“Ebbie,” a professional domestic violence worker, spends hours a day helping people in horrific situations: women who are victims of marital rape, wives cautiously squirreling away money to eventually escape their spouses, and revenge porn victims.
She does it all anonymously and on an unlikely medium—Reddit.
As a verified crisis counselor who specializes in adult intimate partner violence, Ebbie is often tagged in posts about physical fights between partners, or sexual assault, alongside pleas for guidance.
She spends up to three hours per day commenting on posts in the r/relationship_advice subreddit. The posts range from “My boyfriend made a sexual joke towards my 1 year old,” to “My husband tampered with his condom and forced me to keep the baby.”
“The main thing that I do is really emphasize safety planning, especially for people who are not ready to leave that relationship,” she told VICE News. “I talk to them about ways that they can plan for their safety while they're still in the relationship.”
Ebbie first found the subreddit shortly after joining Reddit in March 2019. Within a few weeks, she started commenting on posts about domestic violence. “I thought, ‘I have this experience, why not try to help?’”
Now, redditors tag Ebbie dozens of times a day, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated living situations. Many victims and survivors are forced to spend more time at home with their abusers, with data suggesting that instances of domestic abuse have risen worldwide and resulted in a “double pandemic.”
According to the COVID-19 Violence Tracker, domestic violence was the single most reported category of violence worldwide from January to May.
Reading Ebbie’s posts, comments, and resources was especially helpful for Marie, a young woman who was assaulted by her housemate. (Marie’s name has been changed to protect her identity.) “I had to pretend, to a degree, like everything was OK. Because if I messed up my living situation and didn't have anywhere to live, but I was still stuck on the hook for paying rent, I wouldn't be able to finish my degree,” Marie told VICE News. “I was just so scared.”
The language around domestic violence can be a barrier, and sometimes people are looking for emotional support and validation. “I always tell them, you don't have to call your experience abuse or domestic violence, but it is unhealthy,” Ebbie said.
Marie has since left her job and moved out of the abusive household, and she said Ebbie helped her make those changes. Ebbie’s advice “made me feel like I could do it,” she said. “It motivated me at a time when I thought I basically have no choice.”
Several years ago, Ebbie herself experienced intimate partner sexual violence, and had a poor experience reporting it. It led her to volunteer at a local domestic violence shelter. Since then, she has worked as a hospital advocate to provide direct services to victims. She helps them file for orders for protection and access legal counseling services, while also providing emotional support. In her day job, she monitors domestic violence homicides in her state.
Unlike Facebook or Instagram, part of the allure of Reddit is anonymity. Users often feel more comfortable asking strangers on the internet for help, rather than confiding in family or friends. People usually post to the subreddit because they know that something is wrong in their relationships.
Katrina, a 23-year-old redditor from New Zealand who was sexually abused as a child, uses her lived experience to offer advice to people in abusive relationships—advice that she wishes she had access to when she was younger.
“Throughout my life, I always kind of felt like I didn't really have a stable source of good advice,” she said. Reddit is a way to bridge that gap. “People are confused and looking for direction. Reddit seems like a very consequence-free way to get there,” she said. “And it is, because you can always log out.”
Ebbie is logging out more and more lately. She used to respond to every message, often staying up until 2 or 3 a.m. But now, she tries to be more selective and limit her screen time to spend more time with friends and family.
Her loved ones have no idea what she does to help strangers on the Internet. “I have never told anyone about the nature of what I do on Reddit,” she said. “I don't want people to think of me as a hero or a celebrity. I'm uncomfortable with that kind of attention.”
The National Domestic Violence Hotline takes calls 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or 1-800-799-7233 for TTY. If you cannot speak safely, you can log on to thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522.
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