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How to Leave Your Abuser and Still Stay Safe

19 Oct

As I mentioned last week, the most dangerous time for the abused partner is once she (or he) actually hits the road. That's when the offender has nothing to lose. Over 70% of the murders that happen in these relationships, happen then.

That's why it's imperative that this exit be carefully planned, highly tactical and very secret. So that's the general thrust here: be sneaky, crafty and wily – your life may depend on it.
So, this list may look totally paranoid to you – but it's not paranoia when your partner thinks they own you and feels that they have the right to retrieve you.... or worse, destroy you for committing the outrageous act of leaving them.

Pre-Escape Tactics:

  • First off, get support. Tell a trusted (and tight-lipped) friend, relative or colleague what's going on. Enlist their help. You can also get help planning your escape at your local shelter; or from a trained advisor at the National Domestic Violence Hotline at http://www.thehotline.org/. Or, if your computer is being monitored, call them at 800−799−7233. But immediately after the call, call someone else, so your abuser doesn't hit "redial" and discover your planned defection.

  • Have a predetermined plan with your friend(s) for when you're in trouble. Decide on a code word you can say or text, to signal you're in danger; or use a visual signal like a porch light being on or off, a shade raised or lowered in a certain way.

  • Start stashing away whatever money you can. If you set up a secret account, get a post office box so the bank statements don't come to the house. If it's cash, hide it at a trusted friend's house, in a safe deposit box or at a locker at work.

  • Have an emergency bag packed and ready in case you have to get out fast. This should include an extra set of keys, ID, car title, money, credit cards, shoes, clothes for you and the kids, immunization records, a spare cell phone, a list of phone numbers of friends, family, docs, schools and your local shelter.

  • Speaking of getting out fast, consider making it a habit to back your car into the driveway, leaving the driver's door unlocked but all other doors locked. Keep an extra car key with you.

  • Keep a journal to document the violence, including dates, events – even email or text threats. And keep any photo evidence of physical abuse. But keep it in a safe place.

  • Know your abuser's schedule and patterns, so you'll know when it's safest to leave. If you can, pick a time when it will take him a while to realize you're gone.

  • Decide in advance where you'll go if you have to leave quickly. Remember that a shelter can help you stay safe and provide you and your kids with temporary resources, services and supplies. If it's the house of a trusted friend or relative, make sure you have a key.


Post-Exit Tactics:

  • If you're going to a new home (or after your stay at the shelter), best to make your new home in a well-populated area, maybe even an apartment building or in a Neighborhood Watch area.

  • You might want to consider creating a false trail that's at least 6 hours from your new location. Call real estate agencies, hotels and schools there to mislead your abuser.

  • Get a new cell phone and number. Verizon has a program (Hope Line) that gives free phones to shelters, by the way.

  • Get caller ID and an unlisted phone number.

  • Careful with your new address – don't give it out. Consider getting a P.O. Box for mail, sign up with the state for an address confidentiality program, and get your address off your voter registration.

  • Get new locks for doors and windows at your new home; also motion-sensitive, outdoor lights, an alarm system, steel door and smoke detectors.

  • Don't disclose your location online.

  • Get a protection order and keep it with you. Also, make sure family, friends, your kids' school and co-workers have copies.

  • Don't go back to old places and patterns: attend a new church, change up your routes to work, get a new bank, hang out at a different coffee shop, and so on. If you can, change your work hours and the school your kids attend. And change any appointments that your abuser knows about.

  • At work, let your supervisor know about the situation. Get your number off the company directory. Change offices if you can. Have security walk you to your car, and park your car near other cars and as close to the entrance as you can get.

  • Spyware could be on your old computer. Have a techie friend check it out. You might need a new one.

  • Have a safety plan with your kids. Alert their school or day care about the possibility of danger or kidnapping.

  • Stay alert and aware. Have your phone out, ready to call 911 if necessary. Pay attention.

  • Talk to trusted friends, professionals and family about the violence. No more isolation!

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Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award.