“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.
Staying Safe After You Leave
The need to be alert and aware of your surroundings will not end after you have left the abusive relationship. You will want to make sure to check off these items once you have left, so that you can stay safe long-term.
If you get a restraining order and the offender is leaving:
- Change your locks and phone number.
- Change your work hours and route taken to work.
- Change the route taken to transport children to school.
- Keep a certified copy of your restraining order with you at all times.
- Inform friends, neighbors and employers that you have a restraining order in effect.
- Give copies of the restraining order to employers, neighbors and schools along with a picture of the offender.
- Call law enforcement to enforce the order.
If you are leaving the relationship:
- Consider renting a post office box or using the address of a friend for your mail. Be aware that addresses are on restraining orders and police reports. Be careful to whom you give your new address and phone number.
- Change your work hours, if possible.
- Alert school authorities of the situation.
- Consider changing your children’s schools.
- Reschedule appointments if the offender is aware of them.
- Use different stores and frequent different social spots.
- Alert neighbors, and request that they call the police if they feel you may be in danger.
- Replace wooden doors with steel or metal doors. Install security systems if possible. Install a motion sensitive lighting system.
- Tell people you work with about the situation and have your calls screened by one receptionist if possible.
- Tell people who take care of your children who can pick up your children. Explain your situation to them and provide them with a copy of the restraining order.
- Call the telephone company to request caller ID. Ask that your phone number be blocked so that if you call anyone, neither your partner nor anyone else will be able to get your new, unlisted phone number.
It is not only possible to survive and abusive relationship, but it’s possible to thrive with the right support and care. By leaving this abuse, you are setting yourself up to feel empowered to love yourself. Don’t hesitate, and begin to love yourself now by creating a strategy to exit safely.