“Why doesn’t she just leave?” That may be the most common question outsiders will ask themselves after hearing about an abusive relationship. Most people have trouble understanding how any woman could put up with cycles of mental and/or physical abuse from her partner and the answer is indeed complicated.
One of the most significant reasons women don't leave immediately is because attempting to escape can come with a high risk. If you have taken the first step in recognizing that the relationship you are currently in is hazardous to your physical or mental well-being, preparation and planning must take place for a safe and immediate escape.
Don’t be afraid to call 911 if you are in imminent danger.
Law enforcement can ensure that you are escorted away safely. They also will not disclose your location. If you’ve been hurt, be sure to go to the ER for medical attention. This will also be key if you are willing to press charges against the batterer. Filing for an order of protection (restraining order) is useful. It's one way to keep a safe distance between you and your ex – but it's only a piece of paper if you don't take action to enforce it every time it is violated.
If you have children, there are custody laws in each state that can protect them in domestic violence cases. You will want to gather any evidence of domestic violence that you can. This can help prevent any state parental kidnapping charges from occurring.
If you are not in imminent danger, this is important:
Assess your current resources and whether they're accessible. A partner who controls your finances, your whereabouts and the degree of outside communication you receive is usually hallmark sign of trouble. In order to leave as quickly as possible, you will want to determine:
- How much money you have available
- Whether you have enough funds to support yourself and or children during your transition
- If your money is safe and secure. Does your partner currently have access to your credit, savings or checking accounts?
If your partner does control your finances and either has, or can limit access to your accounts, don’t allow this to prevent you from leaving. You can always:
- Contact a shelter
- Call a Domestic Violence Hotline for local resources
You can reach the National Domestic Violence hotline here: 1-800-799-7233 or www.thehotline.org
Be very careful when calling for help or while researching online. It is best to get this information while your partner is absent. This is for your own safety. Be sure to erase your browser or call history if you feel that your soon to be ex-partner might be inclined to check.
Right before you leave the abusive relationship:
Keep a bag of necessary items hidden and ready to go. Or, it might be a good idea to keep the bag with friends or family that you can meet up with later. The bag should include:
- Clothing for 2-3 days (undergarments, socks, and shoes)
- Important medications
- Important paperwork or identification (ID, passports, birth certificates, social security cards)
- Emergency credit/debit cards
- Important phone numbers. It’s a good idea to try to commit phone numbers to memory. You can also write them down rather than depending on your cell phone, just in case.
Determine how you will leave. If you have your own car, the best time to arrange an escape is while your partner is away (at work, the store or his own place). Be sure that you have enough fuel to reach your destination. Or, you can have someone that you trust arrange to pick you up at an opportune time.
After you’ve left the abusive relationship:
Retreat to a place unknown by the abuser. You will want to escape to a safe place where the abuser cannot reach you and doesn’t know your whereabouts. It can be tempting to move in with friends or family members however, it isn’t always the safest option. If you decide to do so, be sure that they are keenly aware of the situation as to not put them or yourself at greater risk.
Restrict all access that your ex-partner may have to you.
It may be necessary to take some or all of the following actions:
- Forward all mail to your new location
- Cut off access to joint accounts (this includes online banking as well)
- Change passwords (email, social media, file sharing sites)
- Block them on social media (never accept friend requests or follows from those you do not know or who you think may share information with your ex.)
- Change your phone number
- Change locks at locations your partner may still have access to
- Creating new accounts altogether might not be a bad idea. Use your own judgment and be extra careful, even when it’s inconvenient.
Do not go back to your ex! Whatever you do, NEVER return to an abusive partner. Most abusers are capable of displaying a great deal of remorse and can appear very sincere. As for you, feeling sad, depressed and/or guilty is a completely natural response to the ending of any relationship, even an abusive relationship. Chances are, you may be inclined to romanticize the good times you’ve shared with this person and regret that things have turned out this way.
Don’t blame yourself!
It is important to remember that the abuse was NEVER your fault. If your ex-partner is truly remorseful, they will seek professional help, not in an effort to win you back, but to effectively deal with their issues. The best thing that you can do for yourself is to detach by cutting off all communication so you can begin your journey to healing.
Seek counseling. As a survivor of domestic violence, it will be important to understand exactly what has happened and why. It will be natural to feel ashamed, embarrassed and generally misunderstood in the immediate days and weeks after leaving an abusive partner.
Receiving domestic violence education and support from counselors can help you tackle possible self-esteem issues. This can help you get rid of the emotional attachments you may have. They can work to keep you focused on moving forward and staying safe. Counselors will also help to increase your awareness.
The more aware you are, the less likely it is to continue a pattern of abuse by future partners.