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“Why can’t I just leave?”

This is a question that many who are in abusive relationships ask themselves. There is no easy answer and there are millions of reasons why someone may choose to stay. One of the most common reasons someone does, though, is due to fear. Fear that they will not be able to exit from the relationship safely. Fear of an emotional breakdown. Fear of emotional instability. Fear of physical violence. Fear of not being able to survive on their own.

These fears, though, are something that you can overcome.

There are ways to escape an abusive relationship safely and stop the cycle of domestic violence. By following these tips, you can survive the trauma you have been through.

Acknowledge the Existence of Abuse

Before anything, a victim needs to acknowledge that abuse is going on in the relationship. The abuse can be physical, sexual, financial, mental, or a combination. Victims tend to minimize the abuse they feel and unfortunately it sometimes takes being sent to the hospital before they will admit to themselves its abuse. You may be scared to admit the abuse or feel ashamed you found yourself in a bad situation. But, it’s important to acknowledge that you are being treated improperly so that you can give yourself the power to leave.

Reach Out for Help

Friends and family might not be available to you or may not be your best resource; however you will never be alone on this journey. Fortunately, there are many organizations out there specifically designed to help those in abusive relationships. One great place to start is calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224.

The hotline will be able to refer you to an organization in your local area, many of which have emergency shelters. If you have children, they will be able to come with you to many shelters as well. The shelters are great safe havens and provide further help and resources. Individual therapy, group therapy, providing food and clothing, and help with legal matters are just some of the ways a shelter may be able to help you. If you are worried about how you financially going to take care of your children, where you will live, etc. the people at these shelters will help you.

Create an Exit Strategy

Before you leave the relationship, you will want to have an exit strategy in place. This will keep you safe while you prepare to get everything in order so you can leave for good. Follow these guidelines:

  • Tell someone you trust what you plan to do and develop a plan for if you need help. For example, this can be a code word to text if you are in immediate trouble.
  • Document the abuse as best as you can. Keel any evidence of physical abuse (such as photos), a journal of all violent incidences (nothing dates, events, and threats made), or any doctors visit documentation.
  • Share your plans with your children and reassure them that their job is to stay safe, not to protect you.

If you need to sneak away sooner than you thought, be prepared. Make a plan now for how and where you will escape if you need to do so immediately.

  • Know the phone number to your local battered women’s shelter.
  • Back your car into the driveway, and keep it fueled. Keep your driver’s door unlocked and other doors locked for a quick escape.
  • Hide an extra set of car keys.
  • Set money aside. Ask friends or family members to hold money for you.
  • Pack a bag. Include an extra set of keys, IDs, car title, birth certificates, social security cards, credit cards, marriage license, clothes for yourself and your children, shoes, medications, banking information, money — anything that is important to you. Store them at a trusted friend or neighbor’s house.
  • Have important phone numbers of friends, relatives, doctors, schools, etc. somewhere other than your phone.
  • If time is available, also take: Citizenship documents (such as your passport, green card, etc.), titles, deeds and other property information, medical records, children’s school and immunization records, insurance information, verification of social security numbers, and welfare identification.

When you are ready to leave permanently, takes these into consideration as well.

  • Know abuser’s schedule and safe times to leave.
  • Be careful when reaching out for help via Internet or telephone. Erase your Internet browsing history, websites visited for resources, emails sent to friends/family asking for help. If you called for help, dial another number immediately after in case abuser hits redial.
  • Create a false trail. Call motels, real estate agencies and schools in a town at least six hours away from where you plan to relocate.
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