Ask Ava

Ask Ava, Episode 77: "What can I do if my partner is blackmailing me?"

September 16, 2021 Ask Ava Season 1 Episode 77
Ask Ava
Ask Ava, Episode 77: "What can I do if my partner is blackmailing me?"
Show Notes Transcript

Episode 77: "What can I do if my partner is blackmailing me?"

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

This is Jessica Skultety, Community Outreach Associate at Safe+Sound Somerset. We are Somerset County, New Jersey's lead domestic violence response organization, providing services at no charge for survivors of dating and domestic abuse for over 40 years.  

Today's question from local teens is: “Dear Ava, What can I do if my partner is blackmailing me?”

Blackmail in teen dating relationships is a huge issue that doesn't get enough attention, and it can be very serious. It’s actually one of the questions that we get the most, when we’re out in the community, providing education on dating violence.

Here’s one definition of blackmail in relationships: threatening a partner or demanding them to do something (like, stay in a relationship) in exchange for not harming them in some way, whether it be physical, verbal, emotional, sexual, or financial harm. For example, “If you leave me, I’ll share those naked photos of you with everyone.” 

Whenever a dating partner threatens or holds something against the other, this creates an imbalance of power in the relationship. This takes away one partner’s ability to make decisions for their life. It can also make the relationship unsafe and difficult to leave. 

You and your partner both have rights in a relationship, including the right not to be abused or threatened, the right to make decisions for yourself, and the right to fall out of love or leave any relationship you want to, without threat or fear. Blackmail breaks all of these rights for the partner who is the target.

Some common examples of blackmail that we hear from teens and adults are:

·       General threats that sound like “you’ll be sorry” or “you don’t want to do that.”

·       The one that we mentioned earlier: threatening to expose explicit pictures or videos 

·       Threatening to hurt a family member, the target, or themselves

·       Threatening to "out" someone who identifies as LGBTQ+, or reveal their identity to people who don’t know, which could make this person unsafe.

·       And threatening suicide, which is a threat we have heard in all of the middle and high schools that we present dating violence education in Somerset County. This might sound like: “I can’t live without you – you can’t leave me” and more directly, something like, “if you leave me, I’ll kill myself.”

In these situations, the target is trapped and has to make very difficult decisions. Even if the blackmail sounds like a joke, or you don’t think this person would ever go through with the threat, you never know what will happen. 

Plus, when someone is making a threat, it is not something to be taken lightly. Blackmail usually just doesn’t happen out of nowhere. There is often a pattern of abusive behaviors leading up to it, so it can be helpful to learn the warning signs of abuse. Check out our other Ask Ava episodes including episode 72 for more information on warning signs.

Love shouldn't hurt, and you should never have to make a choice between staying with your partner (or doing something they want) and your own individual respect, reputation, or safety. 

Here are a few things to do if you or a friend is experiencing blackmail from a partner. First, you can create a safety plan for staying in or leaving a relationship. A situation with blackmail has the potential to get more unsafe, unfortunately. A safety plan is one way to help with this. It’s a personalized document that has info and strategies for being safe around a partner or ex-partner (because abuse happens with exes, too). Use our teen safety plan at, or call or text the Safe+Sound Somerset hotline for help with safety planning at 866-685-1122.

Another thing to do if someone is being blackmailed: keep track of everything, which otherwise known as documenting. This could be screenshots of messages and keeping a record by writing down what happened with the date and time. In case your partner is tracking your information or can get into your phone or technology, you might want to find a more secretive way to do this, like with a pen and paper, or by sending this info to a trusted family member or friend. You then can use this documentation later if you get others involved including the police or legal system.

We also recommend that teens reach out to a trusted adult immediately about the situation, even if it’s embarrassing. This could be a parent, teacher, administrator, coach, family members, etc. This person will help you navigate the situation and if it’s serious, it may be necessary to get law enforcement involved or to take legal action. If you're afraid to talk to an adult alone, consider bringing a trusted friend or sibling with you for support, even if they do not know the whole situation. 

If you or a friend are trying to leave a relationship that makes you feel unsafe and controlled, and your partner is blackmailing you, don’t try to leave on your own. Get an adult involved or call or text our hotline. This situation can and often does get worse, and no one deserves to live that way. Your safety is the most important thing. 

Teens are concerned about this topic because there can be danger if you “give in” to your partner’s demands (or, if you tell someone, or get law enforcement involved). But, getting help can also begin to create safety for you. Staying in a relationship with blackmail can create more danger, especially when one partner has purposefully gained more power and control over you. That’s why we recommend reaching out for help in these situations.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911 or another emergency service.

To speak with an expert about dating violence, call or text the Safe+Sound Somerset 24/7 confidential hotline 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.