“If you don’t do what I tell you to do, I’ll tell your parents we had sex.”

“If you break up with me, I’ll post those pictures everywhere…”

If your partner makes threats like these, they are putting you in a tough spot. You might feel like you have no option but to do what your partner says. This type of threat is called blackmail and it is a form of emotional abuse. Like all abuse, it is about power and control. A person who uses this tactic wants to make you afraid of some consequence to get you to do what they want.

For a relationship to be healthy, partners must trust that when they set boundaries and are intimate with each other, both people will uphold those boundaries and neither will attempt to hurt the other partner. Making threats like this is a violation of that trust. Threats are not a sign of love or care but of manipulation and control.

You never deserve to be threatened and you are never responsible for your partner’s choice to be abusive. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make dealing with threats like this any easier.

So what can you do if your partner is threatening you and trying to get you to do something you don’t want to do?

Stand by Your Boundaries

If you feel like it is safe for you to resist, your best option might be to stand your ground and not give in to the threats. This is often easier said than done, but giving in to the threats usually doesn’t make them stop. Rather, it can intensify your partner’s sense of control, with the threats even becoming more frequent and extreme in the future.

It is possible that your partner won’t follow through on their threats. However, you know the situation best and talking to a trusted adult or friend may help with these decisions.

Create a Safety Plan

A safety plan helps you think through how to strategically use technology to enhance safety and take back some control if you are being harassed, threatened, stalked, or abused through a perpetrator’s misuse of technology. It can also guide you to safe contacts and folks you can get support from. WSC’s safety planning toolkit provides suggestions and tips on how to create one.

Turn to Your Support System

A support system can help you stay strong and feel safe and supported during a difficult time. If you feel safe doing so, let someone in your network – for example, a friend, parent, or counsellor know what’s going on. You can also call, chat, or text with the Kids Help Phone, which is available 24/7. If you want to speak with someone who regularly supports people experiencing abuse, you can call a shelter near you.

Save All Proof

If your partner is sending you threats via text, email, social media, or voice messages, save everything. Take a screenshot or video screen recording and keep them in a safe place, like a password-protected file or account. Or, send copies to a trusted friend or family member if your partner has access to your computer or phone. This is a way to document the threats and abuse should you choose to take legal action.

Neutralize the Threats

You may want to consider ways to neutralize the threats that your partner is making. For example, if they are threatening to tell your parents about something you did, you could go to your parents first and be upfront and honest about what happened. It might be an uncomfortable thing to do, but your partner would no longer be able to control you with that threat.

If your partner is threatening to out you, you might consider telling your friends or family before your partner has a chance to. This can be a difficult decision to make because, ideally, you should be able to come out to people only when you’re ready. You might consider reaching out for support from a local support group or another resource like Egale Canada.

If your partner is threatening to share sexually explicit pictures or other media, there are resources to help. Canada has laws against “revenge porn,”or the non-consensual distribution of intimate images (see our resource on the Distribution of Intimate Images)

No matter the outcome of the situation, it’s important to realize that someone who would make threats like this is not someone you can trust or be in a healthy relationship with. You should never have to compromise your safety, integrity, or privacy to be in a relationship.

Digital Dating Violence is part of a continuum of violence that can be both online and in-person. If you or someone you know is experiencing digital dating violence, you are not alone. Encourage them to chat with a trusted adult, connect with the Kids Help Phone to create a safety plan, or you can use sheltersafe.ca to find a shelter/transition house near you to discuss options and create a safety plan. You don’t need to stay in a shelter to access free, confidential services and support.

Adapted from love is respect, a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline in the United States.

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