How To Spot Abusive Text Messages & Get Help

Photographed by Natalia Mantini.
There's a huge difference between someone blowing up their partner's phone with texts because they love them, and someone sending abusive text messages to exert power over their partner. Abuse can occur in many forms — and that includes text messaging — so it's not always easy to spot, and that's part of why it can be so dangerous in the first place.
Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviours that one partner uses to maintain power and control over a partner in an intimate relationship, and it's not always physical, says Cameka Crawford, chief communications officer at the National Domestic Violence Hotline in the US. Abuse can be physical, emotional, mental, or digital, but it always involves a struggle of power and control, Crawford says. "Technology is a good thing, because it keeps people connected, but abusive partners have found new and different ways to control their partners," she says.
An abusive partner could use texts, Snapchat, Instagram, email, or pretty much any other digital communication tool to contact and harass their partner, says Jasmine Uribe, leadership and engagement manager at Break the Cycle, a nonprofit that provides dating abuse services to teens and young adults. But just because these messages are oftentimes lighthearted or normal-seeming, that doesn't mean they can't be dangerous.
Ahead are some common patterns or phrases that experts say could fall under the umbrella of abuse. Of course, in the context of a healthy, balanced relationship, these texts might not be harmful, but it's important to know what to look for.
If you think you might be receiving abusive text messages from anyone, take screenshots of the texts and save them in case you decide to build a case. And if you think this is happening to a friend, express that you're concerned and offer to help them find support or develop a safety plan, says Jimmy Meagher, Director of the DOVE Initiative at Safe Horizon. "Survivors are experts in their own safety, and they know what has been working or what will work," Meagher says.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.