Victims can help themselves by preparing an exit strategy.
By Nora Hood
Leaving an abusive relationship is an emotionally jarring ordeal. Women often put off making such a wrenching decision believing their partner will change or out of fear of a violent response if they leave. The choice becomes even more difficult if there are children involved. Doing nothing is the easy path, but it can be dangerous to remain if the abuse escalates to potentially lethal violence. If your partner is violent and unpredictable, having an escape plan can prevent a tragedy and make it easier to get away if it becomes necessary.
Once you do leave, there are safety considerations that must factor into where you decide to live. Here are some steps to follow.
Get Away Quickly
Take seriously any threats against your life. If an abuser believes he can harm you without resistance or fear of punishment, he may feel empowered to hurt you seriously enough to cause lasting physical damage or death. Being prepared for the worst means knowing how to identify the danger signs: indications that he’s angry enough to use physical violence.
Prepare For Leaving
If you can’t get away at a moment’s notice, find a safe part of your home where you can retreat. Separate yourself from the situation. Make sure it’s a space with some means of departure, a window or a door, and avoid the bathroom or kitchen, where an abuser could find a knife or razor. Always make sure your car has gas and that it’s facing the street if parked in the driveway. If you have children, come up with a signal, a word or phrase that tells them it’s time to leave right away. Make sure they know to alert family or friends that you’re in danger. If possible, practice your escape plan to avoid confusion or a mistake.
Call 911 if you’re afraid your abuser may try to follow or find you. If you don’t have a safe location to go to (if possible, it should be a place your abuser doesn’t know about), contact your local domestic violence or sexual assault victim advocacy program. Many of them can provide safe emergency housing, emotional support, advice as to your next steps, and other valuable resources to help you find your way. Do NOT go back to the scene—even if you’re sure your abuser won’t be there.
Finding a New Home
Remember, your privacy and anonymity are essential. Restraining orders are valuable, but they’re no guarantee that a dangerous individual won’t violate one if enraged or believes he can get away with it. Never list a phone number and be careful when texting or emailing because an abuser may be able to access your account. Don’t list a physical street address; use a post office box instead. Cancel bank accounts and credit cards, mainly if you and your abuser had joint accounts. Always keep a charged cell phone with you. If you see your abuser, call 911 immediately. When looking for a new home, seek out the best prices and safest neighborhoods in your area.
Many abuse victims feel guilty or degraded after surviving severe domestic abuse or violence. It’s important to talk with someone who can help you work through those feelings. Understanding how to overcome them is essential for helping you move on confidently with your life. You’re the victim and have no reason to feel culpable for what’s happened to you.
The key to surviving a dangerous domestic abuse situation is to plan. If you’re unwilling or unable to leave, establish an emergency plan, and coordinate care if you have children. Always err on the side of caution.