If you are experiencing an abusive relationship, it can be difficult to focus on what you should do first to protect yourself. Your first priority is simple: focus on getting yourself and any children involved to a safe place. Statistics have shown that the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when the woman or man who is the victim attempts to leave the relationship. The primary goal is to find safe housing where the abuser can't reach you.
The Danger is Real
Do not seek shelter with a parent, friend or other person where the abuser knows where to look for you. Ideally, safe housing can be found in a shelter specifically designed to deal with victims of abusive relationships. Please understand that these private shelters are usually very nice and clean. If your concern is that a "shelter" will not be suitable for you and your children, the concern is usually unfounded. Many shelters will allow you to tour the facility with special permission and a sworn statement of confidentiality. If, however, none is available, consider staying at a hotel or with a person you know that the abuser does not.
Have a Plan
Because of the unstable nature of abusive relationships, you may have to leave suddenly with little preparation. However, if there is no immediate crisis and you have time to plan your departure, here are some things you should do:
- Put aside as much cash as you can in a safe place.
- Leave essential items like clothes and documents with a friend.
- Keep a detailed record of every incident of emotional or physical abuse.
- Keep a contact list of people who can help you.
- Be prepared to take important documents like your social security and credit cards.
One of the most complicated issues to deal with in breaking free of domestic violence is the relationship between your children and your abuser. Restraining orders are often temporary and the courts must resolve long-term issues of custody. The key to protecting your children and discovering your full range of legal options is to hire a lawyer as soon as possible. Laws involving domestic violence and child custody vary widely depending on the state and locality. A lawyer can alert you to all your legal options.
Leaving an abusive relationship and protecting yourself and your children is a challenging task. Always remember that you are not alone and that there are people ready to help.
Services are available to help include: The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233) or The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 303-839-1852.