. Huge opp for a young academic looking to carve out a niche.

  3. Phil:

    Your sincere awareness/crowdsourcing video set off a hot tea-kettle of steam from my brain! Coincidentally, I was reading R. Douglas Fields’ article in Psychology today about how verbal abuse visited upon children has lasting effects on brain structure ( read it here: ). Your broad notions of domestic violence are important to this discussion because they do harm, no matter what age you are.

    When I think about creating web havens for victims seeking help, anonymous surfing through proxies comes to mind—but that is not likely to be within the ambit of most domestic violence victims. Most people can’t program their remotes. Consequently, real access to help or resources has to be ubiquitous enough to truly be available. That got me thinking about calling out instances of domestic violence (DV) wherever it is found. The idea of DV must be made to be so abhorrent that it would be inconceivable to perform. By the time DV escalates into a classic definition (assault and battery), there have been other thresholds exceeded without public shame or recrimination. That’s where we need to step in: at the earliest warning signs. We ned to become neighbors again.

    In one of the most compassionate gestures I ever witnessed, a shopper in a grocery market noticed a woman berating her young son. She walked over and interrupted the woman to say, “Excuse me. What a wonderful boy you have here. He reminds me of my nephew. You must be very proud.” Not only was the situation diffused, but the mother regained her composure, smiled, thanked the woman, and calmed down. In one fell swoop, that shopper defended the child without attacking the mother. Brilliant. We can all be better neighbors, online and offline by making a difference one situation at a time.

  4. Thank you for focusing on this issue. I know of a woman who has been negatively haunted by this with her job search. Recruiters and perspective employers look unfavorably to people who do not have an active presence within the Social Media Channels…especially when your profession is within Marketing. It would be great if some guidelines were established to help people in this situation navigate these waters safely.

    1. Hi

      You’re welcome. Yes, it’s a very big issue. Hopefully we’ll see a lot more attention and discussion.

  5. Phil,
    What a relief it is to see this issue being addressed to find real compassion and concern! Although this particular issue is not where I spend all of my time and effort, it is one that is near and dear to my heart and I feel most passionate about creating better resources, particularly online, for those affected (isn’t that all of us in some way?).

    I would like to invite you to be a part of the #mhsm Mental Health and Social Media chat soon, where we can discuss this topic and hopefully inspire more of those in the mental health field to get involved.

    Domestic violence weaves it’s way into every facet of mental health… like a parasite claiming health and vitality.

    I am very much interested in learning about ways those who are experiencing domestic violence can protect themselves online and providing a place for them to learn those tools? I ask… does this exist?

    One resource that I am a big fan of is called Violence Unsilenced (http://violenceunsilenced). There they do a great job of giving voice to those who have experienced or are experiencing DV. Yet, I have not seen nor have I researched where one can learn how to protect themselves online.

    As an adult, who witnessed domestic violence in my home as a child, I will reiterate how incredibly powerful that experience is, you could say “damaging” to one’s mental health and sense of security in the world. PTSD, severe depression, anxiety… all issues that have been a part of my life and likely have a connection to the domestic violence I witnessed and experienced. Now, I speak out about issues so that we can provide support and awareness to those who are afraid to talk about it, but more has to be done.

    I don’t have the answers but I would love to explore the options and help work towards safer online communities for those who need our help. Social media can be such an incredible resource, those experiencing domestic violence need to have safe access to it.

    Thank you for your video, compassion and passion for this issue!

  6. Thank you for raising your voice against domestic violence. I wanted to say that for those that are in the D.C area, and even those that aren’t and need information and resources, the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence (DCCADV) is a great organization to contact.
    You can contact DCCADV online by visiting our website: We can be reached through social media, @PeaceAtHomeDC on Twitter, on Facebook, and by our blog:

  7. Train local law enforcement to better help and handle DV. I was intimidated and discouraged both times I called for help. It only got worse. I am now dealing with parental alienation by proxy.

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