Safety First: Thoughts on leaving your abuser

Stop AbuseSafety First: Thoughts on leaving your abuser

by: Blain Nelson

Leaving an abusive partner is a very difficult thing to do. It frequently feels like you are failing, or destroying your family, or not trying to work things out, or not giving your partner a “second chance.” It hurts, and it’s scary. Sadly, it is necessary in many abusive families and relationships if people are to be safe and if there is to be any chance of putting the family back together. (Please note that I am not saying that it is necessary in every situation, or that you must leave if you are being abused. The decision to leave or stay can only be made by the person in the situation, and I do not tell people how to make that decision. This information is aimed at those who have already made the decision and are choosing to leave, although it may be useful in helping someone make that decision as well.)

Leaving is also very dangerous. Women are more likely to be killed during or after leaving their abusers than at any other time in their abusive relationships. This is why my emphasis through this whole process is Safety First. No amount of good intentions can overcome being dead.

So, if you’re going to be leaving, please consider the following before you do it:

Think ahead and be prepared — Be Safe

Stash away the things you will need to take with you in a safe place — maybe the house of a friend that you know you can trust. Prioritize what you are taking so you can be sure to have the most important things in hand if you have to leave on short notice — nothing you own is worth more than your life. Make certain that nothing you take ahead of time will be noticed — you don’t want to compromise your safety by trying to take one thing too many (erring slightly on the side of paranoia is what I suggest).

Some good stuff to keep would be:

Legal documents for you and your kids

Birth Certificates

Social Security Cards

Any evidence documenting your abuse:

Photographs

Affadavits

Journal/diary in which abusive events were recorded

Money and financial records and instruments, including account numbers:

Mortgages in your name

Insurance documents pertaining to you and your children

Credit Card agreements in your name

Investment documents, particularly certificates

Your will

Contact information for any support resources you will be using:

Crisis Line

Abuse support groups

Domestic violence shelter

Personal belongings with sentimental value, which have not been destroyed. These should be heavily prioritized with an eye toward safety and ease of movement — Grandma’s wedding ring will be easier to take than her big brass bed, and taking the kids school pictures that are boxed up ahead of time will be easier than taking the ones that are on the wall (which might be grabbed in the process of leaving in a hurry).

Line up a place to stay that will have enough security that you will be safe. Again, err a little on the side of paranoia here — if you don’t think your abuser is going to be dangerous, keep in mind that even abusers who have never used physical abuse tactics have been known to kill when their partners have left. It’s better to be a little more secure than you need to be than to die because you underestimated your danger. You may even need to leave the area to get the amount of security you need — whatever it is, have as much lined up ahead of time as you can, including transportation for you and whatever else you are going to be taking.

Be prepared to stay gone for an extended amount of time — perhaps indefinitely. Your abuser is not going to suddenly become safe in a matter of a month or two. You will need to have a new place to live lined up fairly quickly because any emergency shelter you find will be very temporary in nature — a matter of a week or two.

Be prepared for your abuser to sabotage your efforts to leave. Your car may be tampered with. Your abuser may take time off of work to stay around the house to make sure you don’t leave. The abuse may escalate, or you may begin a whole new Honeymoon Phase.

Be careful about who you notify about your plans to leave. Some friends or family members, with the best of intentions, may tell your abuser of your plans to leave, or otherwise leak the information in a way which could put you in a great deal of jeopardy.

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