October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Many people think of domestic violence as physical brutality but it is much more than that. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence defines domestic violence as “the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, threats, and emotional abuse.”

So sometimes the control is not as obvious as a physical assault but is still equally damaging. The threat of violence, control through access to money, threats of outing a partner to friends, family or coworkers who may be unaware of their orientation, telling a person no one will help them because they are gay or lesbian or trans are all examples of unhealthy efforts at power and control.

Relationships are complex. Getting out of an abusive relationship is not as easy as walking out the door. Realizing that the relationship is not healthy and is harmful can be hard for people who were raised in abusive households. Abuse is their “normal.” Making a plan for physical and financial safety can be overwhelming. A lack of trust in the systems that are supposed to help can keep a person isolated.

If you’re in an unhealthy, abusive relationship and are looking for trustworthy help to get out of the relationship the National Domestic Violence Hotline 800-799-7233 is a good place to start. They can provide referrals to local organizations that are LGBTQ friendly. In Frederick County you can call Heartly House (301-662-8800). In Washington County you can call Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused (301-739-8975).

Whenever seeking help, safety is paramount. If you feel your communications are being screened, it is best to use public services such as the library or an internet cafe to contact support.

Liz Thompson, MSW, has been a case manager at the Frederick County Health Department for eight years.