The abusive relationship you have endured may have lasted a week, a month, a year or a lifetime. The abuse you have suffered may include any and all of the following: verbal abuse, emotional abuse, financial abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse. However, the time has come and you have made the decision to leave this toxic, dangerous relationship -- but how do you do it? And how do you do it safely?
These are my recommendations for leaving an abusive relationship safety:
1. Prepare All Details -- Once you have made the decision to leave make sure to plan the logistics -- how, when, with or without help and know where you will go. Please know that if you search for information about leaving an abusive relationship on the Internet many of these sites (especially the shelter sites or not-for-profit organizations) have buttons which will erase their site from your computer history in one quick click of the button.
2. Safe Location -- If staying with family or friends are not viable options then consider staying at a shelter as they have plans and procedures in place to keep your location undisclosed and access to you virtually impossible. This is especially important if your partner is physically abusive or has access to firearms; as he will have knowledge of the whereabouts of your closest family and friends. This type of tragic incident was horribly played out in Texas this past July when Ronald Lee Haskell, searching for his ex-wife, shot and killed her sister and her husband, Stephen and Katy Stay, along with four of their children, aged 4, 7, 9 and 13. One of their children, fifteen-year-old Cassidy survived (she played dead as he shot the rest of her family).
3. Personal Documentation -- Try to get as many of your personal documents (and those of your children) in order and take them with you when you leave. This will allow you to move towards re-establishing your own identity for several purposes: financial (banks, credit cards, debit cards), employment, health coverage and travel documents. In many cases, an abusive partner will exert undue influence over his partner by withholding these documents from her possession. So when possible, try to at least get copies or scans made to at least have these as proof of your personal documentation.
4. No Face-To-Face -- Do not EVER agree to meet an ex-abusive partner. There is no reason for you to get together and no amount of possessions are worth risking your health and safety. There are ways to get back your possessions and this can even be arranged by authorities (this is especially valid if you have already sought a 'protection order' against him and there are limitations placed on his contact with you).
5. No Turning Back -- Do not contemplate returning to him. It does not matter how sorry he says he is, how many flowers he sends to you or who he gets to plead his case. Saying sorry is a pathetic response to inflicting harm and pain on you. It is best to cut off all forms of communication and this means phones, emails, voicemails and even changing your normal patterns of travel so that he cannot just "show up" in your face.
6. Safety Networks -- Family and friends need to know where you are at all times. This is necessary as an abusive ex-partner may feel that he is still entitled to speak with you and get you to see his point of view or just want to inflict further harm on you. It is also recommended that you do not travel alone and if you absolutely have to, then at least have a way to immediately communicate with someone you trust either by quick text of a code word that lets them know immediately that you are in danger. Any stalking behavior must be immediately reported to the authorities.
7. Trust -- Know who you can trust. In this way, only let those you trust completely know about your plans, the timeline of you leaving the relationship and your whereabouts. The fewer people that know about your plans, the less chance of information being passed on to your ex-partner.
8. Informing Others -- Let your workplace or educational institution know what is going on. In many cases where orders of protection have been issued against abusive partners, women are advised to let their workplaces or educational institutions know about the situation and even produce a photo of your ex-partner so they may be on the lookout for him hanging around the location. As much as you may have an understanding of his 'triggers' and how violent he has been; there is no sure way to know if you leaving the relationship will push him 'over' and result in an extreme reaction. All too often, the news reports on cases where women leave their abusive partners and these abusive men react violently as "If I can't have you then no one else will" with deadly results.
9. Get Help -- Reach out and get help from the professionals in the field. Nowadays, there are so many wonderful resources available to help abused women transition away from their abusive ex-partners and move forward to regain their lives. Make use of the services available in your community. If the authorities are involved, and possibly charges laid against the abusive ex-partner, then victims of abuse will often be helped by the local Victim Services organization. They will be able to connect you with emergency counseling services, access to shelters, and can help guide you through the intimidating legal process.
Most of all, I want to you to be safe and away from the pain and anguish of an abusive partner. Please take these safety tips into consideration as you get yourself ready to leave and to secure a safe future.
You are entitled to be free from abuse, no matter how unworthy you have been told you are or made to feel.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.