A woman who is the victim of an abusive partner may feel a sense of hopelessness. It doesn’t matter how many times those who have not been in that position say ‘Just leave him.’ It often isn’t that easy.
Many who are in such a situation either don’t want to leave, or feel unable to do so. A battered woman might retain feelings of love for her partner and cling to the hope that the relationship can be rescued, that he will change his behavior and keep his promise never to do it again. Or, she may have become so isolated from friends and family that she simply doesn’t have the confidence to walk away, feeling that she has no access to a support network should she do so.
Financial concerns too, can prevent a woman from escaping an abusive relationship. Many abusers
restrict their partner’s access to money, in order to assert greater control. A woman who has no independent resources often feels unable to leave because she has nowhere to live or no money to support herself and her children. It’s all very frightening.
But, whether you are ready to walk away and start again or not, help and support can be found. If you have chosen to stay (either as a short or long term choice) or if you are ready to leave, there are people and organisations that can advise and support you. If you stay, there are measures that you can take to protect yourself, and there is help available for your partner to address his problems should be be prepared to do so. If you want to leave, even if you have no money, there are crisis centres, shelters that can accommodate you and your children and even help to train for a new job or to find work. Financial aid can also be provided to help you get back on your feet.
There is always something that can be done, so there’s no need to feel isolated and afraid.
Making the decision to leave an abusive relationship
One of the hardest things you have to do is to make a clear and rational decision about whether or not to leave an abusive partner. To those on the outside, it can all seem very simple. A confident woman who has never been in an abusive relationship and who has her own network of friends and family and her own financial resources will often be unable to see why anyone would not just get up and leave. But there are many reasons why an abused woman can find this difficult or impossible to do. However, if you are in an abusive relationship, clear and rational thinking is vital so that you can make the right choice. To start with, you need to b very clear in understanding that you are in no way to blame for your situation. No woman deserves to be battered and frightened by her partner, no matter what he may tell her. Every woman has a right to feel safe and to be treated with respect. So do her children. And, every woman has access to help, support and a place of safety. When you consider your options, remember those points. Then ask yourself the following questions, and think carefully about the answers.
- Are you clinging to the hope that your partner can change and the abuse will stop? Sadly, most abusers do not change their destructive behaviour. Once locked into a cycle of abuse, a man tends to re-offend and re-offend, often to more and more violent levels. Change is only possible with the right help and support (usually as part of a programme delivered by professionally trained workers) and can only ever take place when the man has fully accepted the responsibility for his behaviour. As long as he is still making excuses, placing the blame on you or his parents, or belittling the seriousness of his abuse, he will not be able to stop.
- Do you feel responsible for your partner’s problems? A lot of abused women feel that their partner is their personal responsibility, and that it is their duty to stay and help him to solve his problems even if this man’s being scared, injured and putting their family at risk. If you still care for him (and abuse doesn’t always kill the love a woman feels for her man) it isn’t easy to walk away and let him face his problems alone. But, it can be the only way to truly give him the chance to change. If you stay, and continue allowing him to abuse you, you are actually just reinforcing his behaviour and his belief that in some way, what he is doing is OK. Leaving, and showing him that abuse is not acceptable may just be the trigger he needs to seek help.
- Are you tempted to stay because he has promised to stop the abuse? Promises to stop are in fact usually just a part of the cycle of abuse. After a violent episode, many abusers feel an intense sense of guilt about their behaviour. Without addressing the real problems or accepting responsibility, a man will promise his partner that he will never do it again. He may be frightened that he has gone to far, and will say anything to prevent you from leaving. He may believe what he is saying, at the time. However, until he actually accepts full blame for his actions and seeks proper help, the chances are very strong that the cycle will resume in time as the fear of your leaving recedes and he wants to reassert control.
- Are you staying because he is undergoing counselling? It can be very tough to walk away from a relationship when the abuser has taken the step of undergoing counselling. After all, he has made that commitment, hasn’t he? Taking counselling is indeed a great step, and it can be the start of better things. However, just because a man is undergoing a programme of help to end his abuse, it doesn’t mean that the abuse will necessarily stop. To help you decide whether or not to leave if you are in this situation, you need to take a long, hard look at your partner’s current behaviour and attitudes. Has he really accepted full responsibility for what has been happening in your relationship? Has he stopped trying to control you, even in the subtle ways? Abusive behaviour can be very difficult to change, and even men who commit to help programmes may not ultimately change. If you really want to stay with him, a compromise might be to move away temporarily, continuing to see him only in safe situations.
- Are you afraid to leave him? Many women are afraid to leave an abusive partner, particularly if the abuse is very violent and if threats are made. Walking away from a man who threatens to kill you or to harm your children if you leave him is a very scary thing to do. However, this is the sort of situation that should tell you it is essential that you leave. You cannot put the safety of yourself and your children at this sort of risk. If he threatens to kill you if you leave, he is capable of doing exactly that if you stay.There are emergency measures in place to protect you and your children. You can find a place to live in a refuge, along with your children, and your whereabouts can be kept secret from him.
- Are you worried that you can’t afford to leave? Many abused women have no access to their own finances and feel trapped because of this. Walking into an unknown future with no money, nowhere to live and no prospects for the future can be terrifying, so many women remain in the abusive relationship because they feel they have no choice. But, you do have a choice. Refuges and shelters for abused and battered women offer not just a safe place to stay, but can help with training, education and finding work. You can be granted financial assistance for the short term too. So, no woman needs to stay in an abusive relationship because of financial constraints.
Is your partner really changing his attitudes and behaviour?
When deciding whether or not to leave your partner, you need to see the truth about his promises to change. With the right help and attitude, some men can actually make the necessary changes to stop abusive behaviour. However, it is a sad fact that the majority do not succeed. So, if he has promised to change, take a long, cool look at what is actually happening before you accept his promises. Ask yourself these questions:
- Does he still make excuses for his behaviour? If so, he is not ready to change. An abusive man can’t stop his behaviour unless he changes his whole attitude and accepts the full responsibility for his actions.
- Does he still make light of his abuse? Until he is able to see that his abuse is serious and stops minimising it, he will not change.
- Does he still place some or all of the blame on you for what has happened? No woman is to blame for a man abusing her, and he will not stop abusing you as long as he claims otherwise.
- Does he try to get you to go to couple’s counselling? It may seem like a positive step on his behalf, but actually asking or pressurising you to go to couple’s counselling only reinforces his belief that you share the blame for the abuse. It is his problem, and he has to accept that before he can move on.
- Does he pressure you to stay with him? If he says that you ‘owe’ him a second (or third, fourth or final) chance, he is still not accepting that all the blame is his. Even if he tells you that he needs you to stay with him in order to change, it’s a sign that he is not actually altering the core beliefs that cause him to be abusive.
- Does he attend the counselling regularly and take it seriously? If not, or if you have to push him to go, he is not really committed to change.
- Does he try to enlist sympathy for his situation from you, or from family and friends? Again, if so, it’s a sign that he is not able to accept full responsibility.
- Does he impose conditions on his getting counselling? Perhaps he says he will get help if you promise to stop going out with your friends, or any similar suggestion? If he does this, he is simply perpetuating his controlling behaviour and will not change.
- Does he put pressure on you to make a decision about the future of your relationship? Again, this is a symptom of his need to control you and shows that he is not yet making changes.
How to stay safe in an abusive relationship
You may not yet be ready to make the decision to leave your abusive partner, for a variety of reasons. That’s OK: It’s an important decision and one that you can only make as and when you feel ready. However, it is important to know that there are things that you can do to minimise the risks to yourself and your children, and to stay safe.
- Recognise the triggers to abuse: You will quickly realise that there are certain triggers to your partner’s anger and abuse, and clear signs that he is entering an abusive phase. Try to avoid the triggers. If the conversation strays to a subject that you know may make him angry, try to change the topic. If you can’t, or if the signs are clear that he is becoming abusive, have a set of excuses ready that allow you to leave the house and keep out of his way. Maybe you can text a friend secretly and ask them to call you with a invitation to go to see them? Or invent an appointment, or even go shopping!
- Find safe places in the house: If you can’t get away when he becomes abusive, make sure that you have decided the safest areas of your home to retreat to in an emergency. These may be rooms where there is a phone line, so that you can call for help, or a door or window through which you can escape. Try to avoid locking yourself into a room that has no clear line of escape or communication with the rest of the world.
- Develop a secret code: This is not as extreme as it sounds. If you want to let your friends, children or other supporters know that you are likely to be in trouble, it helps if you have a secret word or phrase that you can use that they recognise but that will not alert your partner to the fact that you are enlisting help. Because abusers need to control their partners, they are very resentful of your friends. They also will do anything to keep you from revealing the extent of the abuse to others.
- Plan an escape routine: In the event of your partner becoming seriously abusive, it’s important that you have an escape plan ready to activate. If you have a car, make sure it is accessible and ready to leave quickly. Never allow your partner to block your car’s exit to your driveway. If he dos this, make an excuse to go out and park the car in a more accessible spot on your return. Also, never leave the car without sufficient fuel for you to get to a place of safety. Have an extra car key cut and keep it where your partner can’t find it.
- Practice the escape with your children: If you have children, practising the routine of escape can make all the difference. Children can panic, understandably, but if they have spent time practising an escape routine they are more likely to remain calm if the time comes to do it for real.
- Keep some essentials at a friend’s house: In case you have to leave in a hurry, it’s helpful to have some essentials…like a change of clothes, toiletries, money and important paperwork at a friend’s place.
- Have a list of emergency contacts: If you don’t think that you can successfully hide such a list, try to commit the most important numbers to memory. These emergency contacts may be friends, crisis centres or women’s refuges or local or national helplines. Remember, in an emergency you can always call 911 (US), or 999 (UK).
It can also be helpful to make an initial contact with the nearest domestic violence programme in your locality. Tell them that you are still with your partner, but that you believe you may be at risk. They can provide advice and support while you are still in your relationship as well as help if you decide to leave. To keep yourself as strong as possible it is also a good idea to try to retain your own friends and activities outside the home. This can act both as a support network should the violence escalate and also as a mechanism to help you retain your self belief. Look after yourself too. Treat yourself is possible, and keep a positive attitude towards yourself. Reaffirm regularly to yourself that you are not at fault, and that you deserve a life free of abuse and fear.
Precautions to protect your privacy
A woman who is being abused in a relationship may feel that she is afraid to seek help for fear that her partner may find out and retaliate with more abuse. This can be a real worry. Abusers often see any attempt to seek outside help as a betrayal, and can become very angry. They are also frequently frightened of the consequences for themselves, as they could be taken to court for assault. Finally, if your partner finds out who you have been calling for help after you have left, he may be able to trace your whereabouts.
So, protecting your privacy is vital. The following advice shows you how to cover your tracks whether you are calling by telephone for help or using internet sites and email.
- Corded telephones are safer than cordless phones. So, if possible, make sure there is at least one corded phone in the house that you can use.
- Use a public call box outside the home if you can.
- If you use a home telephone, take steps to prevent the records of your calls for help showing up on future bills. Many abusive, controlling partners check up on their wives by reading the telephone bills. To avoid this, you can ‘call collect’ (US) or ‘reverse the charges’ (UK). Here’s how it works:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collect_call
- Guard your cellphone (mobile phone) carefully. Your partner may be able to use it as a tracking device through GPS, or have a connection made to his own cellphone to intercept your calls.
- Keep a spare mobile phone that s on a Pay As You Go tariff that your partner doesn’t know about. A phone that looks identical to your usual cell phone is a good idea, in case your partner happens to see it. It is possible that a shelter or domestic violence help centre might be able to provide you with a cellphone for emergency use.
- Remember that it is almost impossible to delete all traces of sites you have visited on the internet from your computer, or of emails you have sent.
- If at all possible, when contacting domestic violence helplines or centres, or when emailing friends about your abusive relationship, use a safe computer. This means a computer that is outside the home, and that your partner does not have access to. This can be a computer at work, one belonging to a sympathetic and trusted friend, or a computer in an internet café. Libraries and some domestic violence shelters or crisis centres may also have public use computers.
- If you do email from your home computer or a laptop your partner knows about, take care. Even deleted emails and instant messages are retrievable if the person knows how. If you don’t have access to another computer outside your home, try to create a secret email account in addition to your normal one. Use a completely different name, and choose passwords that your partner will not be able to guess.
- Change your passwords and user names for all important things like bank accounts and social networking sites too. Again, avoid choosing any words or names that your partner might guess or associate with you.
Is your partner watching you secretly?
There can be no end to the lengths that a controlling, abusive partner will go to to keep a tack on your behaviour. Be aware that even simple devices like baby listening devices can be used to monitor your movements and conversations. If your car has a built in GPS, your partner can find out where you have been using this. Check your car, pockets and bags for ‘planted’ GPS devices as well. If you find that he has planted tacking devices, don’t rush to remove them as this will only alert him that you are onto him. Leave them in place until yo are ready to make a move and leave. Just be aware of them in the meantime and do nothing that will anger him or give away your moves and intentions
Domestic Violence Shelters or Refuges
All abused women should know about Domestic Violence Shelters because they can be life savers. A Domestic Violence Shelter (sometimes also called a Women’s Shelter or Refuge) is a place where you can go, usually along with your children, and stay in safety when you need to escape an abusive relationship. All basic needs are catered for in a shelter, with food, a place to sleep and keep your belongings and childcare offered. Shelters are not intended to be a permanent or long term answer, but a stepping stone on the way to an independent, safer life. They vary in the extra services they can offer, but all should be able to put you in touch with the right people and organisations you need to establish a new life. Services that should be available include:
- Legal advice
- Support groups
- Counselling and support for children
- Employment and training programmes to help you find work
- Health services
- Educational opportunities
- Financial assistance
Your rights and privacy
A Domestic Violence Shelter may ask for your name, but you do not have to give your real name and details. If the shelter you go to is in your locality, giving a false name may help to prevent your ex partner from being able to trace you. Shelters usually do try to keep their location secret, and also do their best to protect the privacy of their residents, but taking your own extra safety measures can be advisable.
Staying safe after you have left an abusive partner
Leaving an abusive partner is not always the end of the story. It’s important to take precautionary measures to keep yourself safe even after you have left, especially in the early days. Here’s what you can do to stay safe:
- Move to a new town or area if at all possible. It isn’t easy, moving away from family and friends, but getting away from your partner and staying safe is paramount.
- Change your children’s schools. Your ex partner will always have a way of finding you and you children if he knows where they go to school. He may turn up and try to catch you as you collect or drop off the children, or he may even try to snatch them himself. If you do have to keep the children at their old schools, make sure that the staff know the situation and understand that they must only allow the children to leave with you or a person who is nominated by you in person.
- When you set up a new home, get an unlisted phone number.
- Use a PO Box number for mail rather than your own name and address.
- Change your bank, making sure that you have cancelled all the old accounts that your partner shared or knew of.
- Change your routines. Remember that your partner knew you very well, and is aware of the route you take to work, where you socialise and the times that you usually come and go from the house. If you are staying in your old locality, it is even more important to alter these routines.
- Change where you shop. Even going to the supermarket can be a problem if your partner knows where you habitually shop. Find a different supermarket, and shop at different times to avoid his finding you through this.
- Always carry a cell phone that is ready to use. Never let your cell phone run out of charge or account balance so that you can call for help should your ex partner approach you. Programme in important numbers so you can call quickly, and remember that if you are in danger you can call 911 (US) or 999 (UK).
Another thing that you can do to protect yourself from a violent ex partner is to take out a restraining order on him. A Domestic Violence Helpline or Shelter should be able to put you in touch with a member of a legal team who can advise you on this. However, it’s also important to understand that a restraining order can only be acted upon if it is violated and reported. Also, restraining orders may be enforced differently in different localities. Some are quick to make an arrest, but others may simply issue a caution, leaving you still vulnerable.
If you live in the US, you can find out how a restraining order will work in your neighbourhood by calling 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or get in touch with your nearest Domestic Violence Coalition. If you live in the UK (where several different types of protective orders may be used), more information about restraining orders can be obtained from the Women’s Aid organisation. Telephone 0117 944 4411 or email incomprehensibility. (NB: The foregoing contacts are for obtaining information, not for emergency use. If you need urgent help in the UK, call 0808 200 247.
Recovering from abuse and moving on
It isn’t easy, recovering from an abusive relationship, but with the right help and support you can do it. Once you have followed the steps outlined above and set up your new life, you are ready to heal the scars, both mental and physical, and move forwards.
It is important not to assume that you can recover too quickly, however. Abuse can leave very deep emotional scars that stay long after the physical ones have healed. Make the most of your opportunities to have counselling or therapy, and be sure to attend support groups where possible. Keep in touch with supportive friends and family members too, as their help can be invaluable as you try to put the past behind you. Don’t rush into new relationships. Your judgement can be clouded by the trauma of what you have been through, and you need time to rediscover yourself and address your relationship needs before you become involved with a new man. Too many women plunge straight from one disastrous, abusive relationship into another if they don’t take time to heal first.
In an emergency you can call the number for the emergency services in your country. In the US it is 911, in the UK it is 999.
The following resources can be of help at various stages of dealing with an abusive relationship.
US: National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE)
UK: Women’s Aid: 0808 200 247.
Canada: National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-363-9010
Australia: 1800RESPECT 1800-737-732
Worldwide: Find your nearest services on http://www.hotpeachpages.net/
You can also find out more about local women’s shelters :
US: Womenslaw: http://www.womenslaw.org/gethelp_type.php?type_name=State%20and%20Local%20Programs
UK: Women’s Aid : http://www.womensaid.org.uk/domestic-violence-survivors-handbook.asp?section=000100010008000100330002
NOTE for male victims of domestic abuse: Although this article is aimed at helping women victims of abuse, it is recognised that this is not an exclusively female issue. Men too can be victims of abuse. If you are a male victim, the following resources are for you:
In the US and Canada: The Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women @ http://dahmw.org/
In the UK: Mankind @ http://www.mankind.org.uk/
In Australia: One in Three @ http://www.oneinthree.com.au/