For individuals caught in an abusive relationship, the prospect of leaving is likely on their mind frequently. However, if it were simply a matter of standing up and walking out, thousands and thousands of people would be doing it daily. The truth is that it’s not that simple, especially for individuals who have been completely isolated from friends and family, beaten down psychologically, financially deprived, and who are exposed to controlling behaviors and physical abuse.
When people in such situations are weighing out their options for leaving, they deal with confusion, fright, uncertainty and a sense of being torn between the hope that things will just change for the better and fear of what will happen if the abusive partner discovers the plan to leave. False feelings of self-blame or weakness and embarrassment often accompany life in domestic violence. A victim caught in this trap needs to know that these feelings are not paramount at the moment. Safety is what matters most right now.
Settle this in your mind if you are living with abusive behavior and physical violence in a relationship:
- You did not cause your partner’s behavior.
- You aren’t to blame for being mistreated and battered.
- You should be treated with respect.
- You deserve to be safe and happy.
- Your children deserve to be safe and happy.
- People are waiting to help you.
So many resources are available for women who walk away from physical abuse. There are shelters, crisis hotlines, legal services, job training and childcare.
For various reasons, it is wise to document injuries sustained from abuse. Take pictures, or have a trusted friend or relative take photos of all wounds, bruises and marks. Keep notes in a written log of all abusive events. See a doctor or go to the emergency room if injured, and keep the documents in a safe place. File a police report. These items may prove extremely valuable in the future.
Decide to Leave
To help victims of domestic violence decide to leave, the following information has been compiled:
If you think the abuser will change – Abusers have deep psychological and emotional problems, meaning the abuse will keep happening. Their controlling behaviors and physical violence do not just subside. The abuser must get professional treatment, take full responsibility and stop blaming others.
If you think you can help the abuser – You’ve likely thought all along that you are the one who understands the abuser, so you can help. However, by continuing to stay and accept abuse, you reinforce and enable the twisted and controlling behaviors, and you unknowingly perpetuate it.
If you worry about what happens if you leave – Fear of the unknown keeps people trapped in horrible conditions. You do not know what the abuser will do, and you may not know how you can support your children or where you can go. However, you have a phone number for a crisis line where someone already has all of that figured out for you.
Create an Escape Plan
- Be ready to leave in an instant. Keep plenty of gas in the car with a clear path for driving away from the property. Put a spare car key in a hidden spot to get it quickly. Keep some emergency cash, important documents, phone numbers and clothing in a safe place, maybe at a friend’s place.
- Practice quickly escaping safely. Go through the escape plan a few times, so you will know exactly what to do if under attack. Your children need to practice with you.
- Make a list of contacts and memorize it. Ask trusted people if you can call them in an emergency for a place to stay, a ride, or to contact police. Make a list. Memorize their phone numbers. Also memorize local shelter and hotline crisis numbers.
Protect Your Privacy
When creating and pursuing a plan to leave an abusive relationship, precautions should be taken to keep your actions from being discovered. For example, make calls to crisis hotlines, shelters and other services from a friend’s phone or a trusted neighbor’s. Consider purchasing a second cell phone, unknown to the abuser, to keep at a friend’s house.
Use a computer away from the residence when searching for help online. Computers are usually available at libraries, domestic abuse shelters or local community centers. Additionally, change passwords and user names for online accounts like banking, emails and instant messaging programs.
Domestic Abuse Shelters
Shelters are widely available across the country to give refuge to women who leave an abusive situation. Most of the locations are kept confidential for protection purposes.
Mothers and children can usually all be housed in these shelters. Basic needs will be provided, including childcare and food. There is likely a limit to the amount of time one can stay, but these shelters usually help women find a permanent home, a job, and the other necessities required to begin anew.
Protection After Leaving
Keeping safe after leaving is a very important part of the process. Relocation may be necessary, and switching schools for children is probably wise. To keep the new location secret:
- Get a new phone number, unlisted.
- Get a post office box. Do not use a physical address.
- Apply for the state’s confidentiality program for mail forwarding.
- Cancel all credit cards and bank accounts, especially if shared. Use a new bank for new accounts.
Steps To a Better Future
Remember that others have faced very similar feelings and hurdles that seem insurmountable to someone standing on the inside of a disastrous relationship with abusive behavior. However, there will be opportunities once you’ve broken free to move away from the frightening emotions, upsetting memories and sense of despair. Others will help you come to grips with the past abuse and step forward into a clearer destiny.