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Helping An Abused Person Leave

What You Can Do
You may be an important part of a woman’s journey to safety. For many women, it takes a lot of time, planning, help, and courage to escape the violence. In the meantime, it is important for women to know that help is available from people who know and care about the situation.
• Lend a listening ear without judging. Tell your friend that you care and are willing to listen. If she is willing to talk, listen carefully and empathetically, in a safe place. Believe her. Never blame her for what’s happening or underestimate her fear of danger. Let her know that no one deserves to be abused, beaten, or threatened.
• Allow her to make her own decisions. As you listen, try to understand the many obstacles that keep her from getting free. It’s usually very complex. Focus on supporting her in making her own decisions. If she is being battered, he is exercising a lot of control over her life. Making choices for herself—even if it is staying with the abuser for now—is often the first step towards freedom. Even if she leaves him and then goes back, don’t withdraw your support. Many battered women leave and return several times before leaving him for good.
• Guide her to community services. Many abused women who found freedom describe someone they knew (a neighbor, doctor, friend) offering support and referring them to an advocacy group. Gather information about domestic violence programs in your area that offer safety,
advocacy, support, legal information, and other services. If she asks for advice on what to do, share the information you’ve gathered with her privately. Let her know she is not alone and that people are available to help her. Assure her that they will keep information about her confidential. Many women first seek the advice of marriage counselors, psychiatrists or members of the clergy. Not all helping professionals, however, are fully aware of the special circumstances of abused women. If the first person she contacts is not helpful, encourage her to look elsewhere.
• Focus on her strengths. Abused women live with emotional as well as physical abuse. The abuser probably continually tells your friend that she is a bad woman, bad wife, and bad mother. She may believe she can’t do anything right and that there really is something wrong with her. Give her emotional support and help her believe she is a good person. Help her examine her strengths and skills. Emphasize that she deserves a life that is free from violence.
• Help her make a safety plan. Your friend may decide to remain in the violent relationship or return to the abuser after a temporary separation. Do not pressure her to leave, but let her know that you are afraid for her and her children and help her consider how dangerous the violence may be. Encourage her to keep a log of what’s happening to her or tell her doctor or nurse about the violence. Help her think about steps she can take if her partner becomes abusive again. Make a list of people to call in an emergency. Suggest she hide a suitcase of clothing, money, social security cards, bankbooks, birth certificates, and school records for future emergencies. Acknowledge that she may be in the most danger while she’s trying to leave.
• Help find a safe place. Help your friend contact the local battered women’s program. They can help her examine her options and find a safe place to go. Not all communities have safe shelter and sometimes they’re full, so she may need to rely on family or friends for temporary housing. Be careful if you offer safety in your home. A battered woman frequently faces the most danger when she tries to flee and you could face threats and harm from her abuser.
• If you see an assault in progress, take action:  Find the nearest phone and call 911. Don’t assume that someone else has done so. If you are in your car, honk your horn until a group gathers, he stops hitting her, or the police come. These situations can be dangerous, so whatever you do, be sure to keep yourself safe. But do take action. At the very least, watch them. By being a witness in a way that lets him know that you see him, you may reduce the level of violence.

An Exit Action Plan

An Exit Action Plan: Guidelines for Leaving an Abusive Relationship

Planning a safe exit from an abusive relationship is a necessary and important step before breaking the ties with your partner. The National Domestic Violence Hotline suggests following these steps to improve your chances of leaving safely.

  • Know the phone number to your local battered women’s shelter.
  • Let a trusted family member, friend, coworker or neighbors know your situation. Develop a plan for when you need help; code words you can text if in trouble, a visual signal like a porch light: on equals no danger, off equals trouble.
  • If you are injured, go to a doctor or an emergency room and report what happened to you. Ask that they document your visit.
  • Keep a journal of all violent incidences, noting dates, events and threats made.
  • Keep any evidence of physical abuse, such as pictures.
  • Plan with your children and identify a safe place for them. Reassure them that their job is to stay safe, not to protect you.
  • If you need to sneak away, be prepared. Make a plan for how and where you will escape.
  • Back your car into the driveway, and keep it fueled. Keep your driver’s door unlocked and other doors locked for a quick escape.
  • Hide an extra set of car keys.
  • Set money aside. Ask friends or family members to hold money for you.
  • Pack a bag. Include an extra set of keys, IDs, car title, birth certificates, social security cards, credit cards, marriage license, clothes for yourself and your children, shoes, medications, banking information, money ” anything that is important to you. Store them at a trusted friend or neighbor’s house. Try to avoid using the homes of next-door neighbors, close family members and mutual friends.
  • Take important phone numbers of friends, relatives, doctors, schools, etc.
  • If time is available, also take:
    Citizenship documents (such as your passport, green card, etc.)
    Titles, deeds and other property information
    Medical records
    Children’s school and immunization records
    Insurance information
    Verification of social security numbers
    Welfare identification
    Valued pictures, jewelry or personal possessions
  • Know abuser’s schedule and safe times to leave.
  • Be careful when reaching out for help via Internet or telephone. Erase your Internet browsing history, websites visited for resources, e-mails sent to friends/family asking for help. If you called for help, dial another number immediately after in case abuser hits redial.
  • Create a false trail. Call motels, real estate agencies and schools in a town at least six hours away from where you plan to relocate.

After Leaving the Abusive Relationship

If you get a restraining order, and the offender is leaving:

  • Change your locks and phone number.
  • Change your work hours and route taken to work.
  • Change the route taken to transport children to school.
  • Keep a certified copy of your restraining order with you at all times.
  • Inform friends, neighbors and employers that you have a restraining order in effect.
  • Give copies of the restraining order to employers, neighbors and schools along with a picture of the offender.
  • Call law enforcement to enforce the order.

If you leave:

  • Consider renting a post office box or using the address of a friend for your mail. Be aware that addresses are on restraining orders and police reports. Be careful to whom you give your new address and phone number.
  • Change your work hours, if possible.
  • Alert school authorities of the situation.
  • Consider changing your children’s schools.
  • Reschedule appointments if the offender is aware of them.
  • Use different stores and frequent different social spots.
  • Alert neighbors, and request that they call the police if they feel you may be in danger.
  • Talk to trusted people about the violence.
  • Replace wooden doors with steel or metal doors. Install security systems if possible. Install a motion sensitive lighting system.
  • Tell people you work with about the situation and have your calls screened by one receptionist if possible.
  • Tell people who take care of your children who can pick up your children. Explain your situation to them and provide them with a copy of the restraining order.
  • Call the telephone company to request caller ID. Ask that your phone number be blocked so that if you call anyone, neither your partner nor anyone else will be able to get your new, unlisted phone number.

For more tips on staying safe, click here!

For more information, please visit the Web site for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. If you or someone you know is frightened about something in your relationship, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224.

For more information on where to turn for help, consult these Domestic Violence Resources.