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Ask Ava, Episode 152: "What does blackmail from a partner look like in real life?"

February 23, 2023 Safe+Sound Somerset Season 1 Episode 152
Ask Ava, Episode 152: "What does blackmail from a partner look like in real life?"
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Ask Ava
Ask Ava, Episode 152: "What does blackmail from a partner look like in real life?"
Feb 23, 2023 Season 1 Episode 152
Safe+Sound Somerset
Episode 152: "What does blackmail from a partner look like in real life?"

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Episode 152: "What does blackmail from a partner look like in real life?"

Support the Show.

On today’s episode, we’re answering a question from local teens about blackmail.

This is Jessica Skultety, Outreach and Prevention Manager at Safe+Sound Somerset. We are Somerset County, New Jersey's lead domestic and sexual violence response organization, providing services at no charge to survivors for over 40 years.

So, today's question from local teens is: “Dear Ava, What does blackmail from a partner look like in real life?”

Blackmail is one of the topics teens in our community ask us about all the time. At every school we present in, teens tell us in class or anonymously that they or a friend experienced this from a partner, or that they are looking for help.

So, let’s start with a definition: what is blackmail? It’s when one person pressures the other to do something in exchange for something else. Blackmail is a kind of threat that can truly harm another person’s mental health and/or physical safety now and in the future. And unfortunately, this happens in relationships and friendships, and like we said, teens are asking about it.

People who harm others are smart. They will use threats against their partner in very specific and hurtful ways. Here are a couple examples that we hear from teens all the time.

1.     When a partner says, “If you leave me, I’ll hurt myself (or you, or others).”

2.     When a partner says, “If you don’t have sex with me, I’ll share those private pictures of you with everyone.”

Obviously the threats change a little bit, but these are some of the most common ones that we hear. Someone might use these threats to get their partner to stay, and that is not okay. Both people have a right to leave a relationship whenever they want to, for any reason.

Also, some partners will play it off like it’s “just a joke,” right? But to a person being threatened, it might still feel scary and create anxiety. That isn’t fair in a relationship that’s supposed to have equal power and control, and be safe for both partners all the time. Plus, you never know what will really happen, even if something is “just a joke.”

It doesn’t help that these kinds of threats might seem normal to us. We see them all the time in media, like TV shows, movies, music, and video games. We want to say here that love shouldn’t hurt, and blackmail and violence are NOT normal. Love is never pressure, guilt, or threats. It isn’t giving up your personal safety. Blackmail is NEVER okay!

 Blackmail doesn’t just happen randomly, either. There are usually other actions that a partner is using to take away power and control before it even gets to that point. This could be many things: like making their partner feel bad about themselves, keeping them away from family or friends, physical or sexual violence or threats to use violence, pressuring their partner to share passwords, pressuring their partner to let them manage their money, and more.

If you or a friend find yourself in the situation, here are some ideas for getting help. First, please know that it is not your fault, no matter what you did. Your partner chose to pressure or threaten you. There are always other choices for how to communicate than violence and threats. Since we can never know what will really happen, we recommend taking blackmail seriously, as hard and scary as that might be.

If you’re not feeling right, remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible. Find a friend or trusted adult to help you. Even if they don’t know the whole story, they can support you in getting physically and mentally to a safer place. If you are leaving a relationship, we recommend calling or texting the Safe+Sound Somerset helpline for support, and you can create a safety plan with us, for leaving.

If your partner is blackmailing you via texts or social media, take screenshots and document, or write down what’s going on in a safe place. This can show the pattern of behavior and you’ll have a record in case you need it for law enforcement or court, if you choose those actions. Writing things down can also help validate yourself, meaning that you see a list of what happened, and you know it’s true.

If your partner is threatening someone’s safety, including their own, call 911. You don’t want to wait, because again, you don’t know what will happen. Another option is going straight to a trusted adult in your life, and calling together. This adult can support you and work with you. 

If there isn’t an immediate threat to someone’s physical or mental being or their life, we recommend that you still reach out to a trusted adult. This doesn’t have to be a parent – it could be a family member, teacher, coach, counselor – anyone who supports and listens to you. If they don’t believe you or don’t support you, find another adult. And we know that can be hard to do. You can also call or text the Safe+Sound Somerset helpline for support. 

Remember, you have the right to feel safe in a relationship, and you have the right to make your own decisions without fear or manipulation from your partner.

To speak with an expert about relationship or sexual violence, call or text the Safe+Sound Somerset 24/7 confidential helpline at 866-685-1122 for supportive listening, information, and safety planning. 

Want to “Ask Ava” a question? Visit our website at Thank you for listening today. Join us next time here on Ask Ava.