If your life is in danger don’t wait. Go. Now.
Not having money and a pair of shoes on your feet makes things hard, but being severely injured or dead is far worse.
Don’t Let Fear Stop You
Getting out of an abusive or violent relationship can be one of the hardest, scariest things you ever do. It may feel like you are jumping off the very edge of the world. You are probably afraid of what your partner will do to you if you leave (or if he/she finds out that you are thinking of leaving). You are also probably scared of what will happen to your children, your possessions, your pets, your job, and your lifestyle if you leave. You might be afraid of breaking up the family, or of becoming homeless.
These are legitimate fears, but you cannot let them stop you from getting yourself and your children to safety.
It is never easy to leave an abusive partner. Abusers do everything in their power to isolate you, control you, cut you off from help, and make you feel like you cannot survive on your own. They threaten that there will be sever repercussions if you leave.
Abuse is all about power. Your abuser attacks you to feel powerful and in control. He or she needs you to believe that he or she is the most powerful force in the universe, and that nothing you or anyone else does can stop them.
If You Are Planning To Leave
- First off, don’t let your abuser know that you are thinking of leaving. Don’t threaten to leave, or use it as a barb to get even with them for the hurtful things they say.
- Abusers sometimes monitor through nanny-cams, baby monitors, and GPS trackers. Check your belongings, including your purse, car, clothing, and house. If you find them, don’t remove them right away. This will just tip off your abuser that you are on to him/her. Consider leaving the object behind if you can, or remove them immediately once you’ve left the house for good.
- If possible, store important documents such as passports, work papers, birth certificates, immunization records, social security cards, and bank & retirement statements in another location before you leave. You will need them to rebuild your life, and going back for them after you leave your abuser is dangerous. If you are afraid that your abuser will notice if these documents are missing, you should make copies and store them in a different location. In a safety deposit box at another bank is the most secure, but if you don’t have the money for that, then store them in a locked drawer at work, or at a trusted friend’s or relative’s house.
Have An Exit Plan, and Be Prepared. You May Have to Leave Quickly, and with No Notice.
- Keep the car parked facing the street with the driver’s door unlocked. Keep the keys somewhere where you can get them quickly (or on your person). Always have gas in the car.
- Practice your escape plan. That way, if you have to leave quickly, you won’t be as panicked. If you are taking children with you, have them practice with you (but make sure they know that it is a secret that they shouldn’t tell your abuser).
- Memorize important phone numbers (people you can trust to call for help if you have to run out suddenly).
- Pre-arrange help from people in case you need it; someone who can pick you up if you run on foot or don’t have a car; a public place to go if you don’t feel you would be safe running to a friend’s house; contact No More Domestic Violence 1-844-777-NODV; call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233/TTY 1-800-787-3224 or call 222 to find the nearest safe house.
Careful What You Say and How You Say It
- Don’t discuss your exit plan over a cordless phone. Calls made on a cordless phone can be cloned and monitored. Instead, use a phone with a cord.
- Email, text, and instant messaging are not as secure as you might hope. Be especially careful about getting help through email. Even if you think that your abuser doesn’t know your password, you might want to consider creating a secret email account that your abuser doesn’t know about.
- Eventually, you should close down all joint accounts and cancel are joint credit cards. Your abuser can easily track your whereabouts if you are still using a joint account. Set up new accounts with a different bank. You should also change all PINs, passwords, and user accounts on things you can’t shut down. Don’t select passwords or security questions that can easily be figured out by anyone who knows you (e.g. your mother’s maiden name, the name of your pets, or your birthday/anniversary).
- Establishing a P.O. Box and having your mail forwarded will mean that your abuser can’t figure out what you are up to through your mail. Switch to e-statements when possible.
- Make sure to contact your payroll department a few weeks before you leave. It can take a full pay cycle to reroute a direct deposit account to a new bank account.
Time To Go
Often times, women don’t get the luxury of planning. They leave in a rush with their abusers in hot pursuit. If you are still on the fence about leaving, do as many preparatory steps as possible first. You can always close the Post Office box or bring back your jewelry and passports later.
Going back to the house to get your possessions can be dangerous. Your abuser will be in a desperate spot. He/she has lost control of you, and may ramp up the violence or abuse to frighten you into staying. They may even try to kill you. If you absolutely must go back for something, don’t go alone. You can request a police escort, ask a male relative, or have a group of your friends to go with you.
On the day you leave, taking a few extra precautions can mean all the difference. This is a scary moment, but remember, you didn’t ask for it to come to this; your abuser’s behavior is forcing your hand.
- Unless it is an emergency, try to leave when your abuser not at home, but don’t assume you have unlimited time. When it’s time to go, go.
- Take only what you need to survive. While it would be nice to have time to pack up the albums, the china, and the TV, it is more important that you remove yourself, your kids, and your pets (as well as any important documents, cash, medical records, retirement accounts, address books, computer, and basic clothes and toiletries if there is time). If possible, get as many of these things out of the house before this moment. Large items will likely have to be left behind This isn’t a palms up separation—remember, you are running for your life.
- Turn off the GPS setting on your phone. Global positioning means that you can be found anywhere on the globe. So at the very least, you need to turn off the GPS settings. If your phone is part of a family plan, your abuser can find out your call history and potentially track you down just from your call-list. You should probably just leave your phone behind. A prepaid mobile phone can be purchased cheaply. Your number can move with you.
- Once you are out of the house, immediately close down the joint accounts if you already haven’t. If you can’t close them down, contact your bank (and credit card company) that you want to be removed from the account.
- If you haven’t gotten money together already, now is the time to take money out of the bank. Your abuser will likely freeze all the accounts when he/she realizes that you have left, so get what you need to survive while you can.
Once you have left, there are still precautions you will need to take to stay safe.
- Change up your routine; take a different route to work; shop at different grocery store; reschedule any appointments that you’ve already made; and avoid places you know your abuser is likely to frequent.
- If you work in a job that has you interfacing with the public, let your HR department and your boss know that you are not safe if your abuser tries to reach you. Don’t hesitate to tell them if you are afraid that your abuser will try to do something to you at work (or on the way to and from work). If need be, request different shift and ask for security to walk you to your car.
- If you ran with your children, they may need to change schools, at least temporarily. Make sure you set up a short “pick-up” list at your children’s new school so they know not to release them to your abuser.
- If you get a restraining order, find out whether your abuser will be arrested if he violates the order, or just cited. Some abusers are only encouraged to stalk, harass, or threaten more if there is no serious consequence. And remember, the order can only be acted on if the abuser violates it, meaning that you will need to be in danger before anything happens. It doesn’t mean that you can’t get a restraining order, just be very clear on what the order will do for you.
- Don’t rush into a new romance. Take it slowly. As tempting as it is to plunge into a new and (presumably healthier) relationship, it is rarely wise. You’ve been through some serious trauma, and that takes time to heal. Now is actually a good time to work on rebuilding your self-esteem. If you don’t, you could end up with a new partner that is just like your old one. And the last thing you want is to wind up with another abuser.
- Take a deep breath. You are stronger than you think. You got this far, hard though it was. Recovering from the trauma of abuse isn’t easy, but it will be worth it.