By Nora Hood
Leaving an abusive relationship is an emotionally jarring ordeal. Women often put off making such a wrenching decision in the belief that 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 a 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 the decision is made to leave, there are safety considerations that factor into where to live. Here are some steps to follow.
Get Away Quickly
The victim of mental or physical abuse should take seriously any threats and get away as quickly. If an abuser believes he can harm without resistance or fear of punishment, he may feel empowered to hurt seriously enough to cause lasting physical damage or death. Being prepared for the worst means knowing how to identify the danger signs: indications of anger is enough to use physical violence.
Prepare plausible excuses for leaving the house. Be ready to get away at any moment, find a safe part of the home to retreat, and separate from the situation. Make sure it is a space with some means of egress, a window or a door, and avoid the bathroom or kitchen, where an abuser could find a knife or razor. Always make sure vehicles have gas and are facing the street if parked in the driveway. Come up with a signal for children, a word or phrase that tells them it is time to leave right away. Make sure they know to alert family or friends of danger. If possible, practice the escape plan to avoid confusion or a mistake.
Call 911 right away. The abuser may try to follow or find the victim to continue the harassment. If there is no safe location to go to (if possible, it should be a place the abuser does not know about), contact local domestic violence or sexual assault victim advocacy programs. Many can provide safe emergency housing, emotional support, advice as to the next steps, and other valuable resources to help. Do NOT try to go back to the scene, even if the abuser will not be there.
Finding a New Home
Remember, privacy and anonymity are essential. Restraining orders are valuable and carry the weight of law, but they are no guarantee that a dangerously violent individual will not violate one if enraged or believes he can get away with it. He may have no concerns about violating a restraining order and may have no fear of the police.
Never list a phone number and be careful when texting or emailing because an abuser may be able to access victims’ accounts. Do not list a physical street address; use a post office box instead. Cancel bank accounts and credit cards as soon as possible, mainly any joint accounts. Always keep a charged cell phone. If the abuser is near, call 911 immediately. When looking for a new home, seek out the best prices and safest neighborhoods. Research the crime history of surrounding towns.
Many abuse victims feel guilty or degraded after surviving a severe domestic abuse or violence situation. It is essential to talk with someone who can work through those feelings. Understanding how to overcome them is essential for moving on confidently in life. Remember, the victim has no reason to feel culpable for what has happened to them.
Remember, the key to surviving a dangerous domestic abuse situation is to plan. If unwilling or unable to leave, establish an emergency plan, and coordinate if children are involved. Always err on the side of caution.